Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gen Y: The Anonymous Generation

Image Source: CNN.

CNN reports that before the Great Recession hit, nearly one third of the middle classes fell through the cracks and suffered a serious decline in their standard of living, and more will drop into poorer strata in the coming years.  According to the article, most of these people are late Generation Jones and younger:
Nearly one third of Americans who were raised in the middle class dropped down the economic ladder as adults -- and that's before the Great Recession hit.

"Being raised in the middle class is not a guarantee that you'll have that same status as an adult," said Erin Currier, project manager at Pew's Economic Mobility Project. "With all the economic turmoil in the past four years, there's good reason to think that downward mobility is more severe."

Pew looked at children born in the early- to mid-1960s and assessed their economic status roughly 40 years later.

Being middle class in the parents' generation meant a household income of roughly $33,000 to $64,000 in 1979. But their children had to earn between $54,000 and $111,000 to maintain their relative standing in society in the mid-2000s. (These figures are adjusted for inflation.)

The middle class is defined as those between the 30th and 70th income percentile.

Marital status and educational attainment had a great bearing on whether people were able to remain in the middle class, Pew found. Race and gender were also factors.

Those who are divorced, widowed or separated are more likely to fall out of the middle class, particularly if they are women. And Americans who don't attend college are also more likely to slip.

One's foothold on the middle class is more secure if you are a white man. Thirty percent of white women and 38% of black men drop out of the middle class, while only 21% of white men do.
Occupy protests seemed at first to come out of a joint working and middle class movement. The initial rhetoric of the 99 per cent was (and is) very much rich versus poor, little guy versus corporate fat cats, the government, the industrial and banking establishments.

But introduce two things - the collapse of the middle classes and a tech dimension - into these protests, and the thrust of unrest starts to look like the middle classes are torn internally and battling amongst themselves for development and control of a new order.

Even in the absolute best case scenario, we will not see jobs fully rebound until 2014, and more likely not until the 2020s. Image Source: Slate.

As the Occupy movement and hacker activism overlap, they promise in the same breath to demolish the entire financial and old data protection systems.  The aim is to escape the middle class fate of falling between the cracks.  There is chatter about a new Internet being constructed that has no industry or commercial presence, or government involvement, where file exchanges and chatter will be conducted off this grid and on a new one (Hat tip: Damien Veran). Will prosperity be denied to people who say: "Anonymous watched the evictions, arrests, and even beatings and chemical violence over the weeks, some on screens, and some onsite with their local Occupys. As the painful images [piled] up, the rhetoric of the hive mind turned darker. Antisec started targeting law enforcement as retribution. Of the recent hack of Stratfor — a private intelligence firm, one of the participants explained on IRC that 'They [Stratfor] promote global market stability, whereas we want financial meltdown' — a meltdown specifically aimed at the 1 percent. 'It’s about creating an egalitarian society without bosses or masters, it’s about forcefully redistributing the wealth and power in society.'"

Anonymous here retained the 'we are the 99 per cent' rhetoric.  However, Anonymous's other actions speak of a kind of pre-Millennial versus post-Millennial middle class internal warfare. Anonymous attacks governmental and lobby groups that block piracy sites:
An online anti-piracy group in Finland has been attacked by Anonymous after access was blocked to The Pirate Bay.

Anonymous encouraged followers to target the Copyright Information and Anti-Piracy Centre (CIAPC) after it persuaded the Helsinki District Court to force ISP Elisa to block access to the file-sharing site.

CIAPC, a non-profit group, took The Pirate Bay to court in Helsinki last year on behalf of the Finnish recording industry association, ruling that Elisa must block access to the website. It complied with the ruling on Monday.

Anonymous member and suspected former leader of LulzSec, ‘Sabu', encouraged a focus on Finland "and every country like it who [sic] has begun a campaign of censorship". He added: “Let us show the Government we will no longer allow censorship to take place.”
Thus, the theme of haves versus have-nots shifts toward information owners versus information sharers.  The subtext is that the latter are striving to develop an entirely new kind of society based on the free exchange of information.  This rift betrays a generational divide between those seeking to use tech to entrench older power imbalances, and those seeking to build new socio-economic realities around tech.

Officially, Generation Y continually strives to put a positive spin on the negative economic outlook and seeks innovative strategies to survive (as here).  But Millennials are not all hugs, sunshine and flowers.  Commentators have begun to notice that Occupy and the increasingly-associated copyright wars have little in common with Boomers' 1968 protests (despite misleading parallels between 1968 and 2011 inevitably being drawn by Boomers).  In October 2011, the Daily Beast posted an article, entitled, Occupy Wall Street: Why Baby Boomers Don't Understand the Protest (Hat tip: Jen X 67)The author, Paul Campos, describes the generational disconnect:
I am a baby boomer. Like many people my age, I have a high-paying and generally pleasant job, which features excellent benefits and a flexible work schedule. I’m also one of those people who, not long ago, would have dismissed the Occupy Wall Street protesters as just another bunch of spoiled kids, indulging in political street theater, while lacking any serious and constructive agenda. (Those people seem to include almost all of the mainstream media, which until a few days ago limited their coverage of the protesters to mocking their clothes and music. Predictably, time has transformed many boomers into their own parents.) 
I am, in other words, part of what could be called the Clueless Generation. The Clueless Generation is made up of middle-aged, professionally successful people, who grew up in a nation that featured a mostly thriving economy, low-cost higher education, and some minimal commitment to economic justice. As a consequence, we graduated from school with little or no debt, got good jobs that featured real possibilities for advancement, and have on the whole ended up doing very well for ourselves. 
A lot of us have also become insufferably smug and complacent. Over the past year I was lucky enough to be jolted out of my own smugness and complacency by a series of painful encounters with recent law-school graduates. I began to investigate the question of how many law graduates were getting jobs as lawyers, and discovered that a shocking percentage—more than half—were not. 
Since I went to law school in the 1980s, the cost of legal education has quadrupled in real terms, thereby ensuring most current law students will graduate with six figures of debt from law school alone. Meanwhile legal employers are downsizing and outsourcing, to the point where the ratio between new lawyers and new jobs for lawyers is approximately two to one. And most of the new jobs don’t pay enough to allow even those who are lucky enough to get them to pay their educational debts. 
My attempts to bring this economic and human crisis to the attention of the law-school world have been met mostly with denial and incomprehension. It seems the Clueless Generation is largely incapable of grasping that this is no ordinary downturn in the business cycle, but rather that America is no longer the same country in which we were so fortunate to come of age. 
For the still largely unacknowledged crisis in legal education merely mirrors the vastly larger crisis in our society as a whole. Millions of young adults are graduating from college and professional schools with massive amounts of educational debt—debt that, thanks to sweetheart legislative deals that lined the pockets of bankers, cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. In just the past decade, total outstanding educational debt in America has risen more than five-fold, from $180 billion to nearly $1 trillion. Meanwhile, the international crisis of global capitalism has led employers large and small to do everything possible to cut labor costs. This has produced the current 15 percent official unemployment rate among Americans in their 20s. (The real unemployment rate is far higher, since the government counts people as unemployed only if they did zero hours of paid work in the past week and have been actively seeking employment at some point in the last four weeks.) 
What the Clueless Generation finds difficult to comprehend is that literally millions of highly educated and hardworking young Americans—people who followed all the rules and did everything we told them to do—are either severely underemployed or have no jobs of any kind. Meanwhile, they struggle with the massive educational debts they incurred after the baby boomers decided that access to the bargain-priced higher education from which we benefited wasn’t so important after all. 
Now, as the protests spread across the country, the core of the Occupy Wall Street movement—young, overeducated, and underemployed—is beginning to find common cause with many other people disillusioned with a social system that continues to grant its privileged elite ever-greater rewards.
Faced with unemployment, with the destruction of the very establishment that protected their Boomer parents (a collapse that occurred arguably at their parents' very hands - for opposing debates on that point, go here, here and here), and with falling out of the middle classes, Gen Y are either passively or actively seeking novel bases for personal stability and security in the rising Cyberorder.

Hacktivism, pioneered by Generation X members such as Julian Assange, is finding younger members joining its ranks, a so-called "new generation of cyber freedom fighters."  While the Boomers label Millennials the 'Lost Generation,' Millennials are starting to label themselves, the 'Hacktivist Generation,' or the 'Anonymous Generation.'  You can see reports on this generational trend here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Figure 1: Hacker Generations.

Figure 2: Significant Hacktivist Organizations.

Figure 3: Chaos Computer Club related Hackerspaces.
Image Sources: Extreme Activities in Cyberspace; that site has full image citations and credits.


  1. Awesome blog post. Are you someone who read Generations or Fourth Turning by any chance?

  2. Thanks Guru, I know of these books and know how popular they are. But I am not a fan of Strauss and Howe posing as historians and imposing their categories on historical events. Strauss was a lawyer and Howe was trained in economics. I wrote a post about the problem with generational labels here:


    The problem is that, true to the 1960s' soc sci context from which they arose, everyone uses those generational labels; hence, in order to talk about the issues, you have to use the labels.

    To clarify, I'm a Gen Xer, but I never identified myself that way until I saw Boomer media identifying my generation as such in the early 1990s. And I didn't identify with what they said my friends and I were at all. It was that experience, of having a public label artificially slapped on my cohort's identity, with a bunch of false ideas attached to it, which made me think about generations and where the labeling really comes from and what it actually means.

    Again, I use the labels, because it is almost impossible not to do so. But I don't see them as historical inevitabilities or actual past phenomena: I see them as recent media- and talking-head generated concepts (and that includes our friends, Strauss and Howe).

    Now, it's possible to assess that process (the modern creation and hyping of generational labels) as a historical phenomenon in and of itself. And that is what I try to do here - analyze who generated these labels and why and how. Again, the problem is that to do so, I have to use the actual labels I'm deconstructing.

    Another thing I try not to do as a Gen Xer is label the Millennial Gen Ys in a clicheed or negative way, because that was often done to my cohort by my predecessors, with terrible effects. You need only do a quick google search on Generation X's relations with Baby Boomers, and you can see that they are mostly hostile and cold. A lot of that comes from being falsely labeled as 'lost slackers' when Gen X graduated into a recession in the early 90s. The simmering resentment and lasting anger on some Gen X blogs about the after-effects of this negative labeling is so intense as to be tangible in some quarters. I genuinely think most Boomers are oblivious of what was done to Gen X by media and ad people by the Boomers. They just read the newspapers and saw the stories, and believed the slacker label, without understanding these things were artificially drummed up (several Gen X films show characters who are viewed and portrayed by the world one way, but actually have radically different lives - consider 'Reality Bites,' 'Gattaca,' and more recently, 'I'm Not Here'). Meanwhile, the Gen X anger derives from a general experience of being the unheard voice on the other side of the narcissistic mirror.

    Yes, to say these things subscribes to the stereotype of Boomers as the 'Me Generation.' But it's hard to ignore the fact that Boomers appeared to revel in group labeling, whereas Gen X had it thrust upon them. Whether that is true or not, that is the subtext running through posts like this:


    Anyhow, on a related note, this post is part of my effort to move past the stereotype that has been created in Boomer media and Gen X blogs about Generation Y, because the last thing Gen Y needs is to be labeled and pigeon-holed the way Gen X was. So to answer your question, I'm trying to debunk people like Strauss and Howe, not climb on their bandwagon. Howe would no doubt say this was a typical Xer thing to try to do.

  3. Your writing and research never ceases to amaze me. This is really impressive and should see broader daily light by a larger audience. As a parent, it put me on my heels to think my kids might fall out of the middle class, especially my girls. Keep bringing it. We need to know this stuff.

  4. Thanks Jen, you know I'm a big fan of your blog - the clearest GenX voice online. I think it is important to reach out to Millennials and try to break down the hostile relations that were sponsored by Boomer management strategies in the early 2000s. You remember: the manuals on how to sideline Gen X who had never amounted to anything, and leapfrog the kids ahead of us? Then the recession hit, and the official publicity regarding the Millennials became quite negative. I don't think they expected that. But beyond all the rhetoric, the most important thing is we are dealing with real issues, past all labels and forumulas. It's important, as I know you always stress, to get around the hype and address the reality, the real conditions, the real problems, and the real capacity the Internet has for innovation. One thing that is tricky with Occupy Protests and Antisec merging is the innate radical iconoclasm. Basically, activists feel their generation has been/will be excluded, so they have started tearing everything down to the foundations or building new realities that exist beyond the old power structures. Gen X has an important responsibility to comment on what should be preserved, while still enabling trade, communications, society to evolve. That is my impression, anyway, that Gen X (again, I do not like the label) is the generation that spans past and future, one leg in both camps. This is because our age group spans the before-after of the onset of the Tech Revolution *and* the turn of the Millennium exactly. Thus Gen X has an important role.