"The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes."
Back in 1991, Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland captured a moment and hit a nerve with his novel, Generation X. He borrowed the label. Generation X was first coined by Hungarian war photographer Robert Capa. In 1953, Capa's photo essay portraying "this unknown generation, The Generation X" related to the youngsters growing up after the Second World War. Generation X, at the hands of both Capa and Coupland was catchy, caught on, felt right and right on the pulse.
Of course, every era hunts out its own set of terms. Every new generation searches for its own identity and descriptors. The 50's 'rebel without a cause', Kerouac's Beat generation, the post WW2 baby boomers and their meritocratic 60's rise, the 70's punk rocker, Coupland's "Tales for an Accelerated Culture".
Each generation reacts to its circumstances, rolls and rubs up against its times, the good and bad, looking to seize the opportunities and spell out the disenfranchisements and injustices. Each generation is the same in that each generation feels its fire burning and looks for its voice, seeking its uniqueness.
Of course, not all generations are born in an era of radical change and bona fide revolution. The 50's 'causeless rebel' was born into Middle Class prosperity. But then, that was the point. They had so damn little to rebel at.
Not so dissimilar, Coupland's Gen X'ers were reacting to the seemingly long-littleness of 80's life, to being over-educated and underwhelmed, their spirits rumbling from a literal and figurative diet of food served in packaging that will never biodegrade. Coupland's lot were not a particularly cheery bunch. And then Chuck Palahniuk went one step further with his "transgressional novel" Fight Club, the ultimate dark-hearted angry man rant at the ways of the Western world and all its seemingly topsy-turvy values.
But that was all then, of that time, a moment in history. While the historic thread is informing, let's talk about the history that's being made. Right now. What of today's rebels, their beats, spirits and causes?
What's so exciting and wide-open with potential is that the young are not angry and ranting - because they're too busy. Like every active generation before them, they're looking to positively change the world, but what's different is how ambition is now being met with actual means.
Post Generation X, Coupland was always going to want to throw the dice again, but his spin on 'Generation Y' didn't really articulate any sense of actual real moment, its players, or the parts they play. As fiction with a deeper meaning, Coupland's Generation Y felt premature and overly allegorical, abstract; a lament on something too close to nothing.
But now, in this digital age, Gen Y, aka. Millennials, aka. Digital Natives are coming sharply into focus. And there is much we can learn from them.
It's not an over-claim. We're all living through a revolution. The Digital Revolution. But let's not too quickly jump to thoughts of tech. Any new technology is there to make new things possible. Invention is the trigger for what follows.
The most compelling thing with all revolutions is not the invention itself but the ripples of consequence that follow it. The printing press in the 1430s: described by technologist George Dyson as the springboard from which "knowledge began freely replicating and quickly assumed a life of its own."
For me, the most fascinating thing about our digital age is how it's liberating and empowering people. The tech is creating a new set of rules, because it's breaking down the old set.
Once upon a time, you couldn't sample and mix and produce an album on your home computer. What today is familiar and second nature was actually impossible 10, even 5 years ago. Produce short-video commentaries, start your own broadcasting channel, and find yourself with 2 million plus loyal and subscribing You Tube viewers. Become world famous... from your bedroom? Today, very possible. Not probable. But certainly possible.
Or perhaps you're too busy to vlog because you're someone like 17 year old Nick D'Aloisio, working on a new app in your downtime, the sort of thing that Yahoo might just decide to buy off you for $30 million.
Nick D'Aloisio taught himself to code at the age of 12. In a 2013 interview with the Telegraph, he offered, "I'm described as a net native. Young people are just not aware of the constraints, so why not go build a social network, for example?"
Those born into a digital age know no other time and place than this one, and whether they're bedroom view is out over the roof tops of Wimbledon or across the San Fernando Valley, life isn't representing limitation and barrier and down-side. Quite the opposite. It's representing open-ended invitation to make and create.
Generation Create, naïve to being told 'No', is creating and coding, making and uploading.
The economics of the industrial age dictated that you really needed to have experience before you could make anything of any worth. But that was the industrial age. The digital age only needs to exhibit Nick D'Aloisio or Mark Zuckerberg to evidence that with little life experience of anything it's possible to build something worth millions, or indeed billions.
And I love this. Don't tell people what they can't do. That's the big message here. If people genuinely believe they're going to add to the world's population of internet billionaires, then brilliant! They certainly won't join that select group without aspiring and striving and believing that nothing's impossible.
"If Man's reach exceeds is grasp, what is heaven for?" There is a rising tide of individuals who aren't interested in waiting.
Because as much as certain behaviours are practiced, repeated, and thus accepted, very little is actually set in giant tablets of stone. There is always that margin for improvement, whether by the smallest inch or the widest stride. The human spirit endeavours to stretch, to stretch beyond grasp, finger tips twitching. And that's what Generation Create is up to, fingers twitching like mad.
This is why we should feel hopeful. It's why so many of us should feel excited by the 'Right Now'. Because while it will always be easier to align with the status quo than to change the status, never before have so many opportunities been within twitching grasp.
A CREATIVELY EXPANSIVE MOMENT IN HISTORY
Of course, it's not that this latest generation of 'Creative Ones' are, in objective terms, more creative than previous generations. Not so. It's not a case of innate abilities, but of the circumstances of the day, which so allows the abilities of any given generation to either be encouraged or supressed. Invent metal movable type, as Johannes Gutenberg did, have enough paper to print on, and suddenly you have the means to spread ideas and fire-start conversations. Technological inventions, of any age, are just the beginning of things.
Leslie Berlin, business historian at Stanford, puts the printing press and the internet in the same category, as "innovations that expand the human intellect and its creative, expressive, and even moral possibilities."
In this digital age of ours, we are living through an expansive moment.
Put tangibly and simply, where people once compiled scrap books, now they have Pinterest. Where once photo albums, now very likely Instagram. Where once compilation tapes, now shareable playlists. Once a journal, now a blog. The creativity hasn't changed, but the medium has. Where once creativity existed in the frame of personal worlds and physical formats, now the creator can make their digital worlds public.
Media, by definition, is all about having an audience. Social media therefore creates audience for all creators, can extend circles of friends into communities of like-mined interest, turning personal creative expression into public exhibit.
And being able to go public with your creativity, having the means with which to reach an audience is only one contextual dimension. The second dimension lies in how technologies, ever cheaper, are giving creators the chance create better stuff.
The once high costs of certain technologies created an obvious barrier to amateurs and a thick dividing line between amateur and professional. No longer so. Digital technologies are today affordable to almost all, making for an even playing field between amateur and professional. Your edge no longer lies in the kit you have, but in how you use it. Everyone now has access, figuratively and digitally, to the same paints and brushes.
American magazine, The Atlantic, once proposed the invention of 'corrective lenses' and their adoption as "the largest onetime IQ boost in human history, by expanding the pool of potentially literate people." Being intellectually handicapped by simply being unable to see letters and numbers was at once removed. Similarly, through digital technologies and their adoption, we could be living through the largest creative boost in human history since the Renaissance.
MUCH TO LEARN & UNLEARN
I believe there is much we can learn from Generation Create. There is much we can learn from their view of the world and way of doings things. There is much we can all learn, irrespective of which generational band we were born into.
Where many of us will know of an earlier time than this, of a less digital world weighed heavy with more constraints, this we can unlearn. We can interrupt that way of thinking.
Generation Create is a subset of Digital Natives, but it is the exact opposite of Capa's "unknown generation". It is a generation that can create shockwaves. And it is a generation, I propose, that anyone of any age can join. Generation Create is, more than anything else, a more open-minded way of thinking and doing. The only thing yet "unknown" is what it might ultimately achieve. And by extension, how many of us will join its ranks, irrespective of the past they came from. Not every lifetime gets gifted this kind of interruption.
The American philosopher William James once said, "The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes." James was talking about the latter 19th Century, but this discovery "to alter" still applies. Today. To all of us.