Non-fiction can be depressing, reading of political malfeasance, economic injustice, and environmental catastrophe. But recently I received a book about the “lost generation” or “Generation Y”, people currently in their 20s, that is surprisingly upbeat and positive. It’s a collection of essays written by Gen Y members, each focusing on some aspect of the obstacles their generation faces and their response. Produced by the online magazine Shareable, this tome’s title challenges us to “Share or Die”. (Apropos of the title, the preceeding link is to a free, shareable version of the book. You can also purchase a copy here.)
Gen Y occupies a world of contradiction. Society steers young people to post-secondary education and a productive and high-paying world of work, in the process becoming consumers of vast quantities of material wealth and somehow finding time to raise a family. Yet jobs for new graduates are scarce or underpaid, and the only thing an education truly guarantees is staggering student debt. Rather than become enraged or just give up, these young people are charting a new course. Share or Die covers such varied topics as employment in the volunteer, non-profit, or entrepreneur sectors, worker co-ops and career as a lattice (rather than ladder), collaborative consumption (car shares, bike-shares, co-housing, tool libraries, co-ops), resilience and food self-sufficiency, even low-cost self-education. As a change of pace, some parts are mini graphic novels instead of straight text.
Two common threads link the essays. One is about finding non-market ways to satisfy basic human needs (housing, food, education, entertainment) outside the capitalist-consumption paradigm; as one writer puts it “depending on each others’ living labour rather than the dead value stored in commodities” and recognizing that wealth is more than money. Less stuff means less destruction of our resources, less pollution of our biosphere. Yet a shift to access rather than ownership means we can still enjoy healthy lives in a thriving community. This isn’t just smart; it’s necessary for our survival as a species.
The other thread describes new uses of communications infrastructure, such as internet and social media, to create sharing communities. Connectedness becomes the way to coordinate, working together to achieve goals, because with all your friends pulling in the same direction, you can do more for less money.
As another writer notes, we have two choices: innovation or stagnation. Luckily, the realistic hopefulness of the creative, thoughtful young people showcased in this book proves that alternative paths to happiness are possible and achievable, although not without effort, trade-offs, and setbacks.
This is a daunting new path, one different than that taken by any of our living ancestors. Gen Y represents a massive generational force, one that outnumbers the baby boomers, coming of age in this time of crisis. Read this book and learn how this generation is taking on a hero’s mantle, helping society to resolve this crisis by applying the mindset and tools of sharing.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Gen Y not afraid to push the concept ‘share or die’".