He bikes to work at an advertising agency, where he uses his master’s in English to proofread ad copy, and spends several hours reading music blogs and watching movie trailers, periodically Twittering updates about his workday to his 74 followers. He doesn’t really hate his job, but feels as if his skin is crawling with vermin most of the time that he’s there, so he has a plan to move to Thailand, or to maybe write a book. Or go to law school.I used to think a lot about what it would take to become The Voice of Gen Y. I have no particular aspirations for the title, though I would by no means refuse a platform of that height. I just wondered what such a voice would possibly say. I'm of the mind that the most effective writerly voices sound as if they're speaking directly, and intimately, to the reader. The Voice of Gen Y is, with what directness and intimacy it can muster, saying something like, "Shit, did we mess up?"
At her government job, she instant messages her friends and mostly ignores the report she’s drafting because she’s planning on quitting anyway — and has been planning to quit for about a year now. She spends her lunch hour buying boots that cost slightly more than her rent, then immediately regrets it.
He listlessly works through lunch, then goes to the bar after work to meet up with some university friends, where they talk about their jobs and make ironic jokes about other people. Back at home, he wonders why he feels so gross and empty after spending time with them, but it’s mostly better than being alone.
She walks to the house that she shares with three friends and spends a few more hours on celebrity gossip websites, then clicking through the Facebook photos of girls she knew in high school posing with their husbands and babies, simultaneously judging them and feeling a deep pit of jealousy, and a strange kind of loss. “When did this happen for them?” she wonders.
They both eventually fall asleep, late and alone, each of them wondering what it is that’s wrong with them that they can’t quite seem to understand.
Though I wouldn't exactly call his prose intimate, perhaps Tao Lin performs this function:
“Luis. What are we.”We are the generation spending our days writing blog posts — or tweets — about how we are, in Sam and Luis' parlance, fucked. It's getting harder all the time not to suspect that something, somewhere, sometime went badly wrong. Wasn't life promising us bigtime interestingness not so long ago? This isn't an echo of Gen X's complaint about the Boomers hoarding all the jobs; we're not even sure if we want jobs, or, more to the point, if we retain the capacity to do jobs.
“Fucked,” said Luis. “Was that like a cheer. What are we! Fucked. Our shit can be studied by an anthropologist 1,000 years from now to know what we ate.”
“Indian food,” said Sam.
“They will say 'Sam had a vegan diet of good food and wine and Indian food. Luis ingested Waffle House.'”
“I want to change my novel to present tense,” said Sam. “Is there some Microsoft Word thing to do that.”
“I don’t think so. I think you have to do it manually.”
“Manually,” said Sam.
“By hand,” said Luis. “Get an interview on Suicide Girls, that should be your next step. Do you think in five years the national media will create a stupid term like ‘blogniks’ to describe us.”
“Yes,” said Sam. “Remember we had hope like 4 months ago.”
“Can you cite that day,” said Luis. “The day of hope.”
What the article calls "that existential career angst that you were meant for ‘more than this’" is only part of it. Most of us seem to fall on the spectrum between hard metrosexuality and George Orwell's de-evolved "little fat men," allowing our disused limbs to slowly retract into our fleshy cores. What's worse, I'm not even partially convinced that this is a bad thing, given the alternatives. But what are the potential reactions to this anomie of the "benignly self-indulgent children who were sold on their own uniqueness, place in the world and right to fulfillment in a way no previous generation has felt entitled to"? A few spring to mind.
Suck it up, you brittle princesses, and contribute something useful to society. In other words, get your @$$ to work doing something the world wants: forging a better paperclip, say. A large part of me suspects, though, that a move toward paperclip engineering (or endeavors like it) would cause mass Gen-Y suicide. (Not that we'd run the car in the garage or anything; we'd just lose the will to keep drawing air.) I myself buy so few non-edible products that I don't even have a mental model of where things "the world wants" fit in; 90 percent of my own utility comes from media I don't pay for.
There's the money to be made, sure, but there's also the abyss into which to gaze. One of the first movies I remember seeing in-theater is City Slickers. I don't remember anything from it but the scene where the Billy Crystal character gets up in front of his son's class to talk about his job, which I have thought of every day since:
"I work for WBLM radio."Similar scenes would play out countless times throughout elementary school, starring various parents holding jobs so enervated, such abstractions of abstractions, as to be effectively inexplicable. What a vertiginous moment of judgment it must be to learn that the pursuit to which you've wound up dedicating the majority of your waking hours is so boring and confusing that a roomful of nine-year-olds gives you the collective raspberry.
"Are you a disc jockey?"
"No, I'm not a disc jockey. You know the commercials that are on the radio?"
"Do you make all those commercials?"
"No. Other people make the commercials. I sell them time on our station for the commercials to be on."
"So you decide which commercials to use and when."
"That's right. Well, no, it's not right. It used to be right. Seems now that I have to check with the station manager if I wanna wipe my nose. The minute he took away my authority, I shoulda quit."
We're stuck. At some point, we would have killed to have the proverbial butcher or baker show up in our classrooms, but we've turned out too fancy to fathom becoming those things.
What, you can't start families like all those other generations did? The Eye Weekly article seems to suggest that delayed marriage and reproduction might be the, or a, main issue. The trouble is that marriage/reproduction doesn't seem to have worked out terribly well for our parents, the Boomers. Split after expensive, spiteful split, you'd think that cohort would, at some point, come to suspect that they're doing it wrong, but no.
Perhaps there's a totally understandable and reassuring explanation for why I can't point to a single marriage that's racked up at least a decade and say, "I want that" — even the ones that stand the test of time raise a vague distress in me, and the grinding, near-apologia-grade explanations for why I shouldn't feel that way never help — but man, humanity has not sold me on this particular institution.
Why not apply to grad school? ... get off my blog.
So join the Young Achievers, then. Actually, this seems to work out for some Gen-Yers: found a lobbying group, helm a do-gooding non-profit, start a net startup of obscure purpose that gets bought for a handsome sum, carve out a niche monetizing pro blogs with turbocharged multiple-$tream ad revenue. And they certainly seem satisfied with their choices, at least kind of. I just can't seem to hang with it. Your experiences any different, readers?
Get off the boat. It might be no wonder that I find myself openly advocating insanity. It sounds, well, insane, sure, but what else is there? The trick to getting off the boat is summoning the will to build your own. Despite those alleged convictions about our own difference, our unique snowflakiness, we Gen Y-ers remain in thrall to the Busytown thinking of our toddling years. The mere idea of a "job," much less what the Eye Weekly calls "a cool and interesting job that leaves you fulfilled," might well be wrong. My mission to obliterate the distinction between the "job" and "not a job" compartments of my life continues. (How many people whose work I strongly admire even have what you'd call a "job"? Very few.) But this appears to demand a lot of action on the spectrum from bold to irrational.
Gen Y — a bad name, by the by, but it beats "the Millennials" — fears that the world won't cooperate with the goals we've held so long and so vaguely. I think the solution involves not caring whether the world won't cooperate with your goals. For a healthy perspective on this, we must go back, before Gen Y, before Gen X, even before the Boomers, to none other than Mr. Werner Herzog:
I am not into the culture of complaint. Everyone around the world, whomever I meet, starts to complain about the stupidity of money. It seems to be the very culture of filmmaking. Money has only two qualities: it is stupid and it is cowardly. Making films is not easy; you have to be able to cope with the mischievous realities around you that do everything they can to prevent you from making your film. The world is just not made for filmmaking. You have to know that every time you make a film you must be prepared to wrestle it away from the Devil himself. But carry on, dammit! Ignite the fire. Create something that is so strong that it develops its own dynamic. Ultimately, the money will follow you like a common cur in the street with its tail between its legs.For "filmmaking," read "doing anything worthwhile so you don't have to keep checking Facebook to dull the pain."