Hipsters in 2011

Today, January 2, 2011, I am going to revisit a post I wrote almost six years ago, because it still manages to get more page views than some of my current posts. It’s about hipsters, which apparently is a popular search term on the google. But what I wrote is so hopelessly out-of-date that it makes me wonder if either hipsters have evolved dramatically since 2004 or I was just really off the ball. Here’s what I mean:

In 2004, I said Hipsters

Shops at: Urban Outfitters, Salvation Army

2011 commentary: Urban Outfitters? Really?

Reads: David Sedaris, Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers, Salon.com

2011 commentary: Hipsters read books?

Listens to: Rufus Wainwright, Elephant 6, Stereolab, emo

2011 commentary: Emo? Maybe 12-year-old hipsters. But seriously, I don’t think Pitchfork has mentioned any of these musicians for at least three years.

Wears: Newsboy hat, horn-rimmed glasses, Vans, Blazers, Uggs (though starting to wear Uggs in irony)

2011 commentary: I can be forgiven for the fashion being way off

But seriously, I don’t really know how to characterize what hipsters wear or do. I know they still exist because I see them when I go to Williamsburg. And I’ll admit, I don’t have as visceral a dislike of them as maybe I used to, or as so many non-hipsters seem to. They’re just people, people! Happy New Year’s!

What it is about 20-somethings

This upcoming Sunday Times’ Magazine article called “What is it about 20-somethings?” is sure to be a must-read among people my age, if the number of my friends who have it on their gchat status is any indication. The article looks at the trend among people in their 20s of putting off the milestones that characterize adulthood, like starting a career, a family or buying a house. Author Robin Marantz Henig profiles a psychologist who believes the 20s is a distinct stage of life for the brain, one which he calls “emerging adulthood,” because it falls between adolescence and adulthood. Unfortunately, because Henig focuses so singularly on his work, and doesn’t actually feature any 20-somethings prominently in the article, she offers little insight into why my generation isn’t getting married or starting careers as quickly as we used to. My own opinion, based on my own life and the lives of people I know, is that there are a few pretty simple reasons, and that the trend is class-based. While members of various classes may all be starting their adulthood later, it is for different reasons.

One reason is student loans. A lot of people have a lot of student loans from expensive colleges and grad programs. It is scary to start a family on loans. A second reason is that there are fewer stable careers available and more turnover. People do not generally work their way up company ladders anymore, in part because they reach ceilings above which stand people with masters degrees (which help one advance, even if not actually worthwhile) or because their jobs lack the sort of benefits that jobs used to have, like pensions, accrued vacation time and good health care plans. Also, people work so hard that they get burned out and feel the best thing to do is leave for greener pastures. And there is no way in heck it’s a good idea to buy a house in one’s 20s right now unless you’re one of the wealthy few, want to live in a cheap subdivision that has been battered by the housing crisis, or have somehow saved up a lot of money.

As the article suggests, delayed adulthood is also inspired by the numerous choices many twenty-somethings have, or feel they have, after college, whether to travel abroad, volunteer at home or Teach for America. But this is limited to a pretty small group who tend to have gone to the elite universities.

For me, the present uncertainty above all is why I’m delaying certain adulthood milestones, particularly, getting married, having children and buying a house. But at this point, I’m not even certain that it would be worth going after them, after reading so much about the instability that resulted from people’s efforts to buy themselves stability, in the form of homes, expensive higher educations and the like. At this uncertain point in history, it may make more sense to take a different path, one that eschews the false markers of adulthood and embraces the real ones, like self-reliance and shrewd risk-taking. It is a direction at least I’m willing to move toward.

Work-life balance and gender

Salon has an interesting interview with two successful network news women, Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, who wrote a book on how women can balance career and family and make the latter more of a priority, perhaps the same as the former. It is a subject of perpetual interest and one that often fires up people of varying points-of-view on women’s and men’s roles. The comments were even more interesting to me, and a few things stuck out.

(1) It is admittedly difficult to talk about how women can downgrade their efforts at promotion without sparking debate about whether women are denying themselves opportunity and making stereotypes about women’s role. Personally, I think work-life balance is something men as well as women are entitled to work towards or try to establish early on. One guy on the board says, rather harshly, “Meanwhile, we men STILL do not have any option in life other than WORK UNTIL YOU DIE, thanks largely to a static anti-male agenda supported by, you guessed it, WOMEN.” I think the first part is a fair critique, even if the last part isn’t.

(2) Someone on the messsage board brought up Margaret Talbot’s New Yorker article about young adults’ use of stimulants like Aderall and other amphetamines. She says: At the time I thought, “you know, I don’t want to LIVE in a society which requires people to take drugs just to get everything done.” Big ole’ word. Of all of the drugs in the world, the ones that make the least sense to me are intense stimulants like those found in Red Bull, Mountain Due, Aderall, etc.

(3) A lot of people on this chat say they wish they could entertain the prospect of working less but can’t because of the job market. We are a truly overworked country, and there is a great stigma around asking for time off, if everyone else in the office is willing to stay late, because then one appears lazy.

Slow e-mail

The more I read about it, the more I like the idea of the Slow Food culture and would like to see it expand to other areas of life, like work and technology. Slow food is based around the idea that people should be connected with what they eat, perhaps by growing herbs and vegetables in gardens or buying local produce and meat. It also means enjoying food rather than scarfing it down, taking time out of one’s schedule to eat.

Though I’m not as passionate about food, I can appreciate this approach and would like to extend it to email. Often, I get emails that I feel I should answer right away, when what I really want do is get off my computer and read a book. Same with work: I think if I didn’t view myself as a machine that needs to be productive all of the time but rather someone who can be productive when I’m in the right spirit and frame of mind, which comes from being well-rested and invested in something, I would actually be better at a job.

For some reason in this country, we dismiss the people who call for more vacation time and limits on work as lazy or socialist. I have done it on occasion. I believe we do this when we think there are others who are benefitting while we are slaving away. If we all got more of a break, it might be easier to accept the Slow lifestyle.

Put this in your new media mindset

One of my journalism school deans likes to say that we journalists ought to have a new media mindset and not just a new media skillset. I often harp on this phrase cheekily, but I’ll tell you today what I think of the new media mindset, after all of these months of hearing about “Flash” and “Final Cut Pro” and “Photoshop” and “Twitter,” and all the rest (which, incidentally, are pretty easy to learn, except Flash), and in honor of my coming graduation. I think none of it is that big of a deal. I mean it is and it isn’t. Of course, new media is redefining how people write somewhat–often more opinionated and shorter–and definitely resulting in waning attention spans. But when I see all the ink..er bandwidth..devoted to talking about something as simple and silly as Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, I wonder, what on earth does it have to do with journalism besides facilitating source gathering and promoting oneself?  Those things are important, sure, but they are hardly worth the time some people spend thinking and talking about it. It would be akin to me getting more excited about a magazine’s cover and glossy pages than its content.

This does not make me a Luddite–hardly, I WISH I could tear myself away from the computer and all of its attention-stripping applications, and in truth, social networking apps are not the devil and photo and sound editing is fun–it just means I don’t think it’s that big of a deal when it comes to making journalism better or more interesting or more significant.

I also think there is a bit of a conflict at my school in terms of what they think they should teach us for being employable at a fulltime job at a large news organization right away and what they should teach us to be better long term journalists. This often puts technology and a more reporting and writing-focused curriculm at odds. It need not. Truthfully, it hasn’t worsened by education at all. I have learned a lot and maybe avoided new technology to my detriment. (I’ll learn this summer though). I almost think talking about it is tired, except that I cannot avoid it anyway, and it will persist as an issue here.

Satisfying the insatiable feedback loop

I just looked back at some of my sloppily-written blog posts and wondered why I had not taken more time to clean them up and make the sentences run more smoothly. I answered my own question. It is the ever-impatient feedback loop that needs to see my writing. on the screen. now. I want to take my new media mindset and zap it down like Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood do to Jim Carey’s memories of Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I watched that on a flight a few months ago, and it is just as much a tear-jerker–in a great way–as it ever was.

And to all of those folks who say blogs are self-aggrandizing exercises for the narcissistic, you are only half right. The latter part is true, but us navel-gazing bloggers would be fools to think anyone else cares. That is why I don’t see the big harm in blogging, as long as it does not replace real reporting. Still, for me, it takes away from more meaningful writing, the kind that requires time, patience, sustained work–a Protestant ethic of sorts, but that is of course my fault.


Internet contrarianism

I have in the past lamented the affectsof constant internet use has on our personal lives, but today I was wondering, what if the opposite were true?  What if, for as much anxiety as many of us expend, especially among the generations that transitioned to internet use, it has actually made our personal lives better?  Of course, neither of these poles is right, but I sometimes have to assure myself that there is benefit to being signed onto gchat when I have to work at my computer or to be able to communicate on Facebook about parties and with long lost acquaintances.

If this internet thing is going to stick with us, which I think it will, it is at least better to embrace the aspects of it that are beneficial, like the ability to find out about Russian pop sensation Vitas or tell everyone 25 things they didn’t know about you (ha! kidding).

Still, it is both very cool and very scary that anyone can easily track you down these days, and perhaps it doesn’t let us prioritize our friendships the way we used to, where good friendships were maintained with some effort through phone and letters while the other ones were left to lag.  After all, Facebook makes it much easier to maintain superficial friendships and no less easy to maintain more important ones, unless of course you enjoy typing long messages. Then again, I don’t know what adult friendships were like prior to the internet, but I’m willing to be a little more open-minded toward the it, especially since I sure use it a lot.

But here’s an idea that will blow your mind: what if, like that old standard, the 9 to 5 job, we had a 9 to5 internet? How much cooler might it be if we couldn’t use the internet all the time?

The lowly tech guy

I love the dynamic between office workers and tech people, which was perhaps best captured with “Saturday Night Lives”‘s Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy, so I found this particularly funny, from Chronicle for Higher Education, about IT people feeling beleaguered on college campuses:

Another issue is that academe is full of world-class experts, and many people in the IT department have trouble telling those experts how to run their computers.

Why I love Cary Tennis

I am often noticing (and partaking in) the Internet’s corrosion of communication, reduced to writing in “lols” and “ur funny”s, but one beachhead in the field of spontaneous and meaningless words is Cary Tennis’s Since You Asked “advice” column on Salon.com, not only because he goes beyond the trite “what you did is wrong. This is the proper rule” response of the typical advice writer but because, per the policy of Salon, readers also weigh in.  I also love that Cary shares, as he does with today’s letter, from a woman who has been hurt by a precarious relationship, how he relates, how the letter affects him personally:

Thank you for the bracing echo of toughness here — you offhandedly say the pain is now less a stabbing agony and more a dull ache you live with but can’t quite ignore, and although I ought not take pleasure in your suffering itself I take pleasure in the precision with which you render gradations of awfulness way outside the scale of day-to-day suffering.

This stuff is so good!!  We all relate!  And then the commenters offer up some goods of their own.

I missed the idea of the MF [motherf--er] and what I know about NPD [narcissistic personality disorder] is that it really was the idea.

Take a hard look at your life and see what needs to be changed. Don’t wait for the fairy Godmother to come back or cast someone else in that role. Say ‘Yes I can.” and make the changes you need to make.

It’s hard, it’s lonely, but in the end, learning to succeed, whether it’s at work, friends, or love is a very valuable life skill.

How less than often do these conversations take place in real life in our mire of small talk and superficial relationships and fears of “being vulnerable.”  How often have we scolded ourselves for letting our most intimate conversations take place through the faceless medium of the web?  And yet, the truth is, writing out one’s thoughts is a way of communicating sometimes so much more genuinely than the necessary spontaneity required of conversation.  Cary Tennis proves that the Internet is good for something!

Overscheduled is a half-a–ed way of life

Was there a day when people made appointments and kept them?  That’s what I wondered today after two school-related appointments were canceled.  Still catching my breath from a really busy month, I did not really mind.  It was just one of those instances where I want to stop, shake everyone around me and ask, why are we so over-scheduled?  Why don’t we call a collective detente: stop emailing each other on weekends and after work hours–unless we’re friends–make fewer appointments and commitments so we don’t have to cancel on each other, make an effort with less rather than pack in as much as possible?

I used to be a gung ho about some aspects of digital culture, particularly blogs and online magazines like Slate and Salon.  Then, like many of us, I got blog fatigue.  I realized I would never ever see the day when every folder in my Google reader was not bolded with unread entries, and the idea of skimming everything just to achieve that seems like a pretty daunting way to live life.  Now, I see incessant updating and reading of blogs as part of our attention deficit disordered way of life.  Lecturer after lecturer glows about the possibility of “integrated” “content” of “multi-media.”  But who on earth has time to read it all?

By the same token, who among the purveyors has time to juggle all of the ambitious projects, the “expansions” and “integration” that media set out to do to give the impression–whether true or not–that there is something dynamic going on.  The 24 hour news cycle seems unsustainable to me, if only because people burnout. Read more of this post


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