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Carl Wernicke: Generational Culture & Counter Culture

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The increasing complexity of the world has all of us groping for ways to cope.

Some people dive in and absorb, or are absorbed by, the new reality. On a recent visit by my wife’s 18-year-old grandson, I noticed that he stayed up most nights almost to dawn, earphones attached to his laptop, playing collaborative computer games with friends from around the world. They chatted like the closest of acquaintances, yet have never met, and in fact when I asked he said he has never even seen a photo of them.

To them it probably doesn’t seem complex; it’s all they have ever known. It might be like asking a fish what it thinks about the complexity of the reef it lives on.

And I read a New York Times article about the complex shopping habits of Generation Z, the successor to the baby boomer, Gen X, Y, and Millennial generations that preceded them. I used to think generations were defined by decades; now a new generation seems to come along every other year.

That, too, is a direct result of how fast technology is driving us.

Anyway, the article quoted a 13-year-old who possessed an incredibly sophisticated knowledge of how shopping has evolved as a social milieu, with Generation Z following their celebrity leaders across a dizzying array of online venues. The climax is the sudden appearance of so-called pop-up stores that exist only long enough to dispose of the limited run of clothing, shoes, handbags, etc., being marketed by the celebrity, whose main function is to provide guidance to the flock on all matters of style. Once the limited run of branded merchandise is gone, all eyes remain glued to phones and pads waiting for the next drop.

I have to admit, as marketing it is clever. You keep the proles hungering for more, and they keep buying. One particular celebrity posts her latest drop on her website, where on average, the Times reported, everything sells out in less than a minute.

The Z-ers have been so absorbed by their electronic environment that marketing isn’t advertising, it’s a seamless part of who they are. Here’s what the CEO of what is called a digital influence mining tool said about all this: “They are excited not just by a product’s rarity, but also by what credibility owning that product can give them within their social media communities ….”

OK, maybe that’s the same as older generations buying expensive handbags, shoes or watches to signal to their peers that they are hip, or rich, or something. But somehow this seems ramped up beyond that. Maintaining your credibility within your social media community through frantic consumerism creates an endless loop. I remember the old days when I thought changing fashion every few years seemed wasteful; dealing with fashion changing with every drop on the Internet is beyond what I want to deal with, even if watching it from afar can be entertaining.

Anyway, I think it has a lot to do with the opposite reaction of many people to all this, which is to retreat back to simplicity. So the fastest growing form of music delivery is vinyl records, bookstores are on the rise again, and people are rediscovering the idea that their food should actually BE food.

Like many, I find myself trying to straddle both these worlds. When it all becomes too much, I like to play a nice, simple round of solitaire … on my iPad.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.