Once upon a time, our country experienced a depression so great that the middle class disappeared entirely. People stood in line for hours to procure moldy bread and meats. Children shared bathwater, people mended their socks, and hovels became coveted homes. The opulent lifestyles of the wealthy shone like homing beacons in the midst of the unwashed masses.

In modern America, not quite a century removed from these desperate times, we find our country in a much different mindset. The end of the second world war, and the years of fear-fueled war economics that followed, seemed to relieve America of it’s “depression.” The government injected the market with occupational programs, social services, and military-related vocations. Women were not only common in the workplace, but now expected to be there: half due to necessity, half due to the social push for independence.

Two working parents meant that people could now afford toasters, televisions, and cars– the middle class was experiencing a heyday unlike any generation before them. Disposability became a mainstay of our culture– single serving dinners, disposable diapers, and plastic ballpoint pens. An entire generation was raised on processed foods, aerosol hairsprays, and prenatal vitamins that caused deformities, as this country strove to be at the forefront of a cultural evolution. They were told that new was best, fast was convenient, and concerns were for “squares. ”

This generation, although instilled with a sense of disposability, maintained some of the previous generation’s sentiments. They had seen their parents clipping coupons, saving pennies, and creating nest-eggs. They had been warned, by those who had lived it, of a time when people fought rats for food. This was Gen X.

As this segment came of age, in the seventies and eighties, they rebelled against society, then embraced it. They hated their possessions, then fell in love with them. They were told they could feel how they wanted to feel, and damned if they weren’t feeling angry! At what? Their parents? Cultural expectations? Global unrest? It didn’t matter. This generation felt it was their right and duty to be expressive.

As Gen X begat Gen Y, a new era of entitlement was born. Since the days of their youth when Gen X had first “stuck it to the man,” many of them had become “the man.” They put in their 40+ hours a week, ingrained with the promise that this was the formula for success. Gen X wanted, more than anything, to spare their children the faux pas social struggles, and the fear of the past.

Gen X promised Gen Y a better world.

The result of this promise has been a twisted sense of entitlement to that world, and a whole generation left dazed by reality. I know I am not the only one feeling slighted.

It was all there, in every message our school teachers delivered us, that we could be anything we wanted to be. That we were all very full of potential, and that hard work alone was the key to unlocking our dreams. It was all there in every feel-good self-esteem-boosting book, poster, and mantra: the world was our oyster. There was even a roadmap– graduate high school, go to college, get a good job in our chosen fields. We could, then, feel professionally satisfied; could then live the comfortable lifestyles we had always known.

All we had to worry about was “being true to yourself,” making friends, and the pursuit of happiness. My generation invented MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, massive multiplayer online games, and YouTube. Being popular doesn’t even involve leaving your computer– which, by the way, now fits in your pocket. Our social lives are infinitely more complex than any generation before us. We’re so cool!

But, in the meanwhile, the global marketplace has become saturated with goods– shipped from overseas– and it’s not only the manufacturing sector that’s become outsourced. America is only beginning to understand the true nature of economics, only now realizing that we are by no means immune to “depression.” Only now realizing that the diploma-mills which comprise most of our “higher education system” are producing well-educated waitstaffs and sales reps in a country that can’t employ more philosophers, journalists, or music theorists. It’s no wonder my generation is so damn frustrated. If we held out for the jobs we wanted, a vast majority would be unemployed.

I heard a statistic the other day that really hit home. The talking head on PBS informed me that 81% of college graduates last year graduated without a job offer. So I did a little research on the subject.

According the a 2009 Survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, only 40% of graduating students who had applied for jobs received offers; less than 20% had secured a job for after graduation.  These statistics are contrary to everything we were told. So what do we do? Keep going back to school? According to this survey, that’s precisely what 26% of my peers are doing. Why? Because it’s “the next step,” obviously, and we take immense comfort in linear progression. Some of my contemporaries live with their parents well into their twenties. We like our hands held; we’ve been well-sheltered from anything dismal by cable television, pop music, and the illusion that we’re working with unlimited resources. According to these statistics, 41% of graduating seniors EXPECT to rely on their parent’s financial assistant after college. WHAT!? Well, I suppose someone has to carry the burden of our shattered expectation. We certainly weren’t prepared for this.

… Everything is going to be ok, right?

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September 3, 2010

I’m just going to come right out and say this: I love the internet. Love. It. You don’t have to come clean, too. I already know I’m not alone.

Every day millions, maybe billions (pfft, math…) open up their chosen Internet browser to their chosen home page and begin scouring the world wide web for new information. This multitude checks e-mail, reads news happening in every corner of the globe, and uploads content to be perused and critiqued by others. Human beings are transmitting and receiving information constantly, and almost instantaneously, from the moment we wake up in the morning and log onto iChat, Twitter, or Outlook.

From the time we type the first letter into that search bar, and Google’s A.I. finishes our very thoughts like a familiar lover, we are connected to something much bigger than ourselves. And I find that AWESOME.

Some people are frightened of “Big Brother,” afraid of our technologies surreptitiously and systematically destroying our morality and sense of self, but not I. I welcome Big Brother as my generation’s surrogate father. A silent, omnipotent cultural observer. Both a mirror and projection of contemporary society. A place where we can all have a soapbox, megaphone, and hecklers. Biggest fans and antagonizers. The Internet is a place where popular vote really means something.

I embrace this age of index-card-sized portable phone/ camera/ computers. I clear the future of these technologies for landing; seriously can’t wait.

Why so hyped up on the Interwebs, you ask? Honestly, just think about it. Long and hard. Think about how incredible it is that not only can we communicate with strangers in Russia, but we can hold conversation in real-time– actually SEE one another– while doing any number of other things at the same time, including holding other conversations. We can instantly share with every one of our “Friends” on Facebook how adorable our cats look in silly hats, or our snarky commentary on the latest pop culture trends.

The internet is a place where everyone has a pretty fair shot at fame (although perhaps not always intentional). For something, or seemingly nothing, it doesn’t matter. If you have a good or controversial enough YouTube video, UStream, or website, It doesn’t matter who you are. In fact, you don’t even have to be yourself!

The age-old game of “who you know” has had it’s gates crashed by ambitious “nobodies” armed with e-mail addresses, Twitter handles, and thoroughly Google’d “close sources.” The masses have begun to rebel against social elitism, recognizing our anatomic and genetic equality. The general public has begun policing itself– checking corporate power, political powers, and reality stars’ egos alike, with the threat of rallying a digital mutiny. Brushing shoulders with stardom and celebrity has never been so simple. Amassing a small army against tyrannical bureaucrats doesn’t even require putting on pants. In an era where Facebook officiates relationship status, and families text each other from the next room, it is certainly not out of line to say you “know” someone when they’ve validated your online friendship!

Limitless forums, pages, social networks, and directories all point different arrows to the same destination. A veritable wonderland in the space between fact and fiction. A place where human intrigue gets to take the stage– where pet tricks and hostage situations are equally “recommended viewing.” The internet is a place that demonstrates the best and worst qualities of contemporary civilization, often simultaneously. The internet is our societal Id. Raw, real, uncensored.

The Internet is dynamite, volatile and ominous.

As long as there are matches, there will be fuses. As long as there are fuses, no walls are safe. As long as every wall is threatened, the world can happen. [[StillLifeWithWoodpecker.TomRobbins]]