Thought Catalog

Welcome To The Age Of Feelings

  • 0

Every so often when I have nothing to do on a Thursday night, I go, “I’m gonna get drunk and write something that gets, like, 11,000 Facebook shares.” This makes me sound obnoxious, I know. It’s like, bitch, no one wants to hear your selfish rambling. Except they do. I’m a 21st century internet writer. Sorry.

Okay, hang on. I’m frontin’ a little bit. Let’s back up.

So there was this TIME magazine article about Thought Catalog, examining the massive popularity of young people’s personal narratives. The article is quick to note that critics call us “narcissistic,” and the first such critic cited by name is Gawker.

It’d be an understatement to say the Gawker network saw its own heavily-scrutinized, meteoric rise not too many years ago. In the early millennium, Gawker literally reformatted web journalism by pioneering the blog-format quick hit — and the movement was led by hungry young writers drawing millions of eyeballs through provocative headlines and sharp individualist commentary on everything from celeb gossip to world issues.

The old guard mourned. I remember reading a lot about the death of journalism in the internet age: What happened to neutrality, to sincerity, to true reportage? What gave these kids the right to get their attitude all over everything?

It’s funny to see that Gawker is now among the most incensed, as a new wave of young writers widely believed to be centralized in New York is changing the paradigm again. Full disclosure: I’m only partially qualified to comment; at 30 years of age I am a generational cusp-baby. I straddle a weird line. I can do well as a Thought Catalog writer, but I also still take an occasional paycheck from Gawker as a columnist for its videogame blog, Kotaku. If I have anything at all to tell you anything about being a 20-something, it’s with the wisdom of hindsight.

Sketch in your own ironic quotes as regards wisdom, or even the absurd idea that a couple of years lends me seniority. But like, remember when you were 23, and 30 was some horrific imagined deathbed?

Anyway. I’m a writer for a living, but I’m a “real journalist” as I am a pure essayist with equal rarity. Still, even from here I can see the movement popularizing those developing content on daily feelings, reflections on mundane experiences, brutal honesty as regards navigating the complexities of frequently-childish relationships, as symptomatic of an incredibly important age.

I’ve seen the articles that grown-ups have written about the millennials, characterizing a coddled generation that refuses to grow up. Even with all the self-esteeming and expensive education in the world, these kids still think they can click “like” to change the world, everyone says. Who’s to blame? Where did we go wrong? While these 26-year-olds toil in coffee shops or at unpaid internships waiting to be handed their promised dream jobs, who’s going to pay back all their damn student loans?

Maybe our moms and dads didn’t get what they expected of us, but today’s 20-somethings didn’t get what they expected of the world, either. You’ve read articles about this side of the story before, too: These kids grew up with 45-hour weeks of scheduled enrichment activities, art, language, athletics and community service — anything and everything that might help them reach the holy grail of well-rounded adulthood. From a young age they were indoctrinated to addiction: to the dopamine drip of praise, to the Ritalin and Adderall and Prozac “necessary” to smooth out any inconvenient challenges to remaining cheerful, capable members of the program.

The result? Apparently, hyper-achievers obsessed with being well-rounded at the expense of their souls. In the bellies of today’s recent grads lies an enormous void where something crucial is missing: The self. It’s no wonder the present wave of writers rebelliously prizes self-examination, the lavish indulgence of human experience, of clumsy sex, bad kisses, and — despite having no idea what grunge was — obsessive ownership of the 90s, the decade of the silly Nickelodeon childhood they should have had.

No one told them they’d graduate into a world where being voraciously passionate about everything but specialized in nothing (except for art or music or whatever it was that made Mom and Dad hug them as a child) was a bad prescription for a career. No one told them the economy was going to tank and that the only way any of them, of us, whatsoever can dream of home ownership would be to abandon all of these competitive cities we’ve fought our way into — the only place where we can be amazing, Mom! — and go to where we could afford a house beside all those others that never left home.

Or to get married, in our world where the independence to achieve is paramount and intimacy is profoundly frightening and impossible to navigate. We’re the first generation to demand believable Disney princesses; we’re the first to know for sure that the romantic constructs sold to us by the media are lies. Want to know why we use so many ‘scare quotes’? Because we’re scared, dude. The hell are we supposed to do now?

People call 20-somethings “the me generation,” but I remember being a teenager myself and looking at some magazine cover and learning that they hoped to call my little sister’s generation “Generation Why.” The idea was that in the digital age, they’d grow up questioning everything. Let’s just combine it and call them Generation Why Me. It fits, right?

And then there’s Facebook and Twitter. When I was a kid the internet — capital I — was a zone for escapists, where we made up other names and enjoyed nerdy jokes behind the backs of those who hadn’t figured out how to use computers yet. Now it’s inescapable. You can’t participate even remotely without being inundated in a crush of personal commentary: What strangers think. What they ate for breakfast. We’re able to take the pulse of our own society on an unprecedented scale, and even the smartest and strongest of us is often paralyzed about how to respond. Where to begin. How to be heard.

The internet has completely upended the economic structure for success in media. Record companies are selling us fewer and fewer pop stars; the radio plays chilly litanies of robot voices extolling party party party. We prefer to find our own heroes in a post-reality-TV age that sees us combing blogs for artists we can actually identify with. We are all hungry for internet fame, since if we get it maybe we can bypass the ancient infrastructure altogether. If, if, if we can score enough retweets and views that someone finally thinks we’re worth paying.

Yet the massive, rapid proliferation of so-called “narcissism” online is attractive to audiences because it suggests we can distinguish ourselves above the online din by being ourselves, by being relatable, by having something to say. It’s a refreshing rebellion against the illusory idea of professionalism, of printed-out resumes and cover letters that our elders drilled into us to no avail. We’re still being warned to be careful about being inappropriate on Facebook, on our blogs and on Twitter because some imagined future employer might punish us. It’s like oh, man, please don’t take away these jobs you weren’t going to give us anyway.

VICE magazine’s current new star is Cat Marnell, beloved for the blunt honesty with which she documents her drug use in the underworld of New York City after flagrantly ditching a storybook job at Jane Pratt’s beauty mag. We don’t love her because we glamorize amphetamines, necessarily, but because we want — oh, ouch, we want — to imagine a world where we can be wanted just by being ourselves. Where even if we are completely screwed up and have no idea what to do we don’t have to put on some business costume, some tidy LinkedIn page, and lie.

You can’t blame us for wanting a world where we can finally tell the truth, especially now that the internet has put so much of the truth at our fingertips. We can feel strong when we write about how hard it is to be a woman or black or disabled or fat or poor or gay or sick because at any given time we can pull thousands of comment threads where people spew pigheaded harassment. Injustice is everywhere and it’s gross. We have been handed the world and it looks awful, and we have never felt so goddamn powerless.

Our need to talk and to process is so profound that there’s a market in media for it — Lena Dunham’s Girls is among the most galvanizing programs on TV, don’t forget, even while programs about good old fashioned men’s club media (Mad Men, The Newsroom) flail, incensed, furiously acerbic.

In an echo chamber of internet noise, as this generation’s naïve hopes shatter like so many unbought CDs, all we know is who we are. The only out we have is to do the most socially-inappropriate, unprofessional, ill-advised stuff we can muster. We’ll talk about our sex lives. We’ll talk about fears and nostalgia and addiction and loneliness, the things we were warned never to air lest we be disliked, uncool, unhireable.

Damn straight, we’re narcissistic. The self is the only thing we have. Our own experience is the only thing on which we have complete authority, the only thing over which we have total control. What critics call “narcissism” is the only anchor we have. Welcome to the age of feelings. Please like. Please share. Please retweet. Please. Please. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

Read This

More from Thought Catalog

Thought Catalog Videos


    • http://gravatar.com/gabydunn Gaby Dunn

      “Yet the massive, rapid proliferation of so-called “narcissism” online is attractive to audiences because it suggests we can distinguish ourselves above the online din by being ourselves, by being relatable, by having something to say. It’s a refreshing rebellion against the illusory idea of professionalism, of printed-out resumes and cover letters that our elders drilled into us to no avail. We’re still being warned to be careful about being inappropriate on Facebook, on our blogs and on Twitter because some imagined future employer might punish us. It’s like oh, man, please don’t take away these jobs you weren’t going to give us anyway.”

      Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I hate that shit. It seems so out of touch, and like bad advice for writers.

      And I especially loved the duality you talk about — you being an essayist and a journalist. I feel similarly, and don’t quite get the way people can’t wrap their minds around both.

      Oof. I loved this.

    • Kevin M.

      This was one of the best articles i’ve read in the past month here. Thank you thank you thank you.

    • http://gravatar.com/charlesholdefer Charles Holdefer

      Narcissism certainly isn’t particular to your generation, if that’s any consolation.

      Nor is obsession with fame. The tools have changed, that’s all.

      But I think the quality of dreams matters.

      Home ownership and marriage can be fine. So is “being ourselves.”

      But what about more ambitious possibilities? How much can a person to celebrate self-exposure in the service of timidity?

    • http://evolutionsoftime.tumblr.com Melissa

      One of the best things I’ve read on here, absolutely. This is lovely. And as a recent graduate, currently still quite un(der)employed, it hits home. Especially: “No one told them they’d graduate into a world where being voraciously passionate about everything but specialized in nothing (except for art or music or whatever it was that made Mom and Dad hug them as a child) was a bad prescription for a career.” But really, honestly, just this entire piece. I realize I’m younger than you, and a few years to go to reach where you are, but genuinely, thank you for this. I’m not sure if it’s reassuring or frightening to know that the ~feelings~ I have won’t necessarily go away or change by the time I’m thirty, but at the very least (as cliche/trite as this statement is about to become) it’s nice to know that it’s not just those in my immediate vicinity who are experiencing the same – or, rather, related – things.

    • Chelsea

      Fantastic article.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ilovemyhnp Tornyle-Di'Mere Webster

      “We don’t love her because we glamorize amphetamines, necessarily, but because we want — oh, ouch, we want — to imagine a world where we can be wanted just by being ourselves. Where even if we are completely screwed up and have no idea what to do we don’t have to put on some business costume, some tidy LinkedIn page, and lie.”

      So true.

    • http://theonceandfuturecoffeeaddict.wordpress.com theonceandfuturecoffeeaddict

      Yeah this is fantastic. I had to read it twice; it’s like what my own thoughts would look like if they were organized and laid out (or perhaps, Cataloged) right in front of me.

      “It’s no wonder the present wave of writers rebelliously prizes self-examination, the lavish indulgence of human experience, of clumsy sex, bad kisses, and — despite having no idea what grunge was — obsessive ownership of the 90s, the decade of the silly Nickelodeon childhood they should have had.” yes yes yes.

    • Christian

      This should probably be sent to my parents and grand-parents so they can get a well-articulated thought of why I don’t know what I’m “doing with my life,” because I honestly can’t even form the words.

      • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.n.knutson Sarah N. Knutson

        I’m spending the weekend with my parents, and this is the first thing I’m showing them. Send it-they need to know who they’re leaving the world to, so they can connect with us better.

    • Rishtopher

      I’m so glad that you wrote this. Awesome work!

    • http://gravatar.com/qnonymous qnonymous
    • EJ

      “It’s no wonder the present wave of writers rebelliously prizes self-examination, the lavish indulgence of human experience…” As the history of literature and the personal essay show, writers prizing self-examination is neither new nor rebellious (Montaigne?Rilke?Proust anybody?) and vastly more important than the topic is the writer’s insight into it. This generation of feely bloggers has produced no insight—hence being called shallow. This is the damning criticism leveled at today’s bloggers/writers, and Leigh’s embrace and defense of our generation’s narcissism—though it contains salient points about the roots of such narcissism—is weak in light of it.

      That the topic is the mundane experiences of every (young) person’s life, or an uncertain future in an uncertain world, or simply wallowing in nostalgia, requires all the more profundity of thought.

      fwiw, I’m 27.

    • http://www.facebook.com/carver.01 Jenna Carver

      Damn. Well said.

      Loved how you finished it.

    • r

      Thank you

    • Anne

      Growing up our parents told us we could do anything, we could be anything. Almost as though we 20-somethings should have been the “why not?” generation. Except now, because we were told we had all these possibilities, we don’t know what we want to do or who we should be. And now, because we can’t find employment, we fail aimless, like failures, and come up with grand schemes to get famous (or change the world, or strike it rich, or be someone, anyone, who stands out from the masses and masses of our peers who are all struggling to do anything that makes them feel as though they’ve lived up to the potential they were always told they had).

      Thank you for articulating the inherent frustration of being a narcissistic 20-something.

    • Freckles

      Superb article.

      The truth is that the “thing-to-do” in the 80s and 90s was to throw your kid into every super special extracurricular activity possible so they might have an awesome career and be ahead of their classmates. They wanted us to be well rounded. Liberal arts colleges soared in popularity. Everyone goes to college, everyone has a degree, everyone is getting high honor roll. Nobody is special anymore because all of us are the same “well rounded” individuals.

      There’s also this continuing ignorant belief held by many older employers that a college degree is more valuable than direct experience with the job itself. Yes I’m sure taking a bunch of art, writing, and philosophy classes makes me more experienced with computers and better at doing my job. Liberal arts degrees were never intended to get people jobs, they were for people who wanted to study many things. Now we are all the same special, gifted adults who spent their childhood being hauled from special event to special event. Parents who saw through this ruse and chose to focus on building skills in what the child was actually good at were looked down upon.

      We are a generation of people who spent their college years studying shakespeare and business only to serve other people coffee for $10 an hour. We were pressured into spending tens–even hundreds–of thousands of dollars on degrees that have gotten us no where in the job world. Who cares if we lack any specific, fully developed skills, at least we’re “well rounded”!

      Thank-you for putting into words how I felt.

    • http://gravatar.com/jessedictor jessedictor

      “the reason I am selfish, is because what else is there besides me?”

      Your family and friends and your nation and your work and about a thousand other things. It is the me generation not the generation of asking questions. You didn’t even ask questions in this post, you just asserted why you should be selfish.

    • Emma

      We all feel entitled to something because we were promised it, and this editorial supports the sentiment. We’re all pissed off because we think we deserve something, but that’s bullshit. We now understand that we’re not getting what we were promised and we should get over it. We need to focus on making ourselves happy in non-material ways. Fight for a cause you believe in, or just start putting your energy into making others feel better, or improving others’ lives, and stop focusing so much on yourself.

      Why aren’t we reaching out to one another, and fostering meaningful relationships? Why can’t we work for free, volunteering for a cause we are passionate, if we are so passionate about so many things? We can’t get good jobs anyway.

      Why aren’t we even nice to one another — or polite even– when we’re face-to-face? Maybe if we were just fucking NICE, we wouldn’t have as hard a time getting a job. How many jobs have you gotten because you knew someone who worked where you were applying? Y’know?

      Our generation lacks empathy and compassion, and that is what is fucking us so hard.
      I ain’t religious, but love thy fucking neighbors.

    • kc

      This is a wonderful article. Thank you.

    • http://janemylove.wordpress.com Craig Slist

      How dare you speak for me, and how dare anyone on this site presume to be the voice of a generation.

      It’s convenient to forget how “professionalism” is supposed to, at least in theory, counteract things like nepotism, favoritism, and socioeconomic bias. It’s convenient to pardon conspicuous consumer culture in a smokescreen of self-pity. It’s convenient to embrace corporate control and the reductive nature of self-quantification if that’s the measure by which you’re most likely to succeed. It’s convenient to forget that all the racism and sexism that’s perpetually boiling over on the Internet is enabled and validated by the same system you extol as a liberator. It’s convenient to blame your parents and your schools and your would-be employers without ever turning that same gaze towards yourself or your peers or the companies that dole out the lifestyle you can bemoan and glamorize in the same breath. It’s convenient to forget that every generation drank and smoked and screwed and soul-searched and mused about life when making those trivial brain-farts the cornerstone of one’s own literary identity. It’s convenient to beg for understanding over the cult of ego and self-validation while giddily rushing into its safe and welcoming bosom.

      This isn’t sticking it to the establishment, this is taking everything they did wrong (of which there was plenty) and making that the core of your existence. This is being typecast into a crummy role then adopting it as your entire persona. Thought Catalog does more to disparage and dismiss its own false construct of Generation Whatever-You-Want-To-Call-It than any other site I’ve had the misfortune to see.

      (P.S. Maybe it’s “old school” of me, but writing should come from a place of passion and concern, not tossing off something drunk and bored and then bragging about it in between the things you write that are actually substantial and worthwhile. But then you’re already successful, so go ahead and gripe all you want about how hard you have it.)

    • http://gravatar.com/dannybloom danny bloom

      scare quotes is the wrong term for scare quotes. they are not scare quotes and they are not scary. stop using that term, call them flag quotes or spot quotes. to see truth of all this google “dan bloom + scare quotes”

    • http://dannybloom.wordpress.com dannybloom

      scare quotes is the wrong term for scare quotes. they are not scare quotes and they are not scary. stop using that term, call them flag quotes or spot quotes. to see truth of all this google “dan bloom + scare quotes”

    • http://Illuminatingarticle-ormoreprecisely,anarticlethatexpresses(mostof)mythoughtsaboutbeingarecentgrad.Everygenerationtriestomakeanidentityforitself,andtheidentityofthe90skidsseemstobethatofprofound mariah

      Illuminating article – or more precisely, an article that expresses (most of) my thoughts about being a recent grad. Every generation tries to make an identity for itself, and the identity of the “90s kids” seems to be that of profound disillusionment. Although I’d argue not because “we have been handed the world and it looks awful” but because “these kids grew up with 45-hour weeks of scheduled enrichment activities…anything and everything that might help them reach the holy grail of well-rounded adulthood…No one told them they’d graduate into a world where being voraciously passionate about everything but specialized for nothing was a bad prescription for a career.” It’s true – we were told, over and over again, that with passion, interest, and effort, we could achieve anything we wanted. We learned self-reliance a bit too late, we can’t handle boredom or lack of stimulation, and our social lives were permanently transformed by the internet and social media. The feeling of connection to the world is an illusion because our brains are plugged into our laptops, living in one world, while our bodies are in a different one, and so we feel a void. We don’t know whether to pursue self-indulgence and cling to our “promised dreams” by doing nothing about them and living chaotically in the moment, or pursue disciplined monotonous adulthood, like the well-rounded people we were trained to turn into. I for one, flit back and forth between the two extremes.

    • nightshaye

      I thought the same thing. How dare you speak for me, for a whole generation?I don’t know what fairy-tale world you are talking about. “45-hour weeks of scheduled enrichment activities, art, language, athletics and community service — anything and everything that might help them reach the holy grail of well-rounded adulthood”. Really. Where I come from there are no “enrichment activities”; no art, language, athletics programs, etc. Colleges and Universities are still a dream for many.Not that Im complaining- we were given the impression, and rightly so I believe, that most folks are just like us.We surmised that we, like every generation before us, would have to struggle. Struggle with some bung-hole jobs before we got a good one, struggle with relationships, and yes for our own identities!This is nothing new. Every generation before and everyone to come will have the same. We are not unique. Im sorry that you see your biggest problem as being you didn’t get a rose garden you were promised.However, they way you’re going, you’re never going to find it, because its not inside your navel where you are intent on gazing.I agree with Emma, thank you: “…we should get over it. We need to focus on making ourselves happy in non-material ways. Fight for a cause you believe in, or just start putting your energy into making others feel better, or improving others’ lives, and stop focusing so much on yourself.Why aren’t we reaching out to one another, and fostering meaningful relationships? …Why aren’t we even nice to one another — or polite even– when we’re face-to-face? Maybe if we were just fucking NICE, we wouldn’t have as hard a time getting a job. Our generation lacks empathy and compassion, and that is what is fucking us so hard.” (I never heard folks refer to each other as “bitch” so much either lately; “It’s like, bitch, no one wants to hear your selfish rambling”).I may not say things as eloquently as you but I do know THE truth- as opposed to my truth (small “m’ on “my”, please) which is that any reward in life- any at all- is found in helping others. So un-glamorous, aaarrgghhh!!! So un-designer, un-fashion-week, un-$200 sneakers, un-…This is the way we are made. Except for sociopaths, this is how we are hard-wired. Its simply recognizing the ancient need to believe in the importance of something bigger than myself, and- getting out of my own way. 

      • Vienne

        ^Yes! “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”
        ― David Orr, Ecological Literacy

    • http://twitter.com/HanCilliers Han (@HanCilliers)

      Absolutely brilliant

    • http://twitter.com/Fiohnel Raide (@Fiohnel)

      The first thing that came to mind after I finished the article http://i.imgur.com/kVRrJ.gif

      I love the insight. It’s a generation who’s promised everything, but get nothing, so they focus their existence on being entitled to everything. “Older generation can’t criticize us because they made us this way” defense.

    blog comments powered by Disqus