The take-away from Publishers Weekly, May 26, 2008:
Knowledgeable and well-written … Slackonomics is full of interesting mini-arguments [and] serves to illuminate the many disparate pockets of a group that continues to resist easy categorization.
The full review:
Freelance writer Chamberlain’s exploration of the social and professional choices of Generation X is a knowledgeable and well-written addition to the growing library of books devoted to the “alternative” generation. The author focuses primarily on the way that the young men and women of the 1990s made their money, and does a nice job conveying the tough economic fortunes of the beginning of that decade and the creative and financial boom of the Internet’s early days, as well as the eventual fallout when it went bust. Chamberlain uses each chapter of the book to address a specific aspect of the generation in question, often using a combination of cultural touchstones and sociology books to illustrate her point; a chapter about Gen-X relationships ponders the Richard Linklater film Before Sunrise and quotes extensively from Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History. Often, the text is taken over by monologues from Gen-Xers themselves, who
narrate their winding paths through the job market, usually ending in creative and relatively fulfilling jobs as a result of their ingenuity. While the book is full of interesting mini-arguments, including an entertaining takedown of Ethan Watters’s Urban Tribes, it doesn’t present a cohesive vision. Rather, it serves to illuminate the many disparate pockets of a group that continues to resist easy categorization.
I made a point of not focusing on Xers v. Boomers in my book Slackonomics (for a humorous take on that angle, read X Saves the World by Jeff Gordinier). But at some point while I was researching various Gen X topics, I heard about Google Trends and decided to compare Generation X to Baby Boomers, and got an interesting result, which I just repeated and got essentially the same thing. The verdict? Slackonomics is going to Australia! The top three cities from where people search Generation X the most are Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
Even more interesting, there are more searches for ‘Generation X’ than ‘Baby Boomer,’ yet there are many more articles about Boomers than Xers. Indeed, the number of articles about Xers is practically flat-lined. So apparently, there’s an interest here that is not being served by the media. Let’s hope Slackonomics fills that desire!
The New Museum of Contemporary Art on the Bowery seems to be all about Gen X art and artists. Most exhibits I’ve seen since the awesome and universally praised building opened in Sept. features artists in the 30 to 40-ish range, and some of the exhibits address Gen X culture explicitly. I saw Double Album last weekend, an exhibit of work by two artists, one from Mexico City (Daniel Guzman, born 1964) and the other, Steven Shearer, from Vancouver, BC (1968). Both artists address boyish adolescence, teen idols and classic rock of the 1970s. One of the funnier pieces by Shearer is a collage of Leif Garrett pictures from his teen-idol years (his current mug shots related to a drug abuse problem wouldn’t make for nearly as interesting a collage). I had to admit to my partner’s young teenage daughters that Garrett was indeed a heartthrob when I was their age. I had forgotten how big androgyny was then. I suppose to young teens, the sexually ambiguous look is less scary when you’re feeling anxious about such things. Alas, the exhibit itself has about as much impact as a Leif Garrett disco song (watch a video of Garrett performing “I was made for dancing” in which he doesn’t dance at all!). The Times review pretty well sums it up:
“Oh, grow up!” would be a reasonable response to “Double Album: Daniel Guzmán and Steven Shearer,” an intermittently interesting but ultimately disappointing exhibition at the New Museum. Organized by Richard Flood, the museum’s chief curator, it introduces two artists in their 40s who … seem mired in creative adolescence themselves.
While I’m all for never really growing up, at some point the art itself needs to mature and ripen if it’s going to have any relevance beyond a VH1 “I love the ’70s” kind of show.
Just as technology was supposed to create the paperless office and render “place” meaningless, it is also widely assumed to have increased mobility. In his latest book, Who’s Your City, Richard Florida writes about technology and mobility in chapter five, “The Mobile and the Rooted.” While citing stats about how much people move, he doesn’t compare them to another era. I know lots of people like to pick fights with Florida, who I mostly agree with, but on this point, I beg to differ. The potential for increased mobility is certainly there, but isn’t borne out by the facts. As I point out in Slackonomics:
People are less likely to move today than at any point since the Census Bureau started gathering mobility stats in 1948. In 2004 only 19 percent of all movers, or 3 percent of U.S. residents, moved to another state. Most moved within the same county. As would be expected, most movers are people in their twenties. And although highly edcuated people tend to move more, they aren’t more likely to do so now than in the past.
The above is according to Alison Stein Wellner in a Reason magazine article titled, “The Mobility Myth,” (April 2006).
It’s interesting that one of Florida’s former students, Elizabeth Currid, might provide a clue as to why mobility has not increased and has even slightly decreased. As more people earn a living via the creative economy — art, music, media, technology, etc. — the more reliant they become on locational networks. As she writes in her book, The Warhol Economy:
Creativity would not exist as successfully or efficiently without its social world. The social is not the by-product–it is the decisive mechanism by which cultural products and cultural producers are generated, evaluated and sent to the market.
As Currid’s research shows, people working in arts, music, fashion, design, and media are far more likely to live and work in close proximity to each other than people in finance, medicine, law and other “golf course” professions. Why? Because they need to exchange ideas through random interactions, and market their work in social settings in order to be successful. Once you’re enmeshed in that network, to pull up stakes is to suffer a major professional setback.
Of course, Florida’s overall point — that where you live has a huge impact on your career — is valid. As someone who grew up in Cleveland and spent a good portion of my early career there, I can certainly attest to that. Had I not moved to New York in 2002, I would not have become a regular contributor to The New York Times, or written for most every other publication that’s published my work. And this book would surely not exist.
On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t have had to forgo health insurance for almost five years (because there’s really no such thing as “freelancing” in Cleveland), or spent half my income (and sometimes more) on rent. I only moved once, and because it was so difficult to start over, I won’t be doing it again for a very long time, if ever. What’s more, I know few other people who make major moves when I did — in my mid-thirties, after having invested a lot of professional energy in one place that did not translate to another. I took my skills with me, of course, but that was little consolation in New York City, where I knew virtually no one and where NOBODY cared about my Cleveland work at all.
So yes, mobility is surely easier in theory, but in reality, it’s still very, very difficult. The age of corporate transfers are over. To relocate means recreating a network of people, and that takes a huge amount of time and energy. That is one of the main points of Slackonomics about how life has changed for Generation X. Read the intro for yourself by clicking here.
I’m really starting to think that Generation X — as a term — is making a comeback. Not only are “Anxious Xers” supposedly going to be the new “soccer mom’s” of the 2008 election, the term is popping up in the oddest places. Take for instance, a New York Times web item about a newly redesigned version of an abstract 1972 subway map. According to the Times,
With its 45- and 90-degree angles and one color per subway line, the 1972 subway map by Massimo Vignelli was divorced from the cityscape, devoid of street or neighborhood names. … Mr. Vignelli’s new map incorporates a Generation X lifetime of changes, particularly to Lower Manhattan …
Any number of adjectives could describe a “lifetime of changes,” and I have never seen the term “Generation X” used in this way. It’s about time this term lost its self-loathing connotation.