Take a look at the guy sitting next to you, the one picking his nose. Or maybe three rows up, at the two blondes who’ve managed to chatter through the whole lecture like a pair of cracked-out squirrels. Look hard and remember the faces well: Like it or not, you’re stuck with them.

Newsweek’s latest issue made another attempt to label us, this time coming up with the snappy “Generation 9-11,” and I can’t tell if the lame-as-a-three-legged-donkey pun was intended or not. It follows in a series of attempts to define the inheritors of the world, the last being Pepsi’s insulting “Generation Next.” Relatively bland, the highlight of the article was the amusing photos of young men and women trying to appear solemn and thoughtful but only coming off as constipated.

The idea of a generation trying to name itself was interesting, though. Too young to be a part of the slacker Generation X and too old to be a part of the intelligent yet dependent Generation Y, we’ve become an unidentified gray people; our only defining characteristic was our drive to enter the market and hitch a ride on the technology boom to the big bucks. Politics were of no concern, and social issues were left to the few diehards who could look beyond their 10-year plan. Until now, the carbonated syrup-slingin’ conglomerate had the most fitting name for our eager, enterprising dispositions.

That’s all changing, thank God.

Interest in politics is on the rise along with activism and the desire to learn more about things that won’t necessarily make us more marketable in an economy that’s quickly losing its Shangri-La shine. Places like Afghanistan and Pakistan are no longer just funny names on our globes.

You need not look beyond UCSB to see the changes. Pretentious chalk writing is up about 100 percent. More students are enrolling in courses on Middle Eastern politics and culture. Everyone has an opinion as soon as their professor’s lecture includes an application to the issues of the day.

I’m hesitant to use the term “brave new world,” since most people who offer it as a tasty sound bite get it wrong. They seem to have forgotten that Huxley’s world wasn’t one of enlightenment and excitement but a bleak and dreary future. But what we’re looking forward to is a time of uncertainty and strangeness that would’ve been incomprehensible only three months ago.

How we carry ourselves in the next few years will determine how the people of the future will look back upon us. It’s difficult to find a textbook that details the flower children’s rollicking middle-aged contentment.

Suddenly we’ve been shown that we’re going to have to define ourselves; we’re not going to just slip through the cracks as a generation of prosperous, techno-savvy whiz kids after all. It’s pretty damn intimidating. The fact that others are already trying to apply labels to us shows what an important time we are living in now, and how important it is that we start thinking beyond ourselves and to the wider social implications our actions will have.

So far, so good.

The question isn’t whether or not we’ll continue to praise Bush or return to calling him Dubya, but whether we’ll have the guts and drive to do it when the time comes. The tragedy will be if we slip back into our own self-centered bliss.

And, hopefully, when we’re old and gray, a few will tell their grandkids about their madcap college antics while the rest of us spin heroic yarns of how we turned from faceless and dull to a people not only changed by the times but also ones that molded our nation’s destiny.

It’s strange and scary, but it’s a helluva time to be alive.

Daily Nexus columnist Steven Ruszczycky defines himself here on the Opinion page every Tuesday.