OPINION: Gen Y: Where the wild things aren't

Adrian Cosstick
By Adrian Cosstick | 7 November 2013
Adrian Cosstick.

“Young people today have been marketed to since they were newborns because cartoons are made to sell cereal. So as a consequence they have the most sophisticated bullshit detectors of all time.  And the only way to circumvent that bullshit detector is to not bullshit. So if something is created in a boardroom.  If something is created by consensus. If something is created by a bunch of babyboomers who say it will be cool … to do skateboarding or something, it will not work,” said Shane Smith, co-founder of Vice Magazine and the self-proclaimed voice of a generation.

Stumbling across Shane’s words last week made me punch my little Generation Y chest with pride.  He’s right: we’re anti-establishment, anti-capitalist, and non-commercial.  We’re more intelligent, informed, and objective than any generation before us. We grew up on the internet. We make our own rules. To communicate with us the government and big business has to get down to our level or the battle is lost.

My heart was aflutter as I sipped my latte and gazed out across Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Only the euphoria didn’t last very long.  It dawned on me that I’ve heard that sentiment from a lot of commentators over the years as they try to make sense of my generation (or speak on our behalf). And no matter which way I try to look at it, deep down, I know it’s not true.  Generation Y is the most predictable generation yet and we’re far more market driven and commodity orientated than we’d like to admit.  Whether we like it or not Generation Y is run by a ‘boardroom’ and a free market mentality.

At the beginning of Arlie Russell Horchschild’s book ‘The Outsourced Self’ she insists that Generation Y is being bombarded with language that urges us to think in market terms – is there a more efficient means to do this?  Technology has increased the amount of these communications to a point where it’s made inroads into our most intimate understanding of self.

“In the marketization of personal life, acts that were once intuitive or ordinary – deciding whom to marry, choosing a name for your newborn, even figuring out what to want – now require the help of paid experts.”

We are constantly being asked to try things on, or take them off, and then decide which stance to take on every facet of our lives.  Horchschild believes this has made us insecure and requires us to lean on the market for help.

Once upon a time, young people would head to the local town dance to try and meet an attractive member of the opposite sex.  The development of transportation and sprawling metropolitan centers meant we were no longer restricted to the limited options at the town hall.  We could instead hop between bars, pubs, and clubs, if the mood didn’t strike at a particular venue.  Online dating websites then allowed us to outsource matchmaking altogether.  We could submit a bunch of preferences in order to find an appropriate match while we are out working, exercising, and shopping.  We also didn’t need to waste time getting rejected by people who weren’t marriage material.

Now Tinder allows us to do all the matching ourselves irrespective of geo-location, age, race, class, or dating website mechanics.  The Huffington Post recently stated that ‘Tinderers’ have rated each other over 3 billion times.  The app is downloaded 20,000 times a day and 60% of users check it daily.  This statistic not only acknowledges that Tinder is an efficient means of outsourcing a life problem to a commodity, but indicates widespread insecurities with not having the app if you’re single.

Since the industrial revolution, outsourcing and the free market has always been a priority for Western culture – this is nothing new.  What has changed is the level of data we hand over to people, products, and services along the way. The more Generation Y outsources their lives, the more data is captured about them and the more predictable we become to marketers, advertisers, big business, and governments.   We outsource our careers to LinkedIn, our music taste to Last.Fm and Spotify, our radio dial to iHeartRadio, our DVD collection to Netflix, our creativity to Instagram, and the management of our social standing to Facebook and Twitter. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘the man’ already knows more about me than I do.

Generation Y don’t stick it to the man. We hand over every single intimate detail about our lives and our consumption habits.  We are a slave to the man.  We switch off the TV and refuse to read newspapers, but spend hours of our time handing over more information online than ever before.  All it takes is a tweet, a like, a share, and a hashtag per day.  It’s also why Australian advertisers spent $3.6billion in online advertising this year.  Not only is it more quantifiable and flexible than traditional media, advertisers are fishing where the fish are.

Apologies Shane Smith, we’re not as sophisticated in bullsh*t as you think.

Adrian Cosstick
Business managerMaxus Melbourne

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