There was a new barista today. A short girl with big eyes and other neotenous features. You probably know the type: 2-year degree, age-inappropriate displays of obsession toward cutesy stuff (ponies, Hello Kitty), big cheeks, bright eyes, cheery demeanor, often identify as superwholocks. Here’s the extreme right tail of neotenous facial features:
She exhibited some interesting behaviors, which I’d call strong positive affectivity and general infantile cognition, especially toward people associated with markers of authority (to Game such a girl, it would probably help to jokingly reproach her as “young lady”).
Her cognitive style seemed to be purposefully obfuscatory, as if she’d been conditioned against stating or arguing general opinions. She didn’t respond well to my suggestion that today’s trivia was silly, and the answer debatable (“Some months have 30 days, some months have 31. How many have 28?” Answer: All of them!) When someone in line asked my opinion on his sleep hygiene and I offered a suggestion, she interrupted in an uncharacteristic show of boldness to state “we just don’t know”. Based on her facial expression and body language, this was meant to be a display of remarkable erudition, and it appeared disappointing when we didn’t applaud.
I think this infantilism has to do, in large part, with the change in the incentive structures in which these poor souls invest most of their time:
Real understanding: to have mastered and be able to use the relevant knowledge and concepts.
Four generations ago: to be able to use recalled facts and phrases to construct a rationally coherent and relevant extended essay.
Two generations ago: to be able to recall relevant facts and phrases.
Currently: to be able to recognize the correct fact or phrase from among a list of distractors.
Also, probably endocrine disruptors, improper socialization, dysgenics. But it can’t help that our educational system is actively selecting against post-adolescent styles of cognition. Except in some whitopia bubbles- you see this sort more often in low-income areas.