An article appeared in New York Magazine recently hailing the death of the generational gap and the rise of being forever young. The idea was sort of interesting at first glance, but withers under a deeper analysis. This article was the topic of an interesting post over on The Great Whatsit (thanks for a nice analysis, Farrell). I thought I’d take some moments to blast it here.

Sternbergh’s central thesis seems to be ‘Omigod, these people aren’t grown up! Just look at their pants! They all have iPods! The generation gap is no more!’ Could we have a more superficial analysis, please? Don’t blink or those jeans will be out of fashion. Pre-ripped jeans were lame in the 80’s, and they are lame now. iPods are ubiquitous, not because we are all stuck in our youth, or because we don’t have to grow up anymore, but because the technology exists to have all of your music in your pocket. Everybody has an iPod. Ditto cell phones, computers, broadband at home, etc. Does this mean that adults these days aren’t grown-up? It depends on the definition of adulthood, which is a purely contextual term. Are our gadgets and style of dress evidence of a vanishing generation gap? Nope.

The author’s analysis mistakes fashion trends for a signifier of a diminishing generation gap. It uses the most superficial observation imaginable as evidence of sweeping societal shifts. Instead of digging down and looking at how our reality is different from our parents’, Sternbergh is content with waxing philosophical on ripped jeans and music preferences. Society is changing, really fast, and a more interesting analysis would have been to look at how technology has accelerated the change and made new lifestyles possible and fashionable. As society changes, of course one would expect the people that live in it to respond accordingly. Duh. But that doesn’t mean that adulthood is no longer desirable or the generation gap has evaporated.

It may be true that some adults, even the small, probably anomalous sample of rich aging hipsters interviewed in the article, have slightly different priorities than older generations. But how different are those priorities? Money still seems to be the ultimate measure of success in this article. The difference is in what young adults are required to do to be successful.

It’s no longer necessary to have a corner office and a staff to make 6 figures and have a nice life. All you need is a laptop and some knowledge of technology. Thanks, broadband! Moreover, the office culture in some places has changed because the dot-com experiment of the ’90s indicated that giving highly skilled, highly motivated knowledge workers long leashes translated into higher productivity. Successful companies today are different in so many respects than the companies previous generations worked for and built.

And what about that missing generation gap? I would argue it’s right where it’s always been. Let’s accept one of the premises of the article, that all ‘grups’ are downloading Bloc Party and wearing goofy ripped jeans. What are 15 year olds doing? Some research suggests that kids these days don’t care about Bloc Party; they’re all into that new Bloc Party/Kanye West mashup just released by DJ Matt Hite, featured on the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto and re-mixed for that fresh new anime joint that just got posted on YouTube. Their noses are buried in their hacked PSP3 with the AJAX plugin they wrote during English class to IM with their friends, and they are hanging out with said friends on MySpace. The grups in the article are living in the download culture; kids these days are living in the remix culture. At least they were last year. This year, that’s old news. We know MySpace is dead, since Bill O’Reilly knows what it is. Next year? Who knows.

A nice thing about being grown-up is deciding that pre-ripped jeans are lame, no matter how much they cost and who is wearing them, and wearing whatever the hell one wants. So don’t worry. The generation gap is alive and well, we’ll be as aliented from our children as our parents were from us during our teens. And just because the uniform of the modern professional has more holes and less khaki doesn’t mean we are all doomed to be 15 years old forever. It is merely a sign of the ever-changing fashion cycle, powered as it is by a changing society. Nothing more, nothing less.