I kept debating on if I actually wanted to write this or not, mostly because it’s incredibly depressing when you actually start to put all of the pieces together. I think this may also be my first real attempt at trying to put together a well thought out article for people to read as opposed to my usual stream of conscious thought which serves as the basis for the majority of the articles that I write. The basis of this article will focus on the environment which my generation (Generation Y) has developed in. It will illustrate the side effects that environment has had on the aspects of not only our current living standards, but also any future prospects. The key components of this article rely on a basic understanding of the current economic situation, insight into the way in which modern communication occurs, and the history and culture which compose the American psyche currently.
The inspiration for this post comes from the depths of 4chan’s /new/ board which is responsible [in theory] for the discussion of various topics related to current world events. I had gone there hoping for an update on the situation occurring on the Korean Peninsula this morning, but I managed to stumble into an oddly coherent discussion on the nature of the Baby Boomer Generation. For the sake of clarity, I would like to define the generations discussed as follows:
- Baby Boomer – Born Directly after World War 2 until 1957
- Generation X – Born between 1957 and 1978
- Generation Y – Born Between 1978 and 1993
- Generation Z – Born Anytime after 1993
The post was a rudimentary discussion of how generation x is now collapsing in on itself financially in part due to interference and political features put in place by the Baby Boomer Generation. The post further elaborated on the possible effects that could already be seen within the job market for Generation Y. This uniquely coherent diatribe led me to finally consider writing this post. It is something I have wanted to write for a long time, but have lacked the proper wording to describe exactly what I was thinking.
The History of the Situation
There are key points that must be understood in order for the division of the generations to exist which lie within the historical events that divide those generations. As most people are well aware, the baby boom was a direct result of the US victory in the Second World War. The result of that victory allowed many soldiers to return home full of vigor and with a military pension. These soldiers went on to use that GI bill to claim a basic education as well as settle down in mass and breed like rabbits. This breeding phase would last until the approximate end of the Korean War and the final phases of the McCarthy era, solidifying a point in time which would separate the McCarthy era driven baby boomers from their Vietnam era compatriots.
Generation X would live through the heart of the so called hippy movement as well as some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of modern history. I can still hear my parents speaking about how they remembered how important the death of John F. Kennedy and the Moon Landing were (Though both are members of Generation Jones). These events would shape that generation and allow them to move on to their own sort of breeding phase with the up and coming Generation Z. But it is my generation, the generation born out of a combination of Generation Jones and the Baby Boomers which we are here to discuss.
Once the Baby Boomers had established themselves in the late 70’s putting most of them in their mid 20’s to their early 30’s, they began to breed in a manner similar to their rabbit like parents. The result of this breeding would be what has become colloquially referred to as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y. We are the children who would grow up with the technology developed by projects like ARPANET and advancements in basic silicon based transistor technology. We are for the most part, defined by this technology. It was our generation that would grow up at the same time as personal computing and the World Wide Web.
We will be followed by Generation Z, the generation that my sister belongs to as well as the generation that hopefully my generation can save before they fall into the same trap that we did.
What we did wrong…
Despite a popular misconception regarding the lack of authoritative respect our generation has, the truth is perhaps far more telling. According to a study conducted by the Australian Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, by the age of 21 nearly ten percent of my generation had already been in a court for one reason or another. This statistic is a bit more interesting than that though. You see, what the statistic fails to display is the fact that only .5% of my generation has actually been placed in jail for any of our criminal offenses. In fact, most of what we have been accused of is related to minor traffic incidents or alcohol and drug related offenses. This statistic is made even more interesting by the fact that my generation was the first full generation to be penalized for drinking under the age of 21 due to the introduction of legislation passed pushed by a form of MADD [Mothers Against Drunk Driving] in the mid 80’s.
We were the generation that decided to behave and obey most of the laws set before us. It was my generation that overwhelmingly decided that we must go through High School and move on to college in order to get a degree regardless of the cost to ourselves. It was established as the pinnacle of our educational standpoint, that for any person to be valuable in the work force they must have a bachelors degree or higher. Now that we are in college with anywhere between 30,000 and 120,000 dollars in educational loans we are being told once again that the skills which we acquired would simply not be enough.
I had the luck of having a discussion with Dr. Zara Larsen of the Larsen Group, a group dedicated to giving advice to others on how to change themselves in order to better establish themselves in the workforce. In the conversation about a graduating mechanical engineer we were told that even with a Bachelors in mechanical engineering from the world’s top 8 engineering institution, one would still need to go on to pick up a Master’s degree in the field to even consider a position in the 6 figure range. Now while I do not proclaim that the Larsen Group has any more authoritative a position in that field than any other group, the point still remains that we are constantly being told that the 4 years of education and debt may simply not be enough to secure a job in the work force.
College education was the driving force for everything that my Generation has done, as we are told over and over again that the single judgmental factor which we would be held to is whether or not we were able to attend and graduate from some form of higher education. All throughout High School we are told again and again that our most important goal is to maintain sufficient grades to allow us to attend the college of our choice. We have sacrificed any and all trade skill positions in favor of some form of higher education.
Mike Rowe, who is perhaps most well known for his position as the host of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs”, recently gave a speech at the TED talks on how we have changed our view points on the nature of manual labor. The talk goes on to discuss how the United States has demonized the working positions that are held by Americans, how it is that we have made the ditch digger, the farm hand, etc. elements of our society that are seen as unwanted and unclean. The position is interesting in that it dips into the mentality that my generation has been fed about how our ultimate goal should be to attain a position in some office working as what quintessentially amounts to a cubicle slave.
The side effect of this mentality is clear and even has some pretty damning physical evidence. In 2007, an eight lane bridge along the I-35W route in Minnesota collapsed killing 13 and injuring 145. August 2003, the entire North East coast of the United States suffers from a massive power outage, leaving 45 million without power. These events are incredibly clear signs that the US infrastructure, which was for the most part established in the mid 50’s as part of the military and social initiative to better prepare ourselves for possible Soviet invasions, is finally starting to show its age. We have continued to ignore some of the most critical elements of the nations infrastructure in part due to a complete lack of work force capable of performing the needed duties.
The mounting concern is now that the generation which will need to deal with these issues simply is not trained to deal with them. Our High Schools were stripped of shop class in favor classical more renaissance style pursuits. The problem with this of course is that the shop classes served a critical feature within the educational mindset. In a video created by RSA Animate, Sir Ken Robinson discusses how it is that the education system, which was created in the late 19th century as a method for keeping school age children from competing with their parents for jobs, is now starting to falter in terms of proving of value to the modern age child. The core of the system is based around the concept of classical education, with a focus on literature and the fine arts as opposed to labor, has further served to divide and demonize the idea of the working class.
So, here we have a group generation of individuals who have tried to do well in school, get good grades, stay out of trouble, and most important of all make their way to the college system after being processed by public education. They have been stripped of most of their critical and analytical thinking abilities in favor of rote memorization and skills which will allow them to pass the required test in order to reach their goal of college. This is further reinforced at the college level where it has become apparent to the educational facilities that more and more the people attending, short of a state mandate, are required to be there.
In recent years, post secondary educational facilities have begun to realize that they can make use of this requirement and use it for their own financial gain. Using a combination of data from the National Center for Education Statistics and compiled data from the Cost of Living Index one can create a semi basic graph on the matter [credit to a Wikipedia user for compiling the data].
A recent PBS documentary even went into the nature of for profit colleges which have begun to take advantage of not only members of my generation, but those of generation X which are now desperate to attempt to compete with the flow of my generation into the workforce. These Universities are without a doubt making use of not only the ease of access that the internet provides, but also the unrelenting need for a degree in the modern business world.
Perhaps what makes this worse is how easy it is to put yourself in debt in order to attend these colleges. For attending Purdue University for 3 Years for a Bachelors Degree in Computer and Information Technology [projected entry salary 40k+], as an out of state student with no grants or scholarships I will owe the University approximately $120,000.00. For my part in signing and agreeing to that debt I was required to take a 10 minute 5 question quiz [which I could repeat], asking me if I understood how much the loan was for and that 3 to 6 months after my graduation I would be expected to begin payment on those loans.
We were never taught personal finance as a class at any level of my education. Everything I understand about the banking industry or the mechanics involved with loans and money lending is based on information I have gathered on my own time or learned because my mother is an employee for a local credit union. As a result, in full honesty, I am terribly unaware of exactly the consequences or the nature of the loan I have agreed to pay. If I do not secure a paying job within 3 to 6 months of my Graduation, that student loan debt will quickly be turned into a bill that I will not be capable of paying. The implications that this reality holds are staggering and upsetting, magnified more so when one realizes that a Federal student loan is one of the only loans which can not be cleared by chapter 11 bankruptcy.
America as a society has become a creature which spends money it does not have. It was this exact behavior which created the last global great depression which scars history books to this day. For proof of this, one need not look any further than the housing bubble crash which started in 2007 and has dominated mainstream media for the last 3 years. The linchpin to that entire fiasco relied on people buying houses which they simply could not afford. The resulting inability to pay for those houses caused the banks which provided those loans to suffer massive monetary losses. As most are well aware, this sparked a multitrillion bailout in order to ensure that those banking institutions would not collapse.
So while the monster is not the same as the last great depression with small things lent out on credit eventually resulting in an inability to pay, it has much more dramatic consequences when it strikes. Modern national media (CNN, Fox, MSNBC, etc) have done a reasonably good job of perpetuating the idea that economy is somehow in a state of recovery, that unemployment is down and things are back on the road some form of nostalgic glory days. If one assumes the standpoint that money is debt and that our currency is only worth the amount that we think it is, then this form of propaganda is likely going to help to strengthen the economy, inspiring buying and circulating more funds [thus increasing the amount of debt]. This causes some issues; however, as it becomes apparent that the full scale damage is not conveyed simply with employment statistics.
Recent studies have revealed 2 things which might go about explaining why it is that the unemployment numbers seem to have dropped, the first of which is now a standard operation for members of my generation. This tactic is to simply “hide” in graduate school until a point where the economy will start to recover of its own accord. Multiple colleges have reported that their graduate admissions are on the rise within the last 2 years. There is also an issue of people who have managed to obtain their degree are now facing other issues.
The simple issue here is that those positions simply do not provide adequate funds to maintain a standard of living with the pressing issue of student debt. Now ultimately, this becomes a diatribe about the status of post secondary education, but I felt it was key to helping to explain the situation facing myself and others in my age range.
Past the issues of the placement of college within our makeup as a group, there are even more concerns that seem to dot the horizon.
Inheriting a Dying System
Social security, trillions of dollars in debt, a collapsing infrastructure, mediocre education standards, and the list goes on. Generation Y is told again and again that it will be our responsibility to fix these problems. We are burdened with knowledge that it is up to us to draft solutions to problems that are now so rampantly out of control, it is unlikely that conventional methods will be capable of solving them.
There is the theory in most accepted academic rings that history is bound to repeat itself regardless of whether or not people bother to read up on it. Ultimately I could sit here all day attempting to justify how my generation will somehow change the way things are, but the likelihood of such an occurrence is dismally low. In Japan, their equivalent of Generation Y happens to be approximately 10 years ahead of our own. There are growing signs that there are serious cultural changes already occurring. The ideology that the company comes first is starting to fail and a growing sign of what could easily amount to depression is beginning to show it’s head. The article covers how the males of the population have become more apathetic and less aggressive. While one could make a reasonable argument that the United States and Europe [which compose the western cultural "Generation Y"] have enough cultural differences separating them from Japan that such a thing could not possibly occur.
I think though, that we need to accept that my generation my actually be starting to feel the burden of this collapsing system. The constant calls for us to maintain the system have made it apparent that we may simply not be able to do so. We lack the tools, resources, and time that would be required for such a massive undertaking to occur. As such, we are often called cynical, lazy, apathetic… terms which mirror in a way the growing Japanese population. With life expectancy now stabilized thanks to the fact that the statistic is no longer offset by a massive number of deaths at birth, each generation is competing with the successive generations before it for job placement and goods.
The Baby Boomers and Generation X failed to save up for retirement and are now being forced to not only try and stay in the job market [even inspiring such programs as Florida's "Experience Works"] but to actively keep others out of it. The result of this is an entire generation being forced to try and combat 40+ years of work experience with a mere degree and perhaps a certification or two. When faced with a choice between the two, you are often told that the only way you even have a chance of getting a job would be to spend time working for an internship and praying that they will hire you after the internship expires.
This disheartening experience even has some statistics associated with it. As I discussed in a previous post there is a study which shows that for the entire existence of my generation, and essentially since the time the Baby Boomers started having children, that suicide rates among young adults and teens has skyrocketed while the rates among Adults and the Elderly has declined to compensate.
I remember thinking, when asked why I thought it was that someone as young as 14 would be willing to kill themselves, what could possibly drive or motivate a person to conjure such thoughts. Admittedly, even today, the thought of someone who is barely into adolescence being capable of ending their life is a troubling thought. I am reminded; however, that we also have access to information and an incredibly impressive rate. We are virtually surrounded from birth with multiple forms of mass media and information gathering technologies. This allows us to learn facts about the global perspective and the shift that is occurring with growing globalization which could easily be described as terrifying.
As such, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the Y Generation has begun to show growing signs of distrust of some of the methods employed by the old guard. The resulting complications that arise from this distrust have often shown in the way that we vote.
A Republic, if you can keep it – Benjamin Franklin
To pretend that politics were not corrupt before my Generation came on the scene is borderline retardation. As long as there have been people in power, there have been those that have been willing to abuse it. The difference of course, is that those in power are now being exposed for the scandals and atrocities that they commit. We can now look and realize that perhaps Al Qaeda would not have been so prepared to attack us, had we not trained them ourselves.
It has become easier for the common man to access things that were previously only discussed by a limited number of sources. With the number of ways media has started to integrate itself with our lives, it becomes almost impossible to ignore the constant bombardment of information regarding which political leader has done something which could easily lose public trust.
In that time, my Generation has grown up knowing that Nixon used his power during the Watergate scandal, Regan was losing his memory, Clinton getting a blow job, and so many for President Bush that there is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to the various incidents of abuse. With wave after wave of nothing but negative information about every single political leader “we elect” it should come as a surprise to no one that we might be a bit disillusioned about the entire situation. The only thing we know of politics is that it is corrupt, and any attempts to solve that corruption only end up generating more of it.
So when people ask me if I voted or not, I have no shame in saying that I took no part in the political process. I have voted a single time during the democratic primary for current President Barak Obama. I did so because I had the faintest belief that perhaps the man would be a change, god knows that’s what he preached about all the time. But once again we will see with swift indignation, that regardless of your opinion of the man he was no different than any president before him. For every promise he has kept, he has compromised with opponents that those who voted for him see only as fools and bigots.
I doubt very much if you will see my Generation provide as big of the voting bloc as occurred during the 2008 election. We will be quick to learn from our mistakes and realize that the core of the system is inherently broken, and that any illusion of the system working for the people is quite incorrect. Even the greatest heroes of “fighting the man” like Senator Al Franken from Minnesota have proven with the approval of bills like the COICA that even the greatest heralds of this Generation’s general viewpoint can’t be trusted to be perfectly in line with those they represent.
The two party system is an outdated mechanic perpetuated by the use of the electoral college. As such, it like other elements core to the government has become one of resentment even among Baby Boomers, with the conservative leaning Tea Party managing to gain a couple of seats in the previous election. It is because of this system, that many feel that they can never truly be represented on an ideological basis as both parties are grounded in centrist thoughts. While they both have their extreme elements, for the most part the core of both parties sits at the center of the US political system. Our brothers and sisters in Europe seem to be doing better in that regard at the very least, with a system in government which seems to allow for some more points of view to enter the playing field.
We grew up on the fall of the Soviet Union, watching as our once great rival collapsed under the economic strain it had been put under. It was the once great enemy that our predecessors had fought so long to defeat. But when we started to realize the cost to us as a nation including but not limited to: The various wars in southeast Asia; the intervention with legitimate political systems in the Middle East and Central / Southern America; and the backlash that those events generated, it became apparent that we must analyze why exactly we had chosen to fight.
The Soviet Union had been our Ally during the Second World War, committing more men to end the war than all other allied nations combined. Due to differences in economic models and systems of government, it was decided that after the war they were to become the enemy of the United States. One is forced to ask themselves: what was it about socialism that drove an entire nation to fight against it tooth and nail.
And so we analyzed the concept, we tried to learn why it is that people were so determined to not allow it gain a foothold. And the conclusion we could draw was “Well it doesn’t work in theory, but it’s not inherently evil”. As you look around with 20/20 hindsight on the matter, one begins to wonder what it was that we were fighting for. We were willing to sentence our own people as traitors for having a different idea of how the government should run; going against everything we had been taught about American patriotism. To question the government was at the core curriculum, that our Founding Fathers fought the British because it was the wrong form of Government, and 150 years later we leverage those who speak out against the government as traitors.
We grew up with perspective on the matter. And now, we have to tools to do what those before us did not. We had the opportunity to communicate with the people that composed the nations we call enemy.
In 2009, Iran, A country listed on the “Axis of Evil”, had within its confines an uprising of a different sort. Unlike uprisings in the past, which were handled quietly as an internal matter, it was public for the whole world to view. As sites like Twitter and other social media outlets provided a live stream to allow the entire rest of the world to view the events as they unfolded, it became clear that the citizens who composed these uprisings held similar beliefs and views to those held by myself. We started to realize that the picture painted of an ultra conservative Islamic nation might not be as true to reality as we had thought.
The Internet and Global Communications have radically changed the dynamic and outlook that this generation holds. For the first time in all of human history, the ability to communicate to almost all of the worlds 6 billion inhabitants exists. The simple magnitude of that capability cannot be expressed in words. This ability has united humanity in a way that was before impossible. We now have the ability to break down and analyze internal cultural values that would otherwise remain isolated and have been unchallenged.
In addition to that ability to communicate comes the ability to learn. Unlike all of the previous generations, we have the entire compendium of human knowledge at our fingertips. We have used this to break down the barriers typically associated with a lack of critical thought and analytical skills at the secondary education level. It is now possible for anyone to tap into a vast source knowledge that was previously only available to the educational elite.
And now, beyond that, the global masses also have access to all of the political system’s dirty little secrets. With sites like Wikileaks, it becomes incredibly easy to access information that would otherwise have been kept from the citizens who pay for its acquisition. We operate in a realm that has never previously been explored with a flood of information, so much so that it can keep us distracted.
Over time, we have learned to start being more selective with which information we choose to accept. My generation has been forced to start accepting some groups as trustworthy, and others as false sources. We are taught as the generations before begin to grasp what we have created, that the things we have created should not be trusted. We are told to trust a book over a site online, thinking that simply because a publisher or an editor is involved with the creation of the material, that it is bound to the truth. We have overcome that need to rely on the publisher or the editor by being more selective about the information that we choose to accept as correct. Our ability to double check statistics and facts has been made all the easier and as such our tendency towards doubt all the more apparent.
The downside of this technological surge has come in the form of the inherent human reward system. One could argue that as long as a man remains happy and does not cause harm to others, than the source of that happiness should not be questioned. The flaw in this of course is questioning the price we pay for an ever increasing digital footprint.
We are perhaps the only generation that could define our ages by the technology which was released during those ages. It is interesting to think that I could define the ages 5-9 as the Super Nintendo, ages 10-14 as the Playstation, 14-18 as the Playstation 2, 18-22 as the 360, Wii, and PS3. We have entered new factors into the equation of what it is that brings us happiness. As to the possible implications of such a thing, I really cannot say; only that in doing so we have become impossibly intertwined with technology.
As we being to learn more and more about how the human mind works, it is becoming increasingly apparent that those elements can be used in the same fashion any scientific discovery would be used: To generate a profit. In 1959 Fredrick Herzberg discovered that workers did not actually do their jobs for cash, but rather for recognition. He classified the motivational factors into two separate categories: Motivation and Hygiene. The theory was slowly refined and crafted with each progressive iteration revealing more and more about the what drives us. RSA Animate recently published a talk by Dan Pink on the matter of what it is that motivates us to do things.
Now what you can be sure of is that the business world is well aware of these motivational schemes. With increasing frequency, jobs tend to no longer or barely match the cost of living, in fact they have gone so far as to fight against a raise in the minimum wage saying that by doing so they would simply not hire any new employees. By knowing what motivates people, business can learn to increase profits at the cost of using other incentives to motivate employees.
Science is being used against us, in marketing, in video game design, in everything we do. It is not to say that the science is evil, or that somehow knowing how to make you buy something that you do not need is forbidden knowledge. But we have to be willing to cope with the fact that we are starting to understand how to manipulate people on a level that they can’t control. I leave it to others to decide the ethical implications that come with that.
What to do?
So, you have all of these factors that are weighing in and crushing an entire Generation. The question of course becomes “What are you going to do about it”. Now, we are a generation that has been accused of being lazy and cynical [and perhaps with good reason on our parts for being so]. What you have to ask yourself is how do we change this? How can we escape this “collapse”?
In truth, I doubt very much if we actually can, it’s that whole being cynical thing that comes with the generation. The situation put against us is not one that will be easy to navigate or deal with in a timely manner. I think the answer lies in using what makes our generation unique.
With massive global protest organized against the Church of Scientology by groups like anonymous, the Reddit Secret Santa program, or even the act to save a small kitten from an abusive home. There are instances across the internet on a daily basis of humanity trying its best to be trusting. Now obviously, I would be well within the bounds of ignorance to ignore the overwhelming number of cases which do not end so happily, but I think there is some manner of precedent being set in how my Generation is choosing to interact with the world.
The key to turning back the tide and undoing the damage that has been done is going to come from action. I don’t know how to do so, as at this point it is difficult to truly stir the masses, but if anything is going to be done you can almost hedge your bet that the medium will be the internet.
I thank you all for reading, and I hope you had a happy set of Holiday’s this past Thanksgiving. I think I shall leave you with the inspiration for this little wall of text.