There's a discussion (argument?) going on this week on DorothyL, a site for readers and writers of mystery. Someone asked what makes readers cringe in a suspenseful novel, and one responder said, "When the character is caught somewhere in an emergency situation with a phone that has a low battery. Who forgets to charge their phone these days?" That began a ton of comments on whether or not a sane person in this modern era doesn't know his phone needs charging periodically and carry a car charger, etc., etc., etc.
I don't care. But it did bring to my mind what a psychologist friend of long ago once told me: generations can get along, they can even sympathize, but they cannot truly understand each other.
Each of us grows up in an era, and that era has memes, experiences, and beliefs. The next generation or the previous one can learn about them but does not live them. That makes each generation different, and they see different things as important, even crucial, for daily living.
A young friend recently asked me if I'd let her paint my toenails. When I told her I could care less about toenails, mine or anyone else's, she was visibly shocked. "I can't go out without paint on mine," she told me. "I'd feel naked."
Now, I know there are women my age who are into pedicures, but attention to toes (feet in general) wasn't required when we set mental standards back in our early years. Therefore I, and many others of my generation, ignore the current fascination--dare I say, fetish--with feet.
That doesn't make us superior beings. My own "I can't stand this" case was shaving my legs. My mother could not understand why I'd want to do such a thing. "It's just a little hair," she used to tell me. "If a boy likes you, he'll like you with or without it." Her generation didn't see hair removal as important. Mine was pretty harsh on girls with hairy legs.
Each generation wants to be different from the generations before: how else can we explain white lipstick, dropped pants, and raccoon coats? Those within the generation honestly think they're cooler, or righter (if that's a word) or smarter than everyone else. Sadly, time proves us all wrong--just look at your old yearbook photo! At the same time, we often hold onto those generational things, clinging to the idea that it's the only way to be. My father, who kept his WWII GI haircut for the rest of his life, loved my husband like a son but could not get used to the idea that he wore a beard and a mustache. It was just wrong.
I think my psychologist friend's conclusion applies to big things as well as small ones. A generation forms ideas that sweep its inhabitants along, in politics, in social theory, in pretty much everything. Beliefs are based on current knowledge, shared events, and sometimes even ideas touted by popular figures. We can't help but soak them up, even if we don't believe it all or believe it as deeply as some.
It's sometimes hard to see larger effects in our own culture, but look at the generational differences in emerging nations. The young people in many countries, tuned into technology and such, demand changes in governments they find unfair. Why didn't their parents make those same demands? Their generation had a different idea of what was important. It's the shared beliefs of a generation that make changes possible.
Which brings us back to bad mystery plots, and here's my take on getting caught with a dead cell phone. If a person is of a generation that precedes the current age of instant connections, it's very possible that he'd forget to charge the battery. A younger person is much less likely to forget, because his generation demands that he be instantly available, even if it's just to say, "Nthg" when a friend texts, "Wt U doin?" So if the character is old, he didn't want that dumb cell phone in the first place; his kids bought it for him and insist he keeps it in his car. If he's under thirty, it's fully charged. Just have him drop it in a mud puddle.