– Mark E. Smith

The article, not the book.

The egregiously homely Douglas Coupland epitomizes the wrong people’s Internets in his computer books (Microserfs, JPod) and articles (“Microserfs,” a forgotten short story in Wired). “Doug” Coupland once wrote an equally-forgotten article for a western Canadian business magazine, Vista, circa 1989 (q.v.). (Month isn’t listed on my copy.) The title, presciently, is “Generation X.”

What did Coupland tell us in this protoliterary artifact?

Don… can do anything he wants, but instead he is doing nothing. Or, rather, he is doing many things, but there is no seeming pattern and he has no long-range plan in mind. His biggest fear in life, like that of British aristocrats in Evelyn Waugh novels, is boredom.

Los Angeles sociologist Susan Littwin calls young people like Don members of the Postponed Generation. […] Xs were brought up living lives of Pop-Tarts and swimming pools, of liberal ideas and a belief in higher education as the pipeline to all worthy employment…. Their upbringings, whether in Orange County, Mississauga, or Shaughnessy, were safe and comfortable, and promised a life of privilege like their parents – a new aristocracy. […]

In his book The Privileged Ones, child psychologist Robert Coles points out that distinct behavioural patterns once found only in the upper classes began seeping down in the 1970s – such characteristics as an inflated emphasis on the self and a dislike of answering to others, the belief that all fantasies will come true, that things will somehow work out for the best, and that the world is generously supplied with safety nets. All of these traits are characteristic of the Type X, who is always looking for the perfect career and believes there will always be someone to bail him or her out of trouble. […]

“Honestly,” says Janet…, “down at Super-Valu [sic], we mothers used to always ask each other what the kids were doing, but now we just don’t do it anymore. We all know what the answer’s going to be: Susan’s just quit her job or Kenny’s back home again. Are we never going to get these children out of our lives?” […] Janet’s youngest son offers his perspective: “There’s just no way I’m going to come down in the world. Period. Forget some job that’s boring and killing me anyway.” […]

“I can live in a dump,” says Sharon, 26, an aspiring Toronto fashion designer, “or I can live in a palace with free food, laundry, a car, and people around so I don’t have to be lonely. Let’s get real. I can afford style on my salary, but not luxury.” (Sociologist Littwin notes in her book that Xs tend to need stylish surroundings to reinforce their somewhat baronial self-perceptions.) […]

Typically, Xs leave good jobs because they are either ignored or perceive [they are]… “I also started an in-house newsletter that I saw as being essential for a well-functioning company, but it died from upper-management indifference.”

Bossing the X [excerpted]

  • When asking Type Xs to work on a problem, ask them for two sets of solutions, one more traditional and one creative. The latter may be too far out, but the stretching exercise is good and could lead to an unexpected answer.
  • Give Xs praise – more than you would give other employees – and over small things, too. Because of their dependence on parents and their long schoolings, they are used to it and respond better to it than other workers.
  • Put Xs to work with older people. Xs and “Ward Cleavers” tend to get along famously….
  • Give your X and impressive title. This seems cynical, and Xs will be the first to make a little joke of it, but it costs nothing and acts as an added incentive to perform well in a job that otherwise might be less glamorous.

It is poor policy to hint that your firm fires people for performances that are less than excellent. Type Xs do not worry about choosing the wrong career and will cheerfully take this threat of job security as an opportunity to leave. Using phraseology like “team spirit”… will not cut any mustard with Type Xs. They will immediately suspect someone is out to get something for nothing. […]

[W]hile they work well with people their own age or people two decades older… they do not get along with members of the Baby Boom, currently those roughly 30 to 45…. [I]f the possibility exists of separating the two groups, it is not a bad idea.

I find it curious that so many interviewees in the article sound exactly like Dag and/or Elvissa from the book that would later share the title.

The article is accompanied by a comic strip (in what other work would we later see the same thing?) by Paul Rivoche documenting Brad X’s day at Excess Marketing, Inc. “Er… Jay! Did you get a chance to go over my idea for the Benelux regional promotion?” “Uh – no, not yet, kid!” replies a cigarette-brandishing man with Gandalfian white hair, handlebar moustache, and beard. “With all the cutbacks, and my new fax machine, it’ll have to wait a few months!” “As if I’ll be here in a few months! ★!!@★ Baby Boomer!

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.06.30 13:50. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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