Talkin Bout My Generation
What defines the rebellious youth cultures of the past half-century? What do the hippies have in common with the punks? How are the slackers the same as the hipsters? At the heart of these ideologies, there is an essential rejection and redefinition of the ideal of the American Dream. Somehow, the image of universal success persists despite outcry after outcry from disillusioned twenty and thirty-somethings. The call of these prophets fall on the deaf ears of younger, more jaded generation, who invariably views the previous generation as having failed to change a misleading societal expectation. The costumes and the approaches have varied but the mission has remained the same.
Hippies aimed for a universalizing utopian society. Show the world how great life on the commune is and they will all join hands with us, etc. Punks and hip-hop heads aimed to change society by tearing it down. What it was supposed to be rebuilt into was unclear, but step one was, without question, destruction. These are the cultures that put graffiti on the map. The slackers paved the way for hipsters in being “over it,” a generation of “whatever.”
The hipsters traded in the slackers’ apathy for irony, but kept the plaid shirts. They realized how lame and mainstream it was to fight the system. All of a sudden being successful was not just something business boys and Wall Street fat cats did. A defining characteristic of the Millennial generation is that we are more amenable to playing the game than the disaffected generations before us. However, we play by our rules. We work on our terms. Many feel that starting their own business is not just a grasp for financial independence, but liberation from the shackles of drudgery. What is desired is not lucrative employment as much as exciting, creative work.
The entrepreneurial spirit of this generation is not the one that drove prospectors to the rivers and hills of California. It is the one that dragged the Donner Party through the Sierra Nevada. There is a difference between living to make money and making money to live.
Many Millennials would be happy to have stable jobs, but they just aren’t there. The 50-year company man is dead. There is no gold watch. Galvanized by years of service industry jobs, many develop the complacent exterior Deresiewicz refers to as a “salesman personality.” This disingenuous facade is just a necessity of a life of perpetual freelancing and contract work, if any work at all. Not only are the boomers and x’ers hogging up all the jobs, they’ve booted a lot of their own ranks back down into the applicant pool. Those that didn’t land head first in the shallow end are churning up the waters like steroid-raging water polo players. It’s sink or swim, and you can only hold your breath for so long before you have to grow gills. Or get a tattoo of a shark on your neck. It’s whatever.
Previous generations carried strong feelings of oppression and disadvantage. The Millennials, however, do not seem to feel that they are being held down by the man. While we may be victims of circumstance, we possess a distinct advantage in society, something that may be lacking in preceding generations. The Millennials are a generation that were born into technology, and have figured out better than the rest of society how to benefit from incorporating this technology into their lives. Youth society owns digital.
Simply stated, the best way to change the world and become rich and famous is to identify a major problem facing society, and either find an innovative use of existing tools, or invent a new tool, in either case, solving the problem. The Millennials are constantly repurposing API and developing new technologies to improve life. For many, this is a field they love, and for some, it brings great financial success.
The tech startup is the embodiment of this recognition. The stories of Gates and Jobs set the largest precedent for young innovators and inventors to change the way the world works. It’s like a McWorld commercial coming to life, sort of, and that’s really cool. In a Playboy interview, John Carmack, creator of Castle Wolfenstein and the Doom series told the story of how he bought a Ferrari with cash, in his mid-twenties, wearing a ripped Metallica T-shirt. Getting rich is cool and all, but if you’re trying to get there doing something that doesn’t make you happy or that doesn’t solve a problem you care about, you’ll probably cross the finish line with just ratty clothes and no Ferrari to show for your half-hearted efforts.