Every year without fail, we’re subject to a slew of news segments and articles that attempt to demystify and categorize youth culture. In a recent article for The New York Times, writer William Deresiewicz asserts that Millennials are best defined as the generation who seeks to network and start businesses: “Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur,” says the article. With a multitude of synonyms, Millennial refers to a person born approximately between the late 1970s and late 1990s, a demographic that is just beginning to identify itself as a burgeoning workforce. As someone who falls into this age range, I can attest to my generation’s proclivity towards networking. Heck, the blog you’re currently reading is a satellite of an online marketplace, a virtual forum where the entrepreneurial spirit drives us to build self-directed careers. Yet I’m loathe to pigeonhole an entire generation, and I get downright defensive when someone like Deresiewicz categorizes our affect as a “commercial personality,” further described as a “bland, inoffensive, smile-and-a-shoeshine personality — the stay-positive, other-directed, I’ll be-whoever-you-want-me-to-be-personality.”
Yet where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Deresiewicz points out that unlike past youth cultures, such as the beatniks, hippies or punks, Millennials are more than willing to go commercial. “Forty years ago, even 20 years ago, a young person’s first thought, or even second or third thought, was certainly not to start a business. That was selling out,” he writes. But it seems like definitions are changing. Millennials have come of age through several economic slumps, not to mention the heyday of the dot-com startup, leading many of us to place our faith in ourselves to create our own professional futures. So in the thoroughly modern context that we find ourselves, does the commercialization of your own ideals still count as selling out?
Chappell Ellison is a designer, writer and design writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she serves as a contributor for The Etsy Blog and design columnist for GOOD.