“We, the Noughties”: An essay by Lukas Clark-Memler

We, The Noughties

by Lukas Clark-Memler 

I’ve never liked decade-themed costume parties, and I’m not one to embrace the novelty of historical dress up. These ‘retro’ celebrations only make me worry about my own generation’s cultural identity. How will we be remembered?

Since the 1950s, each subsequent decade brought with it a unique and new generational aesthetic. New fashion, new music, fresh culture. It’s simple to reduce each decade to a clear-cut stereotype, and easy to dress up for a themed party.

The latter half of the 20th century was one of remarkable cultural, and more specifically, musical evolution: each decade pushed the boundaries of music further, in a direct response to its predecessor. The ‘60s responded to the sheltered formalism of the ‘50s with the hysteria of Beatlemania. To which the ‘70s rebelled against in an experimental decade of psychadelia and punk. The ‘80s injected music with a hedonistic glam and saw the rise of electronic instrumentation, while the ‘90s stripped music all the way back down to its grungy base.

But what about the Noughties: all of us born in the dying light of the 20th century, and coming of age in the face of the new millennium. What trends, and genres of music will come to define us? How will we our current epoch be simplified, characterized and ultimately commercialized?

While our musical output has indeed been prolific and diverse, there hasn’t been any real progression. The past decade has been one of ‘post’ prefixes and historical pillaging. Artists have chosen to resurrect the skeletons of bygone musical movements instead of innovating and pushing forward. We’re left with a fractured era of music, on the cusp of cultural irrelevance.

And since music plays such a huge factor in defining cultural identity, the Noughties are in trouble. I fear we’ve become too skeptical to buy into mass culture. Our attitude of aggressive individualism makes an overarching generational style impossible. We don’t want cultural ubiquity and we seem uninterested in solidarity; we adopt a militant irony when it comes to self-definition. The Noughties refuse to be put in a box. No collective consciousness, no cultural identifiers, no distinct music or style. Like our namesake: Generation Nothing.

Our knee-jerk cynicism keeps us from wholeheartedly embracing a mainstream identity. We choose to regurgitate ‘retro’ fittings, instead of adopting ‘now’ fashions: our style is nothing more than historical bricolage.

The Noughties seem to almost transcend contemporary taxonomy. So I thought I could help shed some light on my birth cohorts, and offer a rough definition of a generation on the verge of oblivion…

We’re a digital generation. We believe in technological innovation, not cultural evolution. Films will be replaced by YouTube channels; newspapers by blogs; personal contact by instant messaging. As inexorably as CDs replaced vinyl records, MP3s will conquer any kind of physical music format.

We don’t want to press a button, give us a touch screen. We don’t know how to use a phone book, a dictionary, an encyclopedia; there’s an app for that. We can’t read a map, send a letter, hell, we can barely manage a telephone conversation. ‘Social networking’ has destroyed our social skills.

We’re happy to recycle trends from the past, so long as our laptops keep getting thinner. We claim that technology has helped us to progress, but if anything it has stunted our growth. We don’t need to think anymore; computers think for us. Apple would sell us a soul if they could market it and we would buy it: brushed steel, shiny glass, and all. iThink therefore iAm.

We’re a generation of instant gratification. We hear a song we like, we download it immediately. We’re not going to wait a whole week for the next episode of a television show; we’ll stream the entire season online, in one hit. We’re not going to sit through two hours of cinema for the denouement; give it to us straight away. We want dessert before the meal. We already want next year’s model.

We want ten thousand songs on a palm-sized machine, and refuse to pay for a single fucking one of them. We like our culture the same way we like our cheeseburgers: cheap, quick and predictable.

We’re a generation of planned obsolescence. It’s in our blood. We subconsciously know that our iPhone will need to be replaced within the year, but that’s okay, because our phones are smarter than we are. Technology’s expiration date is only matched by its low prices. But we don’t shop in physical stores anymore, how quaint. The Internet fuels our rampant consumption, sale after sale after sale. We’re not a target market, we’re the only market.

Our parents told us stories about social change, about individuals who made a difference, about great thinkers and philosophers. We didn’t understand what they meant. We don’t believe in the power of thought, the power of collective intention or originality; we’re a generation of plagiarism and apathy.

Technology has corrupted our generation’s artistic integrity; we stream, rip, torrent and pirate without hesitation. Cinemas are closing down across the world. Concert tickets are at record prices, reflecting the dwindling number of album sales. Once great songwriters are forced to dream up television jingles to survive.

We’re a generation of blind ambition. We yearn for the spotlight; for a million ‘likes’, ‘shares’ and ‘followers’. We want to be an Idol. We want to be worshipped. We expect a major record deal to come from a laptop recording. We viciously blog about our mundane lives and expect a book contract. There is no line between public and private. We are our online presence.

We’re nostalgic for the simplicity of the late 20th century, yet watch us scorn at the primitive technology of our predecessors. That smug look of technological superiority dances across our faces whenever we watch a pre-Noughties film, see someone with a Walkman, or hear someone talk about MySpace.

We remember the ’90s, but don’t dwell in the past. We’re denizens of the present, caught in the awkward first decades of a new millennium. We’re veterans of the twentieth century, and rookies of the twenty-first: old and young, cynical and recklessly optimistic. We’re not ignorant; we have a perpetually-scrolling newsfeed of the world at our fingertips. But we’re unaffected, apathetic, happy to stand on the sidelines and watch as the world burns…

… It doesn’t have to be like this. The first step to recovery is acknowledging the problem, and our problem is serious. We face a generational identity crisis more severe than anyone before us. So let’s take this as a warning then. If we don’t unplug ourselves and go to a concert, stop streaming that movie and go to the cinema, stop online ‘chatting’ and have a real conversation, then we might be remembered as the generation that stopped cultural progression.

I believe we are entering a cultural dark age. We need to turn our focus away from technological advances, and towards cultural revolution. We need to spend less time exploring the depths of the ocean and the furthest reaches of the galaxy, and look inside ourselves for answers. We need to find the spark to light up a new generation of poets, performers, troubadours, radicals, artists; we need to bring forward a cultural renaissance, and leave behind our digital dystopia.

I have faith that us Noughties can overcome our rocky start and forge a distinct collective identity. We have the potential for greatness, we just need to put down our technological distractions and get busy. It’s not too late. We refuse to be condemned to the footnotes of history and we, the Noughties, will make a name for ourselves in the coming years. Watch this space.