It’s not our fault we’re the most boring generation yet
We’re as much to blame for Zoella as we are for global warming
It’s 11:40pm. You’re robotically flicking through a 300 second snapchat story made by a person you hate. The story is mostly pictures of their face. Over the course of the day you refreshed Facebook at least 100 times. You’ve never been punched in the face or even seen somebody get punched in the face. Binge-drinking is a bit like the Arctic for you: it exists and you’re aware of it, but you’re not going there. You pull your all-nighters in a library, not a warehouse. You don’t do drugs, even though the price of drugs continues to fall.
Your mates say things like “I can’t go out tonight, I’m too tired” or the classic “Nah it’s third year, I’m not doing weeknights in third year”. Half of your friends are more entertaining on the squad Whatsapp than they are in real life. Most of them have part-time jobs on top of their studies. They get pissed off when you tag them in loose-looking photos because “Future employers might see”.
This is what it means to be part of what is being repeatedly described as the blandest, softest, safest generation the UK has ever seen. Ageing journos at national papers barely let a week go by without lamenting how the young Phil Mitchell scallies of yesteryear have morphed into the bedroom-dwelling, Friday-night-Netflix-watching, Minions-meme-sharing dry lunches of today. The Financial Times even snarkily referred to the current crop of 16-24-year-olds as “The New Puritans”, highlighting our supposed love for abstinence and punishingly hard work.
A Himalayan mountain’s worth of statistics to back up this view of young people is out there. It’s an armoury for lazy journalists to puff out their attacks on our failure to behave as intriguingly as our feckless, pissed-up peers, who blazed through the Blair era on a heady mixture of £3,000 tuition fees and pre-recession vibes.
These people don’t have a clue what the real, actual experience of being an 18-year-old in 2015 means. They can’t see beyond the stale old concept of the teenager, defined by hanging out in rotting tower blocks or dead-end suburbs or multi-storey car parks. Their youth was ciders on the green, fingering by the duck pond and furtive spliffs. That this landscape of exotic leisurewear, apathy and good music has given way to Zoella, widespread admiration of Jeremey Corbae and terrifyingly ambitious 13-year-olds with LinkedIn freaks them out.
Actually, being young is the same as it ever was: the storms of feeling, the fierce urgencies, the vague emotional responses, powerfully alive but not yet well defined. Love and anger, joy and scorn, blooming to fullness and shrivelling to confusion in the time it takes to send a text. This won’t change just because it’s being played out on Tumblr or Whatsapp instead of the smoking area or the night bus.
Tying our emotional stability to Facebook likes and grades is what they credit with creating the single defining trait of our generation: not hard work, or being dull, but anxiety. Because we seem more comfortable in an elaborately doctored virtual world they don’t think we can cope with the real one, the one they created. And yeah, up to a point, this is true. You’re aware of Facebook’s prison-like quality, unable to escape it because everyone’s on it and has been since 2007. A world built on being retweetable, built on being liked and liked again really is inadequate preparation for reality: where people won’t always get on with you, your parents get divorced, your favourite pet will die, and it’s actually impossible to be good at the thing you want to be good at.
Our grandparents beat Hitler, discovered LSD and made sleeping around socially acceptable. Our parents gave the world privatisation, Premiership football and microwave-ready meals. Somehow, when our grandkids are looking back at our generation, I don’t think History classes will be concerned with all the boredom and frazzled people spending May sleeping in the library. Instead they’ll write about the rapid butchering of our planet’s resources and how everything was transformed into one giant concrete and plastic shopping centre at great environmental cost.
That’s why we maintain harmless self-deceptions online and enjoy calling Joey Barton a cunt on Twitter: we can’t bare how dreadful the real world is becoming. And we’re the last people who should be blamed for it.