Friday, September 28, 2012

The next generation of America: a portrait

If you're curious about the next generation of Americans—and what our country's got in store for it—do yourself a favor and read this little New York Times article regarding the steady decline in importance of college campus bars. It just may be the greatest (and most complete) portrait of the next generation that I've seen, for better or worse.

Via Kid Dynamite's World, as teased by me yesterday on Twitter (all emphasis mine):
To anyone who has ever been to college, it doesn’t seem like much of a problem: how to lure students to bars, the earlier in the evening the better. 
But bar owners in the Collegetown neighborhood of Ithaca recently convened a worried summit about just this topic. Once upon a time, in the Pleistocene epoch before cellphones and social media, students used bars as meeting places, heading there after class to find friends and to plot evenings over beer. 
These days text messaging, Facebook and Foursquare make it possible to see if a bar is worth the trip (translation: who is there) without leaving the dorm. Meanwhile, location-based mobile apps like Grindr, which point to the nearest available candidates looking for sex or not-quite-sex, are helping dethrone college bars from their place as meat markets. 
Students have spent so many hours pregaming (as in, getting as cost-efficiently drunk as possible, usually on hard liquor at a private party) that there is little need to waste money even on cut-price drinks, and they often don’t arrive at the bars until midnight or so, before the bars in Ithaca close at 1 a.m. ... 
Pregames often are single sex, with men playing beer pong or video games, and women drinking vodka sodas or a peach-flavored Champagne called André and refusing to head out until they have captured the perfect photo, which they promptly post to Instagram and Facebook. 
“You could have this really amazing night, but if you didn’t get a picture, it’s like it didn’t happen,” said Ms. Parr, 22, a senior at Gettysburg, whose friends often order designer outfits from the Rent the Runway Web site because incessant documenting makes wearing anything more than twice taboo. “It’s crazy how much pictures consume our lives. Everyone knows how to pose and how to hold your arm and which way is most flattering, and everyone wants the picture taken with their phone.” 
That preamble tends to delay arrival time at bars, another factor in their decline. At Cornell, three Collegetown bars have closed in the last year, including the 71-year-old Royal Palm Tavern, a storied dive where students convened at “Palms o’clock,” meaning in time for one last drink. 
“These kids today won’t pay even $2 for a drink,” said the former owner, Lenny Leonardo, as he cruised down a highway in Florida, where he retired in August. “They buy a bottle of Southern Comfort and show up in time to try to get laid. But they just end up throwing up in my men’s room, and I get reprimanded because it looks like I’m the one who let them get this drunk.”... 
This article seriously has it all. The upcoming generation is resourceful, creative, frugal, but also incredibly narcissistic, exhibitionist, with maybe just a little bit of nihilism sprinkled in (you know, not that there's anything wrong with that).

These kids are absolutely amazing at cutting through the crap and getting what they need without wasting an ounce more time, energy, or money than is absolutely necessary. Generally speaking, that's a positive thing. At the same time, everything is always on display, and therefore nothing that happens actually matters unless and until everybody else knows about it. By itself, that's neither good nor bad—it just sort of is what it is.

Social media has created a bizarre keeping-up-with-the-Joneses dynamic for the internet age, where everything happens at hyper speed and is instantly spread throughout the world—if a drunk pukes in a bar and nobody tweets about it, did they ever really puke?

But here's the article's pièce de résistance:
“Students want to get drunker faster and cheaper,” said Jason Sidle, general manager of Rulloff’s Restaurant and Bar in Collegetown. In its last decade, the Royal Palm Tavern sold about twice as much hard liquor as it had in the previous one, Mr. Leonardo said. 
Mike McLaughlin, 21, a senior at Cornell, said, “I drink liquor because it takes too long to drink beer.” On the drinks menu at Rulloff’s, “Bitch Fuel” (vodka, gin, rum, peach schnapps and lemon-lime soda) is a popular recent addition, but Mr. Sidle has also required all his bartenders to download mixologist apps to their phones. “We get all these requests for weird drinks we’ve never heard of because they’ve seen someone drinking it on Facebook,” he said.
Takes too long to drink beer, huh? I guess that's not so far different from my own college-era mentality, truth be told. But hey, if you're really having a problem with not getting drunk fast enough, you could just hop on down to Home Depot and pick up some rubber tubing and... you know what... just... nevermind.

In many ways, there's something very familiar about this next generation—just about every American generation has defined itself by its resourcefulness and inventiveness, and that's absolutely present here—it just happens to all be draped in a cloak of social media showiness that can often be hard to get past. Either way, for better or for worse, these are the trends and dynamics that are likely to define the future of America. It may not be exactly what I grew up knowing, but it's also not that far different at its core. Should be an interesting next couple of decades, don't you think?

[New York Times]
(h/t Kid Dynamite)

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