Editor's Letter: Where have all the slackers gone?

A generation of unambitious young adults has seemingly vanished. What happened?

Where have all the slackers gone? Only a decade ago we were deeply concerned about the meandering fate of Generation X, a cohort of natural-born clerks so unambitious it couldn’t even muster a proper name for itself. Swaddled in grunge and flannel, benumbed by rap music (“a great big cultural cancer,” as one critic called it), Gen X was marked not only by its unwholesome aversion to work but by its members’ vague yet ostensibly crippling anxieties— a result of the latchkey lassitude of their broken families.

Archaeological remnants and the midden from their java-and-skateboard culture abound, but the slackers themselves seem to be an extinct tribe. What happened? For starters, the towers of 9/11 erupted, burying youthful idylls beneath their toxic lava. That eruption was followed by two wars, for which Gen X has provided much of the blood and courage, and finally by a financial collapse brought on by the overreach of just about everyone but slackers. The meltdown capped a “lost decade” in which many of those who strived ended up little better off than those who slacked. In retrospect, perhaps Gen X sensed a cataclysmic rupture in the offing. Maybe they were simply holding on to the last fleeting hours of youth, basking in the late-afternoon glow of a complacent world order poised to explode far more violently than any dot-com boom. In hindsight, those genial, laid-back slackers don’t look like the end of civilization at all, but like its gentlest, most innocent eyes.

Francis Wilkinson

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