The tired, huddled masses of the next generation are waking up to realize that flexibility and movement are the keys to unlock joy.
The American dream is dead. While still nestled in infancy, star-spangled hopes of anything resembling my parents’ life had pretty much vanished, and a strange subtext for what was to come silently gestated as I grew. The car, the house, and the child before age 30 were all near impossibilities for those of us who inherited the great recession. We were taught to dream small and assign great meaning to the tiny crevasses in which we were held, to play the game the way it’s always been played, though the rules have shifted greatly. Cultural milestones carved deep into society’s structure suddenly feel staggeringly out of reach for this generation of misfits, caught in the middle. So, what are we to do but erupt? To transform? To leap daringly into that which we can hold and experience with the limited resources we have been given? The new American dream will be forged not in matter, but in memory. A bleary-eyed tumble into the ephemeral nature of all things, seen through the lens of conscious nomadism.
We have taken to the road. The new mark of success will not be how young you made your first million or the square-footage of your house, but the stamps on your passport and the mileage on your odometer. The internet is a funny thing to unleash upon a generation, and I feel we are just beginning to use it well. Couch-surfing, ride shares, and freelance work are all within the click of a button, which has made the nomadic lifestyle within reach for anyone who puts their mind to it. Keep personal overhead down and maximize experience.
We have seen our planet suffer. It is no longer chic to accumulate goods and stuff plastic into landfills. The new hive-mind is keen on reversing climate change, recycling, and reusable materials. We can research anything within arms reach at a moments notice, and we are smart enough to know that buying something that lasts 10 years is better than buying ten things that last 1 year. We have had to lead big lives inside of small spaces, creating worlds within wee studios well into our 30s and downsizing to what is essential.
We have accepted a new definition of “home.” There’s a reason that the van life and tiny house movements have picked up so much steam in the last few years. The materialism that previous generations could afford via job security, lack of community, and a void of climate awareness are no longer sustainable or sexy to a tribe of youth raised on the net. Anything we want is right at our fingertips, and perhaps this certainty makes hoarding all the less desirable. The new zeitgeist is one that hoards information, media, and data. We can fit the whole of the world into a backpack, allowing for hyper-mobility and massive curiosity.
We have redefined that which is essential to include warmth, camaraderie, play, purpose, and flexibility. We are aware of our mortality and the world around us more than any generation prior, thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, and we are waking up to the notion that life’s meaning is best found in the deep wells of experience. We are hungry for experience and ready to start digging.
We are blurring the lines between friend/acquaintance/lover. In a world ruled by social media and meetups, finding like-minded friends or groups to try new things with has never been easier, and advancements like FaceTime and Skype give us the power to buzz through electrical currents and maintain friendships thousands of miles away. The new American dream demands inclusivity. Not out of disdain for society as it stands, but out of too many years of living like ill-fitted puzzle pieces in homes we were told to call our own. We have assembled a new definition of community, one that encompasses people we sat next to on a flight to Copenhagen who recommended a bar in Edinburgh. Playmates are everywhere, just look for the smiles.
The new American dream was birthed in the wake of globalization. Unlike ever before, our generation has the power to simultaneously recognize the immediacy with which we need to explore and defend our planet and the absurdity and transience of all things on earth. Between the two lies a web we feel called to traverse again and again, rather than adhere to a rigid, stairway-shaped career structure. The new narrative holds space for several careers within a lifetime and does not believe that traveling is something bestowed only upon the retired and the moneyed.
Technological advances have given us the tremendous gift of all the world’s information, photo-supplemented, at our fingertips. The breathtaking whoosh of Alice down the rabbit hole is just as near as a how-to course on calculus or a selection of vintage Ganesha statues. It seems only fitting that the first generation raised in such expansiveness would begin to carefully rip the seams of society’s cozy sweater and invite in the gale-force winds of the wild unknown. We are waking up to a new version of the future, a new narrative that welcomes the mess, the squish, and the inevitability of impermanence, knowing that goodbye is never a dirty word when the wind’s in your hair and the tiny device inside your pocket holds infinity. Maybe enlightenment isn’t found in the pursuit of solitude, meditating atop a mountain for years on end. Maybe it’s a swan dive into the messiness of life itself and a gentle recognition of the sublime, unwavering force of transience.
Originally written on by Emily Pennington on The Outbound and published on August 3, 2017