Wednesday, October 10, 2007

An Odyssey with Generation Q

I am 24 and a student, so I fall within the part of the Venn diagram where "the Odyssey years" overlap with "Generation Q." I never know what to make of such musings on 'young people today.' If based on statistics, we as young adults cannot disprove even the more silly-sounding pronouncements by pointing out that some op-ed doesn't fit with our own experience. What I know of my generation first-hand is what I know about second-year students in PhD programs in NYC and their friends/significant others. My knowledge of everything from hedge funds to itinerant farming and the youth engaged in either is thus limited.

All told, Brooks seems to have more of a point than Friedman, but I'm not sure if there is as much of a new life stage as he claims. Those in this age group who manage to avoid the years of wandering, who find productive, prestigious, or professional uses for their time relatively soon after college, who enter serious relationships, or who make gobs of money, or all of the above, are indeed scoffed at by their peers. But this is the scoff of jealousy, not one directed at bringing the seemingly accomplished in line with their more indecisive friends. A banker is a "douche" because saying this sounds better than announcing a regret that one did not have the foresight to major in economics. With every traditionally-adult-sounding benchmark a friend (or random person our age written up in New York Magazine or the NYT Weddings pages) arrives at, we must for some reason go through the motions of being horrified. But it's just that, going through motions. Nothing in this generation's value system has changed. Recent and recent-ish college grads are no less adult than we ever were.

6 comments:

Miss Self-Important said...

I'm inclined to agree that basically people still do think that marriage, parenthood, career stability, etc are the real benchmarks for adulthood--at least for evaluating whether other people are adults if not for evaluating whether we ourselves are. This guy makes a good point in saying that people who have not yet reached certain concrete benchmarks like marriage and childbirth tend to think these are less important markers of adulthood than those who are past them, and who will tend to recall them as the most significant markers. Unmarried, childless people put more emphasis on financial independence and employment since those are relatively more significant changes in their recent experience.

Phoebe said...

I'd say adulthood isn't so much when one reaches these benchmarks, but when one notices that one's peers are doing so and this seems enviable rather than odd (as in, a high school junior, married with kids). At what age this happens varies, I'd imagine, by cultural context. The 'still finding myself' contingent is fully adult, because they are articulating a choice as different from what they recognize is still expected for people at their stage in life.

Miss Self-Important said...

I agree. I don't really think adulthood is all that subjective. I'm just suggesting another reason (aside from jealousy) that people claim not to consider marriage and parenthood to be as important. At some point, jealousy likely does kick in, but I don't think that a 22-yo who expresses surprise at his classmate's marriage is secretly jealous. I think he could genuinely not want to get married just yet, but also consider himself basically an adult who is putting off that event.

Phoebe said...

True enough. There's no one moment, just a shift in sentiment from genuine surprise at 22 to feigned surprise at 30.

Hat said...

I majored in economics and work in management consulting, yet I still identify many bankers as "douches." (Maybe I'm a douche, too.) But I think there's something to be said about how becoming too adult, too quickly makes someone seem not adult, but only like they're playing dress up, or fanatically seeking approval from real adults or authority figures -- behaviors in line with people who get the "douche" moniker.

Phoebe said...

What's too quickly? Is it "playing dress up" to take a job that allows you to be self-supporting/pay back loans upon finishing college? Most young-sounding post-college jobs are internships and pay nothing or close. It does feel like dress-up the first time you put on a suit, whether the interview is for a banking job or a non-profit. Then one day, dressing like a grown-up seems normal. That is why God invented Banana Republic.