Monday, March 16, 2009

Jack Kerouac with an MP3 Player

I am rapidly becoming a serious Robert Kuttner fan. I'm reading his most recent book entitled The Squandering of America. I ran across these paragraphs which address the situation of so many young people these days:

As Americans have trouble affording the big things, many of us comfort ourselves with gadgets. The emblem of the new economy might be a thirty-five-year-old listening to an iPod, with no health insurance, living in a shared apartment much more modest than the house he grew up in, and struggling to pay the rent. It's an economy of ever-cheaper electronic stuff--and ever more costly housing, education, and health care. An iPod is swell, but it doesn't exactly make you middle class.

Napster, the now defunct Internet file-sharing source, used the revealing slogan "Own nothing, have everything." There's a fine sociological insight in that line. It speaks both to the nomadic, antimaterialist ideal of the young--as well as their depressing economic reality. It evokes Jack Kerouac with an MP3 player: you may be flat broke and sharing a roach-infested apartment, but you can have all the world's world. Token luxury consumption is serving as a surrogate for secure membership in the middle class. You can't afford a house or health insurance, but at least you can savor the $3.50 Starbucks latte.

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