When Dustin Hoffman was “the graduate,” he could at least consider a job in plastics. Nowadays the jobs have been sent abroad, communities are being destabilized by budget cuts, and many of the entry-level opportunities for young people, if they exist at all, are pretty soul-deadening. The world that is being bequeathed to the younger generation is in serious decline if not decadence – yet the corporate and political elite who run the show seem incapable of turning things around. Indeed, they don’t really seem to want to. What’s a twenty-something supposed to do?
Shareable Magazine has just released a lively book that provides a few answers. It doesn't offer any grand manifestos so much as a series of highly personal, evocative testimonies filled with rays of hope. Share or Die: Voices of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis, is an eclectic collection of essays about the ways that young people are trying to build happier, wholesome, workable lives for themselves as the edifice of late-stage capitalism begins to implode. Edited by Malcolm Harris with Neal Gorenflo (New Society Publishers), the book brings to the surface, in authentic, heartfelt ways, the frustrations and triumphs of young people trying to find their footings.
Here are some of those voices:
An anonymous, self-described “nomad” describes why he has chosen of life on the road. It’s not as if he has a script or a deadline for his travels; he’s just wandering. He advises, “You need to be resourceful and confident, reasonably streetwise, but also open to the prospect that most people are basically good. The kindness of people I meet on the road continues to overwhelm me, and I aim to both repay it and pass it on as far as possible.” The nomad itemizes what’s in his backpack (his netbook, ancient mobile phone and waterproof jacket), and why.
Beth Buczynski explains how “collaborative consumption” works among her peers. She steers readers to websites that describe how to share a house, share meals, locate farmers’ markets and join lending clubs that bypass banks. She points to sources for “co-working” spaces and services like Task Rabbit that let you outsource your tasks and deliveries in select cities like Boston and San Francisco.
Milicent Johnson describes going to Detroit to learn more about “community resilience” there, and how she connected with entrepreneurs and community projects that are reviving that troubled city. Despite fears that Detroit would be too raw and difficult, Johnson in the end decides she wants to move there because there is so much aspiring talent and initiative pulsing throughout the city.
Activist/organizer Samatha Miller writes about “life in the nonprofit industrial complex,” for which she has dressed up in all sorts of silly costumes as part of activist demonstrations. She has dressed up as a wolf in sheep’s clothing outside a Beverly Hills fundraiser, and as a “media whore” in a French maid outfit, with the logos of major news organizations pasted all over her body. Miller is disdaintful of how candidates and nonprofits conspire to water down any aggressive political agenda. At a 2008 meeting of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and high-level feminists, Miller’s decided to breach the social decorum and yell out that any real feminist would be ashamed to support a warmonger like Clinton. While the stunt did not obviously change the world, just reading that it happened helped wake me up. When the System routinely works to marginalize bracing voices for change, the attempt to speak out is itself refreshing. It breaks the narcoleptic spell of the news media and politics.
Share or Die is a breath of fresh air for this very reason: It offers up intelligent, unfiltered voices of young people trying to come to terms with – or transcend – a society that is clearly going in the wrong directions. Yet the stories told here are not necessarily depressing; they are equally about ingenuity and hope. And there are some attractive solutions. Cory Doctorow writes in the Foreword, “As the one percent hoover up the world’s fiat wealth, we’re all faced with finding non-market ways of getting stuff done – housing ourselves, feeding ourselves, educating and entertaining ourselves. And that’s where connectedness shines: the cheaper it is to get all your friends pulling in the same direction, the more you can get done for less money – whether that’s founding a housing co-op or occupying the financial center of your city.
If only to get beyond the media stereotypes of young people, read Share or Die to get a searingly honest feel for life as a twenty-something today. There is enormous talent and energy out there, but scandalously few vehicles to nurture new solutions.