Patrice Riemens on Tue, 19 May 2009 11:53:33 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> David Sharfenberg: So maybe the slackers had it right after all

original to The Boston Globe:

bwo Hippies list/ Aldert H.

So maybe the slackers had it right after all
By David Scharfenberg
February 9, 2009

WE MOVED to San Francisco and Brooklyn and Mission Hill. We jumped
from job to job. Put off marriage. Never bought a place. And we
never heard the end of it. We were drifters, they said. Layabouts.
No respect for work and real estate or the value of a good pair of

But now, in the cold glare of a recession, everything looks different:
We've got no house to lose, no career to dash, no school-aged children
in need of pricey Wii gaming systems.

Not recession-proof, exactly, but recession-resistant, at least.

Of course, it's not like we saw the crash coming. We didn't plan for
this, didn't time the market. And we made some bad choices along the
way: The persistent neglect of our 401(k)s, battered stock market
notwithstanding, will catch up to us someday.

But in retrospect, it's clear that we did something right. We lived
a smaller life, a life we could afford. And as the country rebuilds
the economy, as it tries to replace it with something more sustainable
than a leaning tower of subprime mortgages and consumer binging, it is
time to reevaluate that much-maligned Gen X archetype: the American

"Slacker," like most labels, has always been a crude and misleading
shorthand. We were a bit aimless, us urban, liberal-arts types. We
were a little too enamored of irony, perhaps. A little too frivolous.

But there was something to be said for a life in the moment; for a
dalliance in California, for concerts and failed screenplays, for a
little fun before the fall. And the truth is, we were always more
purposeful - more responsible - than our fathers and uncles and
grandmothers realized.

Those of us who took low-wage jobs were not just marking time. Not all
of us, anyway. We were doing work we cared about, as journalists and
teachers and social workers.

All that job-hopping and freelancing? We were dilettantes, on some
level, it's true. But we also understood, before most, that something
had shifted - that we were moving to an economy of telecommuters and
independent contractors and less-than-loyal employers.

And while the best minds on Wall Street cooked up the real estate mess
that destroyed a global economy, we were sensible enough to steer
clear of that overpriced condo and move into a dingy, three-bedroom
rental with a few of our meathead friends.

You see, while Alan Greenspan and Countrywide Financial were creating
a capitalism of disastrous excess, we were busy working on a more
workable model. Not without its indulgences, of course. The exuberance
of the dot-com bubble was undoubtedly irrational. But we did pretty
well, this little slice of Generation X.

We brought you the Internet, worked on green technology, and filled
the ranks of Teach for America. We crossed the color line, ate local
produce, and bought secondhand clothing. We lived in smaller spaces,
drove smaller cars, and took the subway to work.

It all seemed like a quaint liberal fantasy at the time. And on some
level it was. But now, with a creaking economy and an overheated
planet, it reads more like a survival manual: a guide to multicultural
living in an increasingly diverse society, an incubator for the
technology that might save the American auto industry, an antidote to
our awful adventures in sprawl.

Of course, we could abandon this life as we get older, I suppose.
We could grow impatient with our little apartments and cramped
hatchbacks. We could set our sights on the kind of suburban existence
we've forsaken. But I'd like to think we're smarter than that.

We created something worthwhile - a sustainable neighborhood, a tech
future, a life we can manage. And we won't let it go too easily.

At least I hope not. As the nation rebuilds a crumbling capitalism, it
could use a little perspective, a little wisdom. Bet you didn't think
you'd get it from us.

David Scharfenberg, a guest columnist, is a Boston-based writer.

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