William Deresiewicz wrote yesterday in the new york times that the current generation is generation sell– that they care about nothing more than selling themselves, their product or both. There was a clear hint that this is particularly bad and that a society of agreeable twenty somethings who would never do anything against the status quo or anyone in particular lest it damage their reputations and hurt their brand is simply bad.

The Planet of Youth

Image via Wikipedia

As a guy in his early twenties I am firmly a part of this generation and we are anything but generation sell.

There is a bigger undertone of counter culturalism in this generation than William gives us credit for – at least here in Europe. He says that we start our own businesses, one man shops dedicated to a single cause or to a single individual, that small time entrepreneurship is the norm rather than the exception.

Starting a business might seem normal in the US, but here in Europe almost everyone older than 28-ish values a steady job over taking an opportunity, it is still considered odd to change jobs every couple of years. Even at-will employment is fantasy here, once somebody is an employee they have to practically kill somebody to be fired.

But the youth has invented at-will employment – we freelance. More and more individuals, especially in creative jobs, are freelancing and working on a contract, switching employers every couple of months rather than every decade.

Ask a random twenty something what they want three years from now and you will mostly get a blank stare. This is not because of a lack of ambition, it’s because we have no faith in stability. The world has been pretty clear that it is not willing to provide any sort of stability; so we’ve learned to live without.

There is a massive shift in the mindset of this generation. We value freedom, personal expression and enjoying what you do more than anything. Sure, there were entrepreneurs and people following their dreams before us, but when was the last time young people were turning down jobs en masse because the employer just didn’t make the cut? And in a bad economy!

Unemployment is at unprecedented levels all around the world, especially among the young. “There are no jobs” the news channel keeps crying, but what they actually mean to say is “There are no jobs we want to take”. How many of those unemployed are people doing contract work? Possibly circumventing the job system entirely?

Youth in Revolt (film)

Image via Wikipedia

I understand there is a massive lack of everyone from plumbers to car mechanics, they collect more money per hour than most middle class makes in their office jobs … but the youth isn’t after the money.

We simply don’t make decisions based on monetary outcomes. We put much greater value on self-fulfillment and enjoying what you do even if it means living on the edge of poverty.

But don’t get me wrong, when we do find that project we’d enjoy working on we won’t skimp on asking for a proper rate – might even move on if the employer proves insufficient; or doesn’t have a fun enough culture; or simply because they restrict twitter and facebook access during office hours.

In that regard you could say we are generation entitlement.

But it’s not that simple – we are the first generation growing up with cheap instant global communication and that changes the perception of how much we are worth as humans, of what we want with our lives.

You could say we are the first global generation. For the first time in history all the youth of this world is part of the same generation at the same time. Walter Isaacson writes in Steve Jobs‘s biography that a significant moment in his life was creating the Blue Box so he and Woz could make free phone calls anywhere in the world.

Now imagine how different the world is when cheap global communication is placed in your crib.

There is no more lag.

When hippies were around Europe was so far behind, the heyday was already over before my parents found out about how awesome hippies were. Punk was all the rage in the 70’s, for Slovenia punk is a thing of the 80’s – and the hotbed of punk is a mere 2 hour flight away!

Content publishers still try to create artificial barriers for the spread of culture – we simply steal the culture we want. Television lags a year or two behind the US here in Slovenia, so we just steal the content to watch it when it actually comes out.

I think you could say we are generation workaround.

No jobs? Fine, we’ll create our own. Barriers for culture spread? Fine, we’ll spread it ourselves. Government in the way? Fine, we’ll just ignore it. Big corporations being annoying? Fine, we’ll just ignore those too.

In a way this is the first generation where the hacker culture has permeated everyone. Hacker culture used to be that paragon of do-it-yourself fight the corporate overlord and the government as well. They valued creating cool things and ideas.

The OWS and Anonymous movements are a prime example of this. Both were born on the internet – one fights against oppressive corporations, the other against oppressive governments. They spread throughout the world like wildfire. There are no demands for sweeping policy change, there is no cry for a better world, it’s basically just a big “Fuck you! We’ll create our own better world and leave you in the dust!”

And that is what we are, we are generation fuck you.

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