Pointless Societal Labelling Presents...Beyond the Millennials
(A sequel of sorts, to the article further down, written several damn years ago. Ah, memories…)
It was only twenty years ago that 'jacking in' seemed like coolest and fastest way to access the 'internet'.
It's a given now. The internet is everywhere, because it's on your phone, and your phone is you. It's not even called the Internet, really. Now it's how you access the Internet. And the fewer wires the better (and none plugging into the back of your head), hence 'wireless', although the term that took off was 'Wi-fi' (fun fact: those four letters with a dash in between them isn’t short for anything, not even ‘wireless fidelity’, which was made up after the term ‘wi-fi’ was introduced in 1999). And remember when 'wifi hot spots' were a thing? Then it was asked (by no one): why have specific hot spots? Just make the whole goddamn planet a hot spot and be done with it. Now the only places that don't have wifi intentionally don't have wifi. It's either a national park or a Luddite espresso bar.
This is the future, it's right now, and of course we're going to short-change the innumerable possibilities this amazing, effortless technological connection offers us, and spend time watching fail videos, researching porn and creating niche controversies.
But we're not going to spend our precious time here decrying how we use modern technology, oh no.
Always bigger fresh to fry.
The first round of millennials are hitting their early thirties, and the last of them are getting behind the wheel of their parents' cars for the first time (enjoy it, guys! The chances of you being able to afford one in the coming years are pretty slim). That means they are like so over.
So who's been born since the new millennium actually began? (And how's that for us fucking up fish-in-a-barrel easy definitions? We labelled the generation born in the twenty odd years before the third millennium started 'millennials', when that probably would have been the best term for the people born at its beginning. We just couldn't wait, apparently. Couldn't be bothered to go with just 'generation y') What can we call those that just missed being alive for President Bill Clinton and Limp Bizkit?
We'd say that Generation Nothing is far too bleak, even though they are going to be defined by what they don't have.
But then, some scholars out there are going with 'Generation Z' (other popular choices in the big wide cyber-world: iGen, Post-Millennials, and Centennials), which makes some sense as far as consecutive letters go, but it's pretty damn ominous and depressing (and prophecy self-fulfilling) when they're named after the last letter of the alphabet. What does that say about our future outlook?
Depends where you're looking. If you're staring at the endless artificial light that's either in the palm of your hand or your back pocket, the possibilities are endless (which is why we shouldn't be surprised that the Z's cling to it like a security blanket, or stare at the screens like...Zombies).
In cyberspace - which is rapidly becoming wholly immersive thanks to advances in virtual reality technology and apps like the upcoming No Man's Sky, where developers have built an actually traversable universe - we make more non-physical Items than ever before, and most of it is never consumed. And it's of minimal, ever shifting value because of the likelihood of it being available for a price and for free at the same time. There is a (non)marketplace for everything digital, from academic papers to music. And there is a hosting industry via the sites that charge to host these digital files of text, audio, video or anything else. And compared to the creation of pretty much everything else on earth, it's incredibly cheap. If there's no physicality to it, then it's in high supply and low demand. If you can hold it in your hand, then that's where the money is. But only if your customers have money and no alternative to get it cheaper or free.
And Brett Easton Ellis (who, via his novel 'American Psycho', can be considered an authority on consumerism and coveting) lamented on one particular thing of being too easily at our fingertips these days: porn.
Ellis uses the term 'investment', suggesting that it's so easy for us to access any film, any song, any (e)book, any porn clip, that if we're even mildly disinterested thirty seconds in, we'll look for something else. And who knows, maybe if we kept watching/listening, we'd find that they piece of culture is worthwhile.
In the past, when you went to a movie theatre, or chose a book from a bookstore across town, you made an 'investment' in it in the basic form of time, money, effort, etc. And therefore would be more likely to finish the entire piece of culture, just to make it worthwhile.
Everything seems more disposable now, essentially. And yes, it's more 'get off my lawn' lamentations of the baby boomers and X-er's getting old, but you can't fuck with numbers. It's eight bucks for one copy of playboy in a convenience store. It's eight bucks a month to join Brazzer's, the biggest porn site on the 'net, with 7000 original videos, 2000 porn stars, and available on any platform (or you can, y'know, not pay for porn at all).
It's hard to compete with free and easy, even when you want to support the shop next door. Going to your local, counter/anti-culture video and swag store (in an attempt to help it in it's waning days, as they've even had to put up signs on the front door asking - in an attempt to drum up business - regular customer to tell their friends about the place) and finding that the DVD you're looking for has not only been rented, but was due back a week ago.
So you ask them about another weird flick or TV series that a co-worker recommended, but they say they don't have it yet, it's only available online.
And at that moment you start to resent the entire endeavour of the owners trying to keep this place up and running. Why bother? Why cling to a business model that clearly can't compete, that is selling physical (and breakable) copies of something that exists in a much more readily available and dependable form? No wonder all the giant video store chains closed, right? This is just another form of evolution.
But then you stop and switch perspectives for a moment, and realize that the employee who is apologizing for not having the rental you want is a living, breathing depository of movie and TV information. A walking, talking 'recommended for you' service. There is the chance to turn this (non)crisis into an opportunity and ask what's available that they think is great. Not getting exactly what you want might take you on a path you would have never walked upon otherwise.
Sure this is a rather slight example, but for most of us this is how recent technology has changed our lives. Not necessarily in huge sweeping ways, but in a plethora of little ones. Smartphones and tablets have tweaked life in the last twenty years, yet 1996 is not the Stone Age. Daily routines are pretty much identical. Eat the same, commute the same, computers at work or at home. There was even the Internet way back then.
Your phone has replaced the TV as the main form of quick information accumulation. There. Welcome to 2016.
The point is that we have the power to allow or disallow technology to alter such minor routines. And it's only when you start grouping all these things together that you are aware of such a generational sea change. Which, if used to the degree it currently is at, can and will change everything else, starting with basic assumptions and perspectives of the world around them.
Baby boomers and even some early gen-X-ers can accuse late-gens, the millennials and the Z's of being too distant, lacking emotion, and wary of honesty and openness, but that's because such things have been perfectly packaged and commodified and presented to us en masse via the media.
Of course we lean on snark, mockery, and dismissive comments. Happiness, friendship, and love have been co-opted by ads for everything from soft drinks, to home insurance to car tires. The self-help movement of the 80s and 90s that did a considerable job at bringing personal insecurities and depression to the forefront is awash with reality show shysters and pills. Anything unique, whether it's a painting or some guy saying 'damn, daniel', is going to have a price tag and expiration date stamped on it.
And it's only going to get weirder as the future plods on.
Entertainment, news, and marketing are going to conflate and overlap to a much greater degree. Forget product placement. News coverage of the next terrorist attack will be sponsored by Lockheed Martin and Guardians of the Galaxy 2. First responders will wear designer flame retardant biohazard suits and the news anchors will comment on the style in between the numbers of dead and injured (which you can 'over/under' in Vegas).
Ridiculous? Over the top? The Simpsons made a joke about 'President Trump' back in 2000. Make no mistake, for most of the people on earth, the next few decades will be very difficult, no matter how many ‘better late than never’ policies we try to shoehorn in ASAP to fix the environment and the economy.
X-er's and Millennials will bore the next generation into bouts of anger over 'back in the day' reminiscences over how great it was in the late twentieth and very early twenty-first centuries. Instead, the future’s so dark we’ll have to turn on the lights and just hope it won’t be during rolling brownouts.
(NOTE: The following few paragraphs sound like 'additional setting info' for a screenplay about a dystopic film)
Pension and savings will be things for the wealthy, the middle class will be a thing of the past. Job security is not existent. Bartering would be accepted at the few non-big box franchise stores. Meat will be hideously expensive, so meal-replacements will be very popular. Epidemics will be more frequent, and even if they are treatable through medical advances and rights-breaking quarantine, the cost of all this will be so large you'll be in debt for many years to Pfizer.
Is there a way to escape the clutch of the corporate-government hybrid?
Yes, actually. Very, very easily.
Countries would have 'dead zones', entire regions that have been ignored by any sort of corporate or government assistance. Even law enforcement steers clear. Not out of fear but indifference and contempt for the people they believe to live there (people who have been disenfranchised for many different reasons), and the fact that their own budgets have been stretched thin.
And for all the social inequality, instability, and inefficiency, add on all the effects of a planet that is being poisoned and can't produce enough resources.
('Additional Setting Info' ends)
It's bad enough right now for the millennials that are wrapping up high school and realizing that going to college or university isn't the guaranteed step into the middle class. For those currently in diapers, it's only going to get worse.
Fortunately, it can't be all bad. Humanity is simply not hard wired that way. The reason we have cliches like 'turn lemons into lemonade' is because we do that all the time, in both public and personal ways.
The feeling of constant disenfranchisement and isolation (which current economic situations and technological innovations easily allow) ends when we collectively acknowledge that so many people feel the exact same way in regards to how they're living their lives.
Millennials and Z's (which sounds like pills you have to take together for them to be effective) lean left on social issues like gay marriage, social diversity, and law enforcement/justice system. These are issues where by being a citizen, your singular voice in the form of a ballot or petition can make the difference in what type of legislation is passed.
On economic issues, it is slightly more complicated, as simply having a position and voting does not mean the legislation passed will be reflected of how a majority of citizens feel (corporations and lobbyists run that roost).
The predominantly free market capitalist system that oversees the global economy has left billions of young people hung out to dry. Even in nations that lean much closer to a socialist system (the Scandinavian countries come to mind) are having difficulty providing the same services that they were able to for the last several decades.
The inevitable response to this, as Generation Z grows up with the ‘new normal’, is that the physical things that that do have worth (and are either in short supply, expensive, or both) will be shared in ways that will seems silly now. Roommates will become increasingly common, since rising rents will mean more apartments will need more than one tenant (even if it’s a bachelor). Utilities like water, electricity and bandwidth (to keep costs down, because your meager paycheque is swallowed up by student loans) are tracked much more carefully. Food is purchased and prepared by friends and co-workers to stretch the bucks, eating out is a luxury, and meal replacement drinks (Soylent, anyone?) will be the norm. Buying local everything will be a more sensible choice once transportation costs skyrocket (suddenly flying in granny smith apples from South Africa so North Americans can eat them in February will seem increasingly irresponsible).
The socialization that critics decry the internet and smartphones are destroying will be reborn in communities that band together due to mundane similarities like geographic location.
Ironically enough, it’s through the cratering of the profit model for all things digital that has paved the way for this. If you ‘share’ everything on the internet, then you will be more inclined to share things outside of cyberspace, especially when you can’t really afford all the things you need and want in the first place.
Generation Z will still have the internet and its endless distractions at their own fingertips, but they’ll also be the first generation to realize that a bright future requires several pairs of steady hands.
Pointless societal labeling presents… the next generation
I didn’t read Douglas Coupland’s Generation X until the spring of 2008. Seventeen years after it was first published. Today, Coupland has turned Japanese (I think I think so) and the novel’s protagonists have grown up and become the novel’s antagonists. I’m pretty sure the artsy Mexican hotel they started up is now part of the Sandals Resorts chain.
So truly I was leafing through an antique. This book become irrelevant when Kurt Cobain did what everyone suspected Generation X-er’s really wanted to do on April 5th, 1994. I have an excuse for not reading the book when it was haute couture. I was nine. And I wasn’t even a curious nine year old. Although not acknowledging a novel at nine was acceptable, I must confess that I even missed the phenomenon that was Nirvana. The first time I remembering hearing about Cobain was when the news reported he had put a shotgun in his mouth and fired. It seems likely that they would have played a snippet of Smells like Teen Spirit during the report, which would have been the first time I’d heard it, but I wasn’t sure if that was true. After all, I remember having heard Beck’s Loser at the end of 1993 at my grade six class Christmas party (although Radiohead’s Creep had eluded me, for some reason), so certainly it was possible for me to have heard ‘the’ Gen-X anthem around that time (even though Heart Shaped Box was their current single that fall). And this was a few months before Teen Spirit became an accidental eulogy for the people who didn’t care about Nirvana (for the people who did care – a person who I eventually became – the true Kurt eulogy was, of course, All Apologies).
So what Nirvana missed in being able to define generation x (‘my mother died every night, it’s safe to say, don’t quote me on that’), Coupland had a bit more successful time. What struck me most about Generation X’s account of three twenty year olds throwing away their old lives on a whim and living on the outskirts of the California is how little has changed today. Hell, what was meant to be satirical in 1991 is actual in 2008. The debacle that was 9/11 changed nothing except defense spending. Life is still fancy grocery shopping, cubicles, and info-tainment overload. We have a fake cultural war, concern about natural resources and the environment, and an economy no one is sure is broken and knows how to fix. There’s still that youthful rebellion against the corporate world that preys on the lower class and the typical rejection of a consumer driven society (although both seem to peter out by the age twenty nine). But then, to say that generation x was the first to rail against the dreary monotony of modern society is to do a great disservice to the hippies of the 1960’s, the beats of the 1950’s, the lost generation of the 1920’s, etc. Hell, maybe we’re all poor imitators of the Jacobins from the French revolution, a group who actually took that next step and lopped off the heads of the elder people in charge.
But we are different from the x-er’s, no bones about that. Fifteen or so years is a long-ass time. If 9/11 didn’t change anything politically, economically, or socially, at least it makes a good line in the sand. So what has changed? For starters, we don't do anything 'when' we're supposed to anymore, if we even do them at all. Marriage, kids, school, career, it's all up in the air. A trend that began forty years ago is only speeding up its pace. Hell, even the fifty year old institution that is television prime time is dying off. What a blow that is to the great uniter: we don’t even watch TV at the same time. And that’s thanks to the one thing that really sets us apart from the generation before us: We’re the first real internet generation. Everyone under thirty now has grown up hooked to a computer. When it finally moved away from being a haven for Trekkies and Phish-heads, which is what is was in early nineties, we were there. Remember America Online? Prodigy? Compuserve? ICQ? Hell, remember the big behemoth, Netscape? How we were flooded with mail and TV commercials to get connected and start surfing? Well it’s happened. To paraphrase the Matrix – which came out nearly a decade ago – we all ‘jacked in’ and now we don’t quite know how to unplug. Our language is even changing. We live in a world where you can stare at a piece of electronic equipment while typing and describe it as talking to Jeff.
We’re living in cyber bubbles and beyond the headlines. If you have a laptop, cell phone, blackberry (it’s not just a fruit anymore!), or any other handheld wireless device, you are attached to the massive global network of the future present. The amount of information on the internet – on wikipedia alone – is too much for one person to consume. All we can do is cherry pick whatever catches our eye, nibble it a bit, then get lost once again in the virtual wave. And to deal with it, we hide behind screen names and gamertags. How many personalities have you carved out online? How many mailboxes do you own? The program/network Second Life is spreading like a virus. It's like walking through myspace and facebook, social communities that stretch across the globe and are worth billions of real dollars.
We have more control of ourselves and of our lives and what we want them to be when we're alone in front of the computer, endless streamlining and sculpting our avatars, virtual selves and profile pages. But this essay is not a criticism. It’s not a denunciation or an encouragement of this trend. It’s just a report. An observation of a world changing once again.
Our culture is in shards, and for the record, that’s not a judgment, either, just an observation. It seems like a shame that perhaps the one thing that is truly infecting every corner of the world is Pop/American Idol, though. You don't even have to watch it to know what is, and that is what defines a cultural touchstone. Everything else has niches of varying size and requires some level of explanation. Common cultural experiences are occurring in smaller and smaller groups, sometimes not even to eye-to-eye but via satellites high above the earth.
Perhaps it's a foreshadowing of how we will soon live our lives. Choosing less movement as a way of saving on important resources that get sucked up as we crisscross or fly over our little blue planet. We will be in touch with the whole planet, but in a much different way than before. We will treat the outside like a fragile garden exhibit that we are essentially banned from interacting with (we need a giant, 'Keep off the Earth' sign).
But while new ways of communication are not necessarily the basis for debates regarding where the world is headed, certainly there are other major issues that are arising for our generation that must be dealt with. Regardless whether you surf gawker.com for the latest celebrity gossip or brush up on your quantum physics knowledge on wikipedia, the shit seems to be hitting the fan outside our homes. Even if it truly isn't, we're bombarded with the idea that, 'it's boiling all over'.
While war and terrorism has always been a threat to the natural order of things, we are the cusp of being assaulted by a series of problems that bombs and sanctions cannot stop. A meteoric rise in human population coupled with dwindling resources (both manufactured and natural) and increasingly likely environmental disasters as a natural byproduct. That’s today’s world in a nutshell. The millennial fears came and they didn’t really drift away as we eased past those meaningless dates. It’s as if we’re living in extra innings or sudden death…
Our foreseeable future: live like there is no future. And this can be seen as a defeatist defense for complete hedonism (getting your kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames) or it can be seen as a pledge to change the world for the right now. There is no time except now to make sure tomorrow actually happens. Maybe that's what our generation has to do: remember as much as possible that we had/have a choice. This is our bed that we're lying in and is getting increasingly crowded and uncomfortable. A burden that we have to keep from becoming a huge chip on our shoulder. To blame the generation before is to forget that we’re linked to that generation not only by blood but by the buildings, laws, and institutions that are part of our lives every single day. The lives we are lucky enough to have are thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of the many people that came before us.
And so many questions of what we can expect are being left unanswered as the gen-xer's are slowly ascending to power (Barack Obama was born only five years before Kurt Cobain). That's what's rarely mentioned when looked at the 'rebellion of youth'. It's considered rebellion because they don't have any real political or economic power. Otherwise it would be called ‘policy’, and that's always held by the generation above (or - god! - two generations above. How's that for 'connecting'?). After all, if the hippies sold out like they did in the seventies and eighties, what’s to stop generation x? And us? What kind of world will we inherit in the next decade or two? When can we expect the world – in other words, ourselves – to ‘know better’?
And so now it’s time for the labeling hammer to fall. Who are we? Splintered into even smaller pieces than the previous generation. It’s not a matter of people arguing for or against these names or what they even define. Some people just won’t hear the debate in the first place because they run in different spheres. A generation beyond names because we’re so scattered it’s out of earshot for many. Regardless, here’s an attempt to define us all:
As in nothing. Or everything. Inflation is real and our generation is getting around it by paying for as little as possible. Whether it be music, TV, or even books (I read Generation X in a library. I couldn’t take it out because I don’t have a library card because my permanent address according to my driver’s license isn’t in this city. The entire book is circled and underlined by the previous reader, clearly having had to whittle out of the true meaning of the book for a class assignment).
Nobody owns anything anymore, whether it be intellectual property or the apartment you rent or the temporary/part time job you have. The youth of today are becoming permanently nomadic. Suddenly we have different names when we’re in different places. You can morph into different personalities; developed over years from intimate self-analysis, or available for rent online (you can ‘buy’ online game identities from people who develop power characters as a living in China).
We’re all becoming as slippery as eels. When everything is sticking to us, nothing is.
Using swear words to keep its purity so it can’t be published/corrupted in newspapers and said on television. Can you really believe that WORDS are still censored? What the fuck? Okay, certain racial epithets that conjure up too much nasty history can be ignored for the sake of simplicity. But shit, piss, fuck, cunt, and cocksucker? Come on. Grow up people. In fact, Microsoft doesn’t even recognize cunt as word, underlining it with the glaring red squiggle.
But of three word suggestions it should probably be ‘fuck’ and not just because it’s the most gender neutral. It’s the ultimate word for the ultimate time. In a world of information overload, here we have the one modifier that’s simplified communication and still manages to upset people. It’s glorious proof that words still have the power to shock, surprise, and force people to take notice, whether the matter be trivial or significant.
Generation What/Generation Blank
(no comment, just these random flashes of observation:
Under the radar. Too indifferent to align oneself to even the smallest and irrelevant clique.
Maybe now we have to embrace the inevitability of us becoming our own worst enemies. No more ‘the generation before us fucked us over’ talk. No more ‘generation talk’ at all. We’re just on the frontlines of the ever-expanding blob that is humanity.
Maybe in re-writing the rules yet again the first thing we have to throw into the path of an oncoming train is idealism itself. And not in the ‘fuck it all’ generation x way. Just lowered expectations for pretty much every important aspect and issue of our lives.
The doomsday talk is all wrong. The future is forever. I won’t see the end of the world, the death mask of humanity, the slow crumble of civilization that returns us to our caves and hunting pigs with pointy sticks. It’s all a marketing ploy to make me buy a gas mask.
We’ll soldier on somehow until I die, at which point, I won’t give a fuck and the world may as well be over.
Who am I living for? Me? Or everyone? Is there even a difference?)
In terms of categorizing, it’s perfect for coming after ‘x’. In terms of using the ultimate rhetorical question, what better time that now to apply it an entire generation that is beyond bombarded with warnings that things are about to get much, much worse?
For too long, ‘why?’ has been a representation of youthful apathy, as if trying to see the big picture was always getting in the way of saving up for a mortgage. But maybe it’s time to put on the brakes, turn of the TV/internet and just ask where the hell are we – the royal ‘we’ – going?
But even I don’t know where to begin. Getting all six and half billion of us together at the local bar for a heart to heart over a pint just doesn’t seem plausible.
What’s forced? What’s real? What comes… naturally? Yeah, that’s a good one. Having a nod to mother earth in our attempts to examine our daily activities that destroy her. But what’s worse is how we co-opted the word ‘naturally’, as in ‘this is how things are supposed to be’. ‘Supposed to be’? According to what and whom? The previous line of human existence? Television? Government? ‘Naturally’ seems to be defined as when the person using the term is at peace, but not behind the wheel of a hummer. ‘Nature’ too often is looked at as only a good thing, when really it is something beyond morality. How is eating boiled tofu considered natural but lightning striking your house is a freak occurrence? Nothing is really natural and nothing fits naturally. You have to try and make thing fit. Even the perfect sweater has to be taken from the rack and pulled over your head. And sometimes even that is too much for some people.
Take subcultures. We’ve exhausted them. In categorizing, labeling, and summarizing emerging groups and trends we neuter any continued organic growth or original thought in the essence of the subculture itself. When flannel reached the runways of New York and Paris in 1992, where else could grunge go but down? Maybe my outlook on life mirrors the outlooks of tens of thousand of smart, alarmed and disturbed young men and women across the globe, but I just can’t get into the hip fashions that bring these people together in the same store. And is it ultra-non-label shit that you would find in Kensington Market? Is it just cheap shit at outlet malls? That new American clothing franchise that doesn’t sell anything for more than $8.98? I don’t know. I rely on Christmas and birthday gifts from family for clothes. The last article of clothing I bought under my own power was a red rock band t-shirt with a cartoon drawing of smoking light bulb on it.
For how important a ‘generation’ can be for the people living within it – as it’s something that can really unite an array of different types of individuals – it’s disappointing at how quickly it can be assimilated into consumer culture and sold back to us (ah, the familiar territory of commercialization bashing!).
Maybe Generation ‘why?’ is that first step in admitting that while we want to change, most of us have no idea what changes looks like on a grand scale and how we as individuals are supposed to take part in it. In a universe/society that is incessantly screaming to do something (even to do nothing, on occasion), every so often you must remember: don’t panic, stop moving, and just ask.
These categorizations separates us, puts up invisible barriers made of only language, creating another level of us versus them, but paradoxically, we also learn more about each other – our similarities and differences – as we break ourselves down to the core.
To connect is to sever.
In the end it’s nothing more than a way of leaving your mark. To say, ‘ I was there’, an acknowledgement of existence, even if you’re just a speck in a giant, quivering mass.
A labeling of your life although just to be safe I’d add an option of switching labels on a whim in the fine print. We need new labels because things change, but things don’t stop changing just because they’re labeled.
Embrace change before it rips your legs off, sans mercy.
Coupland's novel ends with an affirmation of individuality and freedom: 'if you really want to change your life, do it'. And maybe that's where the biggest difference between generation x and generation y lies. Individual change isn't as easy as it used to be when the rest of the world is changing around you at much faster pace than you ever could yourself. But remember that change isn’t always better. Sometimes it’s just ‘different’, which usually is all you can ask for, anyway.
We have uncertainty, but we’ve always had uncertainty. We have the revelations’ four horsemen: war, disease, famine, and death, but then they’ve always been riding with us.
How do you live on the edge? You don’t. You think about the thin line you’re walking along, and if you tip…worry about it when it happens (although knowing some basic hunter-gathering camping tips couldn’t hurt).
Is this a practical answer? Damn straight. When the practical intersects with the spiritual, you get a small bit of true nirvana.
That’s the one thing that will always save us, whether it seems that not having the rent money is the end of the world or whether it’s the end of the world. And, really, when you’re in that former situation yourself, it is the end of the world, anyway, right?
Only time will fucking tell.
Books you should read:
Catch-22, To Kill a Mockingbird (Coles notes version), Ulysses, Slaughterhouse Five, State of Denial, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich