Generation Sell: Characterizing an Unknown Generation

Generation Y, Generation Next, the Net Generation, the Millenials, even the Worst Generation - these are all the terms used to categorize a generation born in the mid- to late-70's through the early 2000's.  But, what do any of these names mean?  This generation has lived through arguably the most significant technological development and globalization in history.  But, what does it all mean?  What defines this group?  Who are these Millenials?

William "Billy" Deresiewicz presents fascinating answers to these, and more, questions in his New York Times piece, excerpted below:

EVER since I moved three years ago to Portland, Ore., that hotbed of all things hipster, I’ve been trying to get a handle on today’s youth culture. The style is easy enough to describe — the skinny pants, the retro hats, the wall-to-wall tattoos. But style is superficial. The question is, what’s underneath? What idea of life? What stance with respect to the world?

Previous youth cultures — beatniks, hippies, punks, slackers — could be characterized by two related things: the emotion or affect they valorized and the social form they envisioned.

So what’s the affect of today’s youth culture? Not just the hipsters, but the Millennial Generation as a whole, people born between the late ’70s and the mid-’90s, more or less — of whom the hipsters are a lot more representative than most of them care to admit. The thing that strikes me most about them is how nice they are: polite, pleasant, moderate, earnest, friendly. Rock ’n’ rollers once were snarling rebels or chest-beating egomaniacs. Now the presentation is low-key, self-deprecating, post-ironic, eco-friendly.

What is this about? A rejection of culture-war strife? A principled desire to live more lightly on the planet? A matter of how they were raised — everybody’s special and everybody’s point of view is valid and everybody’s feelings should be taken care of?

Perhaps a bit of each, but mainly, I think, something else. The millennial affect is the affect of the salesman. Consider the other side of the equation, the Millennials’ characteristic social form. Here’s what I see around me, in the city and the culture: food carts, 20-somethings selling wallets made from recycled plastic bags, boutique pickle companies, techie start-ups, Kickstarter, urban-farming supply stores and bottled water that wants to save the planet.

Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business. Every artistic or moral aspiration — music, food, good works, what have you — is expressed in those terms.

Call it Generation Sell.

We’re all selling something today, because even if we aren’t literally selling something (though thanks to the Internet as well as the entrepreneurial ideal, more and more of us are), we’re always selling ourselves. We use social media to create a product — to create a brand — and the product is us. We treat ourselves like little businesses, something to be managed and promoted.

The self today is an entrepreneurial self, a self that’s packaged to be sold.

Try to picture Allen Ginsberg having a chat with Don Draper, across the counter at the local coffeehouse, about the latest Lady Gaga video, and you’ll realize how far we’ve come.

Click here to read Billy's full article and postulations about this unknown generation in last Sunday's New York Times! We are proud to say that Billy grew up in Young Judaea in the late 70’s early 80’s, was a camper at TY, served as National Pirsum (1981-82) and was an Aleph Kitchen Boy.


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