The word on Millennials is that they blur the boundaries between work and personal life in pursuit of “work-life integration.” Despite their narcissism - as expressed in Time Magazine’s “The Me Me Me Generation” cover article - they also seek meaning and social purpose in their careers.
But this proposed characteristic of Millennials strikes us as less of a generational divide and, particularly in “change the world” Silicon Valley, more of an expression of a particular kind of elite identity, seen particularly in the young but also across age ranges.
Expressed over and over in commencement addresses, it’s a beautiful idea: make a career out of what excites you, create a new path, and devote yourself to making a positive change. But it can also serve the purpose of demarcating social and class lines. Repeating the rhetoric can make you feel like part of a special club of changemakers. It’s an elite group - it’s hard to hold this perspective when you haven’t had opportunities beyond menial, low paying work. And it’s also a helpful way for those with opportunities to set themselves apart from the sell-outs chasing dollar signs in the world of finance.
Here are three signs that too many people are taking the marriage of personal life, work, and intellectualism too far:
1) Conferences as the “Club Med of the Intellectual”
An article in the New York Times travel section in April read “Business or Pleasure? Try Both: Professional Conferences Double as Vacation Venues.” It references conferences like TED and South by Southwest, which offer talks and panels on future trends and innovative ideas in fields like technology and entertainment. The lure of networking underlies every successful conference, but as the Times reports, these conferences make social life a priority:
Top conferences don’t just offer lectures and workshops: there are also morning jogs, field trips and dinners. “It’s like the Club Med of the intellectual,” said Rachel Shechtman, the founder of Story, a Manhattan boutique.
Attendees at South by Southwest Interactive describe the appeal as finding a select group people interested in “big ideas [who] want to change the world” that “you’re not going to easily find... on OkCupid or in a bar.” Others go on to describe the conference as “nerd spring break” and “not just a hashtag, it’s a lifestyle.”
2) The Speaking Fees Industry
The title of this post comes from George Vaillant, the director of a longitudinal study of Harvard men that began in the 1930s. He is a dedicated academic, but he also spends his time traveling the world and “speaking to adoring audiences,” a phenomenon that he attributes to the “leisure of the theoried class.”
Left unsaid is the fact that he likely collects a hefty paycheck for doing so. As The New Republic has reported, the “rich and marginally famous” profit off the desire to have a savvy speaker at every event to the tune of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per appearance. Some probably offer advice of value commensurate with their fee. Others are probably just the evening’s entertainment.
3) Blogs like Ours?
We hope that anyone would enjoy our selection of posts and articles that take an economics or psychology slant on interesting stories. But as The Economist has shown through its successful branding as a must-read for anyone who is educated and informed, reading nerdy writing is also an excellent way to express an intellectual identity.
We are glad that people enjoy TED Talks and aspire to do more than just make money in life. But we hope that people don’t make this aspiration the basis of a snobby identity. It would be sad to see discussions of new ideas diluted by marketing, or people excluded from the exchange of ideas for not being part of the club. It’s also just annoying.