I’m not sure how I feel overall about this New York Magazine story by Noreen Malone, which attempts to paint a sweeping portrait of What It’s Like to Be a Twentysomething today. But several passages really resonated with me. Like this paragraph, about Gen Y and DIY culture:
Meanwhile, one of the reasons there aren’t enough of those jobs out there is that America no longer makes enough stuff. Young people feel that void, intrinsically. Making stuff is what got us smiles from our parents and top billing in refrigerator art galleries. And since we are, as a generation, more addicted to positive reinforcement than any before us, and because we have learned firsthand the futility of finding that affirmation through our employers, we have returned to our stuff-making ways, via pursuits easily mocked: the modern-day pickling, the obsessive Etsying, the flower-arranging classes, the knitting resurgence, the Kickstarter funds for art projects of no potential commercial value…this is a golden age for creativity and knowledge for their own sakes. Our pastimes have become our expressions of mastery, a substitute for the all-consuming career.
I’m not sure I agree that the impulse to DIY comes from a need for positive reinforcement and praise, but I do agree that making things has become “a substitute for the all-consuming career” – all-consuming careers being both harder to come by and decreasingly attractive these days.
Malone goes on to talk about the decrease in materialism among Generation Y, which is something I’ve absolutely noticed both among my friends and among the women I’ve been interviewing for the book: Gen Y just doesn’t believe in the McMansion, the status car, the designer label jeans. And we may be all the better for it, as Malone writes:
[T]here’s evidence to suggest other members of our cohort believe they’ll live a more fulfilled life, have better relationships, even if they don’t live in larger houses or drive fancier cars than their parents. Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, says the most prominent shift she has seen so far among young people in this economy is an apparent decrease in materialism. We are less interested in stuff, but still very interested in self.
But the article also touches on some of the ways my generation’s DIY attitude sometimes worries me. Malone describes a 24-year-old friend of hers who dropped out of Georgetown to get “life experience” as an oil platform worker and now cobbles together a living in Brooklyn by delivering cloth diapers and woodworking, and works hard at “getting better at enjoying life.” To Desi, a son of privilege (and, ironically, the grandson of John Rawls), the modern social safety net is all about “feeling like you can take care of yourself and your friends.”
That’s a sweet notion, but, in my opinion (and Malone’s, I think), an impoverished one. If my generation is beating a retreat to our own homes and circle of friends/family, what does that mean for those outside the circles? Those who have no circles? And, even within the circles, what might we be losing by rejecting rather than reforming the larger systems of this country?
Sorry to get all political in a post presumably about DIY and crafts, but I’ve just come from a conference about extreme self-sufficiency, and my mind is sort of spinning. More on that later…