Tag Archives: neo-liberalism

Generation Serf, part 1

The growth of virtual communities and new models of collaboration ties in directly with Generation C – the generation that wants an active hand in creating its own future. First identified by Trendwatching.com in 2004, Generation C refers to a generation of content creators who are just as comfortable creating content (blogs, videos, wiki entries) as they are consuming it.

Trendwatching said the C stood for content; Oxford-trained anthropologist Jake Pearce (www.jakepearce.com) disagreed. He saw content as the symptom, not the cause, and sought to explain Generation C by their motivation. His hypothesis: it’s about control.

In this light the icon of Generation C is the iPod, with its ability to create your own playlist. Why, Gen C asks, can we create our own playlist of music, but not our own playlist of other parts of our lives? For example, careers, education, government, banking. Why can’t these services by customized and tweaked to an individual’s specific preferences?

Simon Young, “Power of Integration” in The Social Media MBA, ed Christer Holloman (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, 2012)

There’s so much wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin…

All generations want an active hand in creating their own future. Generation C is no different in this regard.  Everyone wants to be able to shape their destiny.  Where Generation C differs – if and to the extent that it does differ – is in how precisely it views that activity of shaping its own future.  And the answer that is offered up is basically… the iPod.  Shaping their own future is, for Generation C, equivalent to creating a playlist for their iPod.  To making a list of commercial music, either bought online from an extremely wealthy company, or perhaps illegally pirated from an overpriced CD, and listening to that list on an overpriced, heavily restricted piece of hardware, assembled under undersafe conditions by underpaid overseas workers in a globalized economic order designed to minimize workers’ rights while maximizing corporate profits. Shaping your future means consuming this as opposed to that.  Lady Gaga or Mumford & Sons.  Or maybe just which you consume first, which you consume second.

Playlists are an excellent example of the false freedoms and choices that are meant to substitute for genuine choice, to distract people from their increasing lack of ability to shape their future, their increasing lack of freedom. To be clear, for most people throughout history, freedom, choice, the ability to shape their own future, to have control over their own destiny, have been severely constrained. But… in the conditions that arose, in the United States and elsewhere in the developed world in the years after the start of the Great Depression, and especially after World War II, we grew accustomed to a different state of affairs.

Part of that new state of affairs was a massive expansion of consumption. And over time, we’ve become more a consumer society than a producer society. An immensely wealthy consumer society, awash in goods. The rise in consumption was part of a general rise in quality of life and economic well-being in the years from the end of WWII until 1979: a major expansion of the middle class, very high levels of college education and home ownership, health insurance and health care, literacy, declines in infant mortality, stable employment. To people coming out of the shtetls, out of the Great Depression, out of the rural post-slavery of the south, all of that look like freedom, felt like freedom.

Peace and prosperity – for most, particularly white males, and leaving aside such blips as the Korean War and various police actions and armed foreign policy adventures. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or property, if you prefer the older, original formulation).

This was the heyday of the American Dream. People moved out of tenements and into suburban homes with lawns and washing machines. They bought cars. Everyone’s kids went to high school, and huge numbers went to university, often the first in their families to do so.  Those kids graduated, got jobs, and started doing better than their parents.  And they expected it to last. We all expected it to last. This was foolish, and quiescent. We were wrong.