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Thread: Generation Sell

  1. #1
    Symbolic Herald Vasilisa's Avatar
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    Post Generation Sell

    Generation Sell
    By WILLIAM DERESIEWICZ
    November 12, 2011
    NYTimes

    Excerpt:
    ...
    The millennial affect is the affect of the salesman. Consider the other side of the equation, the Millennials’ characteristic social form. Here’s what I see around me, in the city and the culture: food carts, 20-somethings selling wallets made from recycled plastic bags, boutique pickle companies, techie start-ups, Kickstarter, urban-farming supply stores and bottled water that wants to save the planet. Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business. Every artistic or moral aspiration — music, food, good works, what have you — is expressed in those terms.

    Call it Generation Sell.

    Bands are still bands, but now they’re little businesses, as well: self-produced, self-published, self-managed. When I hear from young people who want to get off the careerist treadmill and do something meaningful, they talk, most often, about opening a restaurant. Nonprofits are still hip, but students don’t dream about joining one, they dream about starting one. In any case, what’s really hip is social entrepreneurship — companies that try to make money responsibly, then give it all away.

    It’s striking. Forty years ago, even 20 years ago, a young person’s first thought, or even second or third thought, was certainly not to start a business. That was selling out — an idea that has rather tellingly disappeared from our vocabulary. Where did it come from, this change? Less Reaganism, as a former student suggested to me, than Clintonism — the heroic age of dot-com entrepreneurship that emerged during the Millennials’ childhood and youth. Add a distrust of large organizations, including government, as well as the sense, a legacy of the last decade, that it’s every man for himself.

    Because this isn’t only them. The small business is the idealized social form of our time. Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur. (Think of Steve Jobs, our new deity.) Autonomy, adventure, imagination: entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us. The characteristic art form of our age may be the business plan.

    AND that, I think, is the real meaning of the Millennial affect — which is, like the entrepreneurial ideal, essentially everyone’s now. Today’s polite, pleasant personality is, above all, a commercial personality. It is the salesman’s smile and hearty handshake, because the customer is always right and you should always keep the customer happy. If you want to get ahead, said Benjamin Franklin, the original business guru, make yourself pleasing to others.

    I was contacted recently by a young man who plans to start a Web site to promote the need for reading and reflection to people of his generation. Not just promote it, though, of course, but market it. When he asked me for advice, I suggested he begin by pointing out the superficiality of so much social media. Well, he said, I agree with that idea, that’s a big premise of what I’m trying to do, but I wouldn’t want to come across as negative, because that turns people off. If they think you’re criticizing them, they won’t want to buy what you’re selling.

    That kind of thinking is precisely what I’m talking about, what lies behind the bland, inoffensive, smile-and-a-shoeshine personality — the stay-positive, other-directed, I’ll-be-whoever-you-want-me-to-be personality — that everybody has today. Yes, we’re vicious, anonymously, on the comment threads of public Web sites, but when we speak in our own names, on Facebook and so forth, we’re strenuously cheerful, conciliatory, well-groomed. (In fact, one of the reasons we’re so vicious, I’m convinced, is to relieve the psychic pressure of all that affability.) They say that people in Hollywood are always nice to everyone they meet, in that famously fake Hollywood way, because they’re never certain whom they might be dealing with — it could be somebody who’s more important than they realize, or at least, somebody who might become important down the road.

    Well, we’re all in showbiz now, walking on eggshells, relentlessly tending our customer base. We’re all selling something today, because even if we aren’t literally selling something (though thanks to the Internet as well as the entrepreneurial ideal, more and more of us are), we’re always selling ourselves. We use social media to create a product — to create a brand — and the product is us. We treat ourselves like little businesses, something to be managed and promoted.

    The self today is an entrepreneurial self, a self that’s packaged to be sold.

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  2. #2

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    Thank you for this, Vas.
    Dirt Farmer

  3. #3
    Sniffles
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    Interesting.

  4. #4
    pathwise dependent FDG's Avatar
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    Are they really saying that trying to work by selling the stuff you produce or make up on your own leads to a kind of personality which is more "fake" than the typical corporate rat-racer just because someone is attentive to his own potential clients, and how that is supposed to be worse than licking your boss' arse in a big corporate building and working overtime everyday for something that will never add happiness and/or pleasure to the lives of other people? Are they really trying to say that?

    Then I completely and utterly disagree.

    Plus it's kind of weird how the autor thinks you need to change your personality in order to be a good entrpreneur and deal with clients. It seems easy enough to me, you're agreeing to a mutual exchange of goods, what could be better than that?

    I just thinks he likes to add a bit of drama, paradoxically because he wants to "sell" his own article.
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    Post Human Post Qlip's Avatar
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    It is interesting, but I don't like that the writer is very strongly linking small business ownership and salesmanship, making it sound vapid. I have knowng a number of small business owners and people trying to start things up. Advertising is a part of the necessity of such a thing, but if there are indeed a new generation of people getting involved in entrepreneurship, they'll probably learn within a few months what any other experienced businessman knows. You have to have a good service or product to sell. You need substance.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Jaguar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by William Deresiewicz
    Forty years ago, even 20 years ago, a young person’s first thought, or even second or third thought, was certainly not to start a business.
    It would be harder for me to find someone whose first thought wasn't to start their own business, and actually followed through and did start it. Heaven forbid someone follow their dream, Willy.

    I don't know a single business owner who exhibits the "fake smile mentality" he's alluding to. If anything, they're tough as nails and will tell it like it is so fast, it will make your head spin. The only fakeness I smell is Deresiewicz's article.

  7. #7
    Symbolic Herald Vasilisa's Avatar
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    I understand your points, Jaguar and Qlip. I like Dersiewicz's past writings on solitude very much. I think what he laments is solitude's absence in our modern life, and believes it contributes to the facade affect he sees in millennials. But on the other hand, its hard not to take the stance asking: so what is wrong with being an entrepreneur if that is the hero of our time, then it captures the zeitgeist and certainly isn't disagreeable, especially for the naturally enterprising among us? I posted an article that had a defense of attention-getting creative endeavors.
    Quote Originally Posted by Noreen Malone View Post
    It’s part of the American way to get a lot of self-worth from your job. 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. The millions upon millions who upload footage of themselves singing or dancing or talking about the news to YouTube. Of course, funny videos and adorable hand-sewn ikat pillows aren’t the only kind of stuff that people are making as a way of coping with harsh economic realities—meth, for instance, comes to mind. But putting aside those darker enterprises, 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.

    Even status updates and photo albums on Facebook are part of this. Jonathan Franzen wrote a commencement speech–cum–jeremiad last spring against our generation for, as he sees it, substituting Facebook “liking” for real-life passion for something. But the thumbs-up isn’t a substitution for anything. It is just a tiny kindness, a sweet pat on the back, and the profligacy with which we give them out is just a function of a generation’s giving out compliments in the volume in which we received them growing up. Thumbs down, Franzen, for missing the point.

    I just think its interesting to ponder what kind of messages youth culture transmits about the nature of the self. I like his analysis of the different economic underpinnings of past youth culture movements through time. The idea that mainstream has co-opted youth culture and trained them to market themselves isn't exactly new, but I still thought it was worthy of some attention.
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    can't handcuff the wind Z Buck McFate's Avatar
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    at Vas and the articles she posts.

    It's interesting, but it seems slightly off to me. I'll have to come back later to read the other comments and expound on that.
    Reality is a collective hunch. -Lily Tomlin

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    can't handcuff the wind Z Buck McFate's Avatar
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    I do think all this connection- where we’re connected almost 24/7 to almost everyone we know- is almost certainly changing our relationships to ourselves. We have to be ‘on’ all the time, or at least be prepared to go ‘on’ if the phone rings- and it’s increasingly right there wherever we go. We are being monitored more than we used to be. We have to be concerned with how our activity looks to others more than before, and it’s changing the way we relate to a ‘self’.

    Related side tangent:


    Throw a rock in any direction and you’ll hit a person with a cell phone with a camera- and if you do something stupid enough, it’ll get uploaded to youtube and go viral. In one way, I can see some potential benefit- like that girl who videotaped her dad hitting her with his belt- if it’s possible to be taped anywhere by anyone, people might be more likely to think twice about doing something genuinely stupid. One hundred years ago, no one would begin to worry about an ‘invisible eye’ hiding somewhere in the room capturing their actions to show other people later (even including religion- someone might be concerned that a higher power is watching and judging, but it’s not like that higher power will be calling their neighbors and everyone else they have to face every day in this lifetime telling them what happened). But on the other hand, it does have the affect of leading people away from figuring out “What’s right for me?” for themselves. It’s not like anyone can do that 100% on their own anyway- we need others to learn about ourselves- but being constantly visible (or potentially visible) does tend to make people put a little more weight on ‘what will be an acceptable ‘self’ to others’ than they normally would.

    The part about the op ed that rubs me the wrong way is the insinuation that interest in starting one’s own private business is (at least, in part) at the heart of the problem. I agree with FDG in that regard- I don’t think feigning respect for potential customers/clients is a whole lot different than feigning respect for corporate bosses. The only difference I can see is that the external force someone is modifying their behavior to accommodate is more ‘invisible’ when they are their own boss- so the person will be less aware they are actually still modifying their behavior for other people, and therefore less aware they're putting more weight on how to make their 'self' marketable than they otherwise would- but even then, I think it’s far more about technology, our culture and not having enough privacy/space than it is about owning one’s own business.
    Reality is a collective hunch. -Lily Tomlin

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  10. #10
    figsfiggyfigs
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    Business is business.

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