Sometimes the news and life intersect in strange ways. Last weekend, I bore witness to an epic screaming match on the golf course, a skirmish between two fat old guys over pace of play that would have surely turned into an aggravated assault with nine irons had their playing partners not separated the profane combatants.
A few days later, what should appear in my news feed but the latest NPR-IBM Watson Health poll headlined, “Americans Say We’re Angrier Than a Generation Ago.” Some 84% of the poll’s 3,004 respondents said they think Americans are angrier than we were a generation ago.
I’ll second that motion. By furiously smashing my fist on the kitchen table.
The rage that seems to have taken hold across this land of ours is an interesting phenomenon — in large part because we appear to have few legitimate reasons to be so ticked. Take, for example, the violent crime rate in America compared to a generation ago. In the mid-1990s, for every 100,000 Americans, 713 of them experienced criminal violence, according to FBI stats. Today? Violent crime is down about 46%, to 383 such crimes per 100,000 Americans.
Homicide? A generation ago, the U.S. suffered nine murders per 100,000 of us. Today, the homicide rate stands at about 5.3 murders per 100,000 Americans. Robberies have plummeted even more steeply, from a rate of 238 per 100,000 in the mid-1990s to 98 robberies per 100,000 Americans today.
Poverty is also down, from 14.5% of Americans living in squalor in 1994 to 12.3% today.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was hovering around 3,625 in June 1994. The other day, the Dow closed at 27,719.
By virtually every measure, we are safer and wealthier than a generation ago. Why so angry then?
You may think it’s our politics and the divisiveness you’ve read so much about, including in this space. That could be, but I’ll remind you that in July 1994, President Bill Clinton was mired in the Whitewater scandal and a young woman named Monica Lewinsky had just joined the White House staff. Politics was ugly then as now, though with less news coverage around the clock.
Deeper in the anger poll lies a few statistics I found telling: 31% of respondents copped to sometimes getting angry when they check social media. Another 12% “often” get torqued by the posts on their social media feed. And 91% believed people are more likely to express their anger on social media than face to face.
I’ve written — angrily — about social media in the past. Not to sound like a broken record, but it has become the hideous wallpaper of modern life. For many Americans, it’s always there, surrounding us, influencing our environment, our mental and emotional state, our days and nights. I don’t know about your digital “friends,” but many of mine alternate between feuds and nonstop flaunting. I have noticed a direct correlation between avoiding social media — and the news — and an improvement in my mood.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the poll: The younger the respondent, the angrier their answers. Emailers often tell me the opinions expressed in this column stem from a raging case of “old guy disease,” defined as 50-something crankiness and wanting everyone to get the hell off your lawn. The poll says the opposite is true; the older you get, the more peaceful you become.
Meanwhile, millennials appear to be the angriest generation in history. Though I guess I’d be angry, too, if I grew up taking a selfie an hour and listening to that tripe they call music.