The classic (1951) book of teenage angst, Catcher in the Rye, is about a young man, Holden Caulfield, who finds the world filled with phonies. Adults are shallow, hypocritical, insignificant. He seems to have Tourrette's syndrome, as every other word is 'goddam'. The New York Times reports current teens find the protagonist whiny, as opposed to 'deep'. Perhaps reality television and more complex TV shows are paying off.
Steve Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You argues that TV and video games are getting more complex, more engaging, and just better. Shows in the 60s and 70s were linear, with a minor comic subplot (think Starsky and Hutch, Dragnet). Today, shows like The Sapranos and Desparate Housewives have a multithreaded approach, where characters are much less black and white. The net effect is that your average TV watcher is more sophisticated that a generation ago, in the same way that New Yorkers were more sophisticated than country bumpkins in the 1920s (the term 'corny' relates to the observation in the 1920s that rural--corn fed--audiences tended to like trite or overly sentimental jokes or scenes, presumably because of their ignorance).
The whole navel gazing as in, Bartelby the Scrivener, where one is supposed to feel bad for someone who can't handle reality, I always found annoying. This is the beatnick idea, that self discovery is the number one priority of people, and that people who are part of an organization (eg, the military, a corporation) with their external values, are either deluded or empty and pathetic. This idea has been very damaging, as it invites a pointless narcissism, elevating a lack of focus, and instant gratification. I believe self discovery is important, as I describe in Finding Alpha, mainly at finding your competitive advantage, what you are best at. This is both related to the self, and the market, because if you are good at what others do not value, it is not good for you. The fact is, happiness and prosperity comes from focusing on others, not oneself. Loving a child, a god, serving a customer, are all other-directed, and generate a lot of happiness.
I was reminded of Holden Caulfield when I read Michael Lewis's book Liar's Poker, a book about Wall Street written by a young man who worked for exactly 3 years in the business. Lewis was appalled by the hypocrisy and shallowness of his rich superiors, who he thought were all phonies. It was a bunch of funny anecdotes about the rich and famous that purported to give one an understanding of finance. It didn't. If you're over 30, think about how clueless those 25 year old Ivy league kids are in your company.
Hopefully, our youth's rejection of adolescent whining is a permanent evolution in the zeitgeist, like when we learned that zero is a number. In the future, perhaps people will become sufficiently sophisticated to learn that knowing about the major personalities in debates or big organizations--their sexual proclivities, drug usage, their family history--is not the same thing as knowing about the ideas or organizations.