The End of the (Material) World

By Nick Shore,  MTV Insights

At the end of 2012, we were having an @mtvinsights dinner with a little crew of 13 to15-year-olds, asking about their world and lives as the year came to a close.

The thing that struck me as especially poignant from the conversation was a response by one 14-year-old girl when I asked about how she thought the world would change in the next few years. “Newspapers will probably become extinct in our lifetime,” she said, “and we may be the last kids to use actual books in school. They are already starting to get iPads for us.”

The sense she conveyed was that the material world is in some ways disappearing before her very eyes. There was a distinct note of ennui in her voice. Or maybe it was the way my ears were tuned, since our discussions were taking place right before the end of the Mayan calendar. The world didn’t end, I reflected on December 22nd when we all woke up in one piece, but maybe it is ending in a way; a more curious way than we could ever have imagined. 

Things have always disappeared and been replaced by the new: horse & buggy to motor car, Betamax to VHS, etc. But is there a difference, I wondered, when something disappears into a string of 1’s and zeros? And what will it feel like to a generation who grew up watching this dynamic speed up, where materialism sprints ever more quickly towards the non-material?

I had a glimpse into the answer to my own question last week when I saw my own 15-year-old daughter listening to one of my songs on her iPhone.

 "Where did you get that song?" I asked.

 ”From my Cloud….oh, no, actually from your Cloud” she said.

 "Hey, you, get off my cloud" I managed to restrain myself from saying/singing. But to her, it’s clear and unquestionable  that most everything’s just floating up there; sent up into the atmosphere like all the stuff needed to make a new home in space, should the one we currently inhabit ever crumble or start to disappear.

None of the Above

By Nick Shore, MTV Insights

Some MTV Insights colleagues and I pulled together a dinner the other evening with a handful of the most interesting and provocative Millennial thought leaders we could find. It’s the kind of forum we use sometimes to get ahead of the curve, get some postcards from the future, if you will.

At one point in the evening we asked them this question “What exactly IS the zeitgeist about today, from your viewpoint?”

I wasn’t quite ready for the answer…:

“I’ll tell you what the zeitgeist is” said a 23 year old female, white ex-rapper….Its “WHAT THE F*@K IS GOING ON?” That’s what the zeitgeist is. Because no one has any idea.”

Recently I was also at a Whitehouse event and a speaker from the government’s youth outreach team made a similar point, but in more Whitehouse-y language: “The modern age is characterized by masses and masses of information and a sense that no one knows what is happening.”

The Occupy Wall Street crew’s defiance of the call to clarify a single message or “center of gravity” is a good example of this chaos of meaning.

It got me thinking about how Millennials are the children of this post modern maelstrom. And that might be part of why they are ripping the labels off everything, turning it upside down, and asking “why have we decided to define this in such a rigid, frozen way….?”

This is an “album”, and if you want that song you have to buy the whole damn album….”oh really? Just watch me create Napster and then iTunes and show you what you can do with your so called album.”

These are nerds, and nerds are not cool….”Oh really, well this is nerd chic, and by the way, nerds are the new jocks…”

This is black versus white, gay versus straight….”oh really…?” Well, in the box describing what race  you are on the census, “none of the above” has the highest % of all generations. Even the concept of gender is becoming much more fluid with modern girls talking about the mixes of mascul-ish and femin-ish characteristics.

These labels are being melted by the heat of 80million millennials starting to flex their generational muscles and saying “#really?….we have to fit into those boxes, those cubicles, those pigeonholes…..erm, well, #epic_fail”

I was chatting about all this with my teenage daughter the other morning on our #2Train commute into the city, while she was drinking a mini chocolate soy milk and reviewing her homework (which was to compose a song that sets the basic facts and narrative of the American civil war set to the soundtrack of “Someone Like You” by Adele.)

"Oh Nikolai, stop trying to categorize everything!" she scolded. (Nikolai is one of thirty or so remixes of my actual name that she is fond of using).

And so I stopped. And for a moment, I was….open, spacious, boundary and label-less. 

Maybe the revolution will not be televised but it might just be Tumblr’ed and Pinterested. Maybe the M’s are challenging us to ‘stop categorizing’ and instead keep an open mind, embrace the chaos, see the world anew, as an open question, as a “koan”….which I Googled, and here’s one of the 20 or so definitions that came up:”a  paradoxical riddle used to demonstrated the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment”.