The hope of a new generation

January 7, 2008: 2:33 PM ET

200px-russianrainbowgathering_4aug2005.jpgI'm a boomer. All the bad qualities of my generation have been well documented, but we'll all have a lot of time to think about those. We'll be booming around for quite a long time yet, no matter how many Gen-X dudes are sticking little pins in those tiny dolls of us they keep in their cubicles. Poor Gen-X dudes. For the most part, they haven't really ever had a chance to run things. And now they're getting to the point where they can feel the hot breath of all those Gen-Y types on the back of their necks.

According to Wikipedia, Generation Y is anybody born between 1981 and 1995. I see some of them starting to pop up now. I thought I would tell you about one guy in particular, because, well... he's interesting. Let's call him Walt.

Unlike his Boomer and Gen-X counterparts who are all digitally zoided out with gizmos and surgically implanted bluetooth suppositories and all that, Walt has no BlackBerry yet. No Bluetooth. He's got a cell phone, of course. But it's kind of an old one. He's not a teenager anymore, so he doesn't get all excited about the newest mobile phone anymore. He talks very briefly to a variety of friends who are always checking in. Conversations consist of "What's up," followed by plans to meet.

He goes on his e-mail maybe once a day. Doesn't open attachments. Answers one out of four e-mails. It's not that he's not interested. It's just that he's bored. He's no gamer, either. His old Nintendo 64  and PlayStation sit gathering dust in a corner. He doesn't have a digital camera. He's been given a few by his parents, but those too are somewhere indistinct at this point. He doesn't watch much TV, although he is into DVDs of old shows he missed because he was born too late. Lately, it's been the special anniversary issue of Twin Peaks. Also has nothing against older movies, the ones in black and white. He doesn't download, either. Thinks the whole commercial structure of the movie and music business is squeezing all the creative life out of us.

He reads. Books. So do a lot of his friends.  And he likes Facebook and YouTube, the latter mostly because, in addition to talking cats and girls dancing drunk in their underwear, YouTube now represents the greatest trove of video history in existence. Everything that's happened in the Arts, in politics, in business... all of it is there if you search for it right. It's a primary source. Constant use makes people somewhat dissatisfied with secondary ones, maybe.

Anyhow, last week Walt was offered a job you'd think anybody would crave. He was asked to create and manage a new Web magazine for a major cultural institution. Not a bank or anything. A cool place, if one can still call things cool without being hopelessly out-of-it. And he said no. I can't think of a young person I've met across a desk for the last 10 years who would have said no, but this kid said no.

"I don't want to do another stupid web magazine," he said to me. "And I don't want to manage anybody else, either. I want to read and write and work at a job that doesn't take all my time and get me off the path I'm on right now. I like what I'm doing. I don't want to be tied to a desk all day doing something for somebody else." I asked him whether he would write about his thoughts for the thing if they wanted him to, do a blog, you know. And he said, "No offense, but who needs another blog?" Can you imagine? "I'm only 21," he said, pulling a weird, floppy hat over his unruly hair and heading down the street. "I want to do what I want to do, that's all."

Well, I never. I can't remember hearing that kind of thing from somebody his age, since... High school. And you want to hear something funny? I see they now have hippies in Russia, too. That's one of them at the top of this blog today, in fact.

Hey, Yuri! Do you know "The Times They Are A-Changin'"?

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