Posts tagged ‘generations’

Really, it’s not funny

By , 12 November, 2010, 9 Comments

Two weeks ago, I joined much of the young American Left at the “Rally to Restore Sanity.” I didn’t travel down to Washington for the occasion; I’m not that much of a Daily Show devotee. I had meetings with various sources, a very good college friend to stay with, and my sister to see in Philly on the way back. The timing and location were convenient.

The rally was, to be honest, boring, certainly not as funny or as compelling as the two television shows from which it derived. Given how little effort I put into getting there, that’s fine. But when I think about how many young folks actually traveled to be there, it’s infuriating. It’s infuriating that the ideas around which young liberals rally en masse are so unsubstantial.

I was not the only person who felt that way. Mark Ames had a screed at The Exiled on the rally, and it’s definitely got a lot of problems [basically, skip the second half], but I think there’s a kernel of truth in the piece that is worth excerpting at some length.

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Changing of the Guard

By , 3 June, 2009, No Comment

I have watched the first two episodes of the new Conan-hosted Tonight Show. I always liked Late Night, and this felt more like watching that show at a new time than watching the Tonight Show with a new host. The pilot’s opening montage–of Conan running across the country to reach his new studio in LA–was classic Late Night, and Late Night regular Andy Richter was there to greet him when he arrived. I loved it.

But I was talking to some older co-workers and they were unimpressed. They were born in the ’70s, they graduated college in the 1990s, and Leno’s is the only Tonight Show they were ever really old enough to enjoy. Does anyone at NBC expect them to become Conan-o-philes? Of course not. Instead, NBC is betting that Conan’s core Millenial audience has grown up and mellowed out enough that we’re climbing into bed for our last laugh before midnight rather than at 1 am.

That demographic transition matters because NBC isn’t the only place we see the shift. As a Gen-Xer who appeals to Millenials; Conan lines up perfectly with President Obama. A conversation between Gen X-ers (Conan, the Pres) and Millenials (Conan’s viewers, Obama’s voters) is the new mainstream. The conversation between Boomers (Leno) and X-ers (Leno’s audience) plays second fiddle as a 10 pm lead-in, while the conversation amongst Boomers (Letterman and his audience) faded into oblivion ages ago.

If nothing else, the changing of the Tonight Show guard marks the passage of the Boomers from the center to the sidelines of American life. It’s an odd passage, since the Boomers still make up a third of the population and have two or three decades ahead of them. How could the generation that promised to reinvent politics and culture get such short shelf life on the political and cultural stage? And what are the Boomers to do for the next three decades now that no one is listening?

The lame ones will continue to chant old chants to limited success. Jim Jarmusch’s new movie, The Limits of Control, falls flat in part because its “villain” is “the nameless corporation,” a 1960s motif that doesn’t resonate with Millenial audiences. Though Boomer women (Second Wave Feminists) and X-er women (Third Wave Feminists) continue to do battle on websites like Slate’s new Double X, most Millenials have accepted a middle ground and moved on. And of course, there’s the political collapse of John McCain and Gordon Brown at the hands of X-ers Obama and Cameron.

What’s a Boomer to do when faced with this? The ones with staying power learn to make fun of themselves:

The Generation Gap

By , 24 March, 2009, No Comment

Now that it all appears to have blown over, I want to say a few more words about the AIG bonuses, and the media role in stirring the pot of fury. We had a long discussion about this in my core business journalism seminar last night.

Here’s where I come down: it was and is good journalism to comb through the government’s agreements with AIG and the company’s SEC filings, to try to find out who was getting paid for what and to probe the possibility of backscratching when it came to Goldman Sachs. [Though, as we determined in my seminar, there isn’t actually any backscratching involved. GS, it seems, really was smarter than the others.] Anyway, it was good journalism to ask these questions. Once. And report the answers. Once.

It was and is bad journalism to report, on the top right hand column of the A1 page of every major newspaper over two weeks, what various regulatory and elected officials had to say about these bonuses as though it were ACTUALLY the most important event of each day’s news cycle, when any number of other items needed that space. This is info-tainment at work.

Such poor editorial judgment is pernicious. The bonus rage not only derailed politicians from doing the important work of sorting out a real bank plan and a budget; it squandered the political will to have a real bank plan. Now that everyone in the country is out with their pitchforks for the bankers, how is the administration going to sell spending more money on this industry?

If the press had been doing its job, the last two weeks might have produced stories explaining that Wall Street funds Main Street, that even venal AIG insurers are worth your tax dollar right now. Or we might have read on page A1 about the strange phenomenon of Americans ranting against the pursuit of profit and how absurd that is. Such circumspect and constructive items appeared, but only on the inside pages of our newspapers, and in elite pockets of the wonkosphere.

I have a hunch as to why it wound up this way: it’s generational. (Note: Dan Drezner is talking the generations meme today too) The bulk of voters are over 50, close enough to retirement that even a superhero’s bank plan won’t bring back their 401K’s. The bulk of editors are the same age. Most of the time, such people are capable of putting enormous national emergencies above their own interests when the national emergency is framed as securing the future for their children.

This weekend, my mother, generally the type to lie down before moving buses for my sister and myself, said leaving her children to careers in a depressed, deflated, Japan’s-Lost-Decade economy might be worth it to get a pound of flesh from those who destroyed her retirement. I post this not as an indictment of her per se but as an example of the level the rage has reached and an explanation for why young people I know, even soak-the-rich liberals, are far less incensed by the whole bonus question than their parents. Unfortunately, elected officials won’t take any real steps on the banks until such policy polls well among our parents’ generation.

Comcast in Portland: A Cautionary Tale

By , 18 August, 2008, No Comment

My friend Steve just moved to Portland, OR. Being a 22-year old man with clear priorities, he immediately set about acquiring food, a TV and a couch. In that order. Food is easy to come by in Portland, apparently: there are free ice-cream cone giveaways on the streets, and $1 hot dogs at minor league baseball games. Setting up cable, however, proved a challenge.

In a city that hosts chipmaker Intel, it’s only fitting that Steve would turn to the web to set up his new Comcast account. But instead of filling out an online form to request a visit from the cable guy (which is fairly standard across the country), Steve found himself handing over credit card information via an instant message.

The process was a lot faster than calling one of those corporate 800 numbers and dealing with an automated menu (“press 1 to pay us, press 2 to pay us more”), but Steve wasn’t pleased. This is “f***ing retarded,” he said. “Horrendous.”

First off, there’s the uncertainty of putting your credit card info into an IM that you have no confirmation page for. Halfway through the transaction, the IM client crashed when Steve tried to open a new tab on his browser.

Secondly, there’s the increased chance of fraud: the credit card Steve used actually belonged to his girlfriend Dana.

Thirdly, an IM conversation is an ideal place to make typos and grammatical gaffes. The Comcast rep asked to “ruin a credit card,” and after setting up a time for an installation told Steve, “Please make sure that there should be someone 18 years old and above, who is English speaking must be present for the duration of the appointment. Please be inform that the technician will call you 15 minutes before the installation.”

I don’t buy the whole Google-makes-you-stupid theory about internet users, and I don’t think the Comcast rep speaks this way in real life. Rather, I believe the same individuals can be less articulate over fast-paced communication technologies like IM or SMS than they are in print or even over e-mail, where there’s time to spell-check and proofread. And while error-prone IM is fine for personal conversations, Steve says that’s not okay when $100 a month is at stake. I agree.

And Steve is a tech-savvy guy. Like most 20-somethings, he uses the web to listen to music or surf YouTube!; plus, he has a subscription to a service that allows him to watch live coverage of professional sports that don’t make prime time on ESPN. That he still expects a certain formality and decorum from commercial relationships is a telling sign: just because the internet allows us to abandon all the old playbooks, doesn’t mean the Google generation wants that. That’s an important lesson for any companies trying to navigate the digital age.

Bye, Bye Bill

By , 27 June, 2008, No Comment


It’s the end of an era. Bill Gates is leaving Microsoft to be a full-time dogooder. Over at TechCrunch, there’s an interesting discussion about who might replace him as the individual who “controls” the tech world. For almost two decades, Gates and Microsoft have had enough of a hold on computing that whatever you built or designed at least had to work WITH Windows. Even Apple caved.

But according to TechCrunch, nobody “controls” today’s platform–the Web. So no one can ever do what Gates did again.

Puhl-eese. It’s true that neither Facebook nor Google nor Yahoo can become the one-and-only platform for everything (they’re all trying to do that, but I think Web 2.0 consumers like having multiple foci for their internet lives, so the titans will have to coexist).

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an entrepreneur out there who gets to be the chief change driver. The thing is, with today’s set of tech leaders that sell consumer experiences as much or more than they sell technological gadgetry, the leader need not devise a platform or a set of code that everyone has to use and work with. Rather the next Bill Gates will be the person who devises a culture, a way of connecting to consumers, that everyone has to use, no matter what they sell.

TechCrunch’s poll is still valuable, and I encourage you to read it. But by asking who’s making the most/best STUFF for the web, I’m not sure they’re thinking about the question the right way.

Insurgent Media

By , 21 May, 2008, No Comment

There’s a fascinating cycle of media coverage coming out this week after Hillary Clinton’s bloggers-only conference call over the weekend.

In the call, she made her usual arguments about the need to seat Michigan and Florida at the Convention, and her electability in the fall. The tagline that most bloggers took away was “it’s the map, not the math,” meaning that Clinton is winning in states that will be important battlegrounds in the general election. She went on to specifically thank bloggers who have supported her and continued to cover her campaign as the mainstream media has pretty much accepted Obama as the Democratic nominee.

Disclaimer: A Clinton supporter at heart, I’ve recently come to terms with the inevitability of her defeat.

What’s interesting though, is that the mainstream media devoted ample coverage to the call itself. The New York Times ran a piece on it, and then argued that it reflects Ms. Clinton’s fall from frontrunner grace that she is resorting to the “megaphone of insurgents.” If the blogosphere is so counter-cultural, why does the Times–“megaphone” of the liberal establishment–use it as a source? And if Clinton and McCain are supposed to be the old fogies in this race against young, hip Obama, how come he’s the only candidate who hasn’t reached out to the political blogs this way?

I’m hardly making the case that Clinton and McCain are young hipsters, but rather that the line between the blogs and the so-called “mainstream” is a lot fuzzier than the NY Times makes it seem.