created by Dipo Faloyin
Are we the greatest generation ever? Probably not, but Dipo argues we're not doing too bad.
I’m sat in a coffee shop on Brick Lane, desperately trying, but failing to be productive. It’s a Saturday in April, and the bitterly cold air is heavy with the sort of enticing energy that can only be formed when the scent of roasting beans, and the fulfilled promise of free wifi collide. I blame my inability to harness this into personal productivity on the couple in front of me, who I simply can’t stop staring at. They arrived about ten minutes ago, and, whilst she has nestled herself in a seat, he has remained standing, slightly to her right, gripping his iPhone. His mission - the glee on his face suggests he accepted gladly - is to take pictures of her from different angles. Between shots, iGirlfriend takes the phone from iBoyfriend, studies, swipes, clicks, and then shakes her head in disgust. As an expert on such matters, I know she is picking filters, colour palettes that will visually blend her world into rhythms she needs others to perceive. But, to her annoyance, seems reluctant to settle on one. Time and time again she blames the angle, hands the phone back to iBoyfriend who repositions, and starts again. They are wilfully entwined in a ritual that has no end.
It is hard to fully understand the mass of incredibly unique individuals that make up the utterly fascinating collective that is our generation. History will remember us as Generation Y, or Millenials. The group before us, the-baby-booming-Generation-X, were handed the responsibility of training us at the art of life. A crash course that replaced lectures on stability, and strong foundations, and instead taught us to dream big; build our own paths; find our inner-selves, however deep they may lie; grow organic; and to believe in the power of a charity single to cure every African crisis. Unlike previous generations – and I say this reflecting the realities of a 25-year-old living in east London – we have not been forced to go to war; allowing us a relatively free run to turn the wonders of our mind into action. And with this opportunity, there is one thing in particular we have done over and over again: we have failed. We’ve gladly failed, enthusiastically failed, failed with gusto. At times, we’ve crowd-funded our failures. We haven’t gone so far as to wear them with a badge of honour, but we have definitely owned them. We’ve ensured maximum exposure to potential failure by updating a status or a tweet, highlighting to our nearest and dearest that we’ve just created another avenue by which we could end up falling flat on our faces. We just don’t fear failure, even though many would argue that we should. I think that is our biggest strength and what will eventually allow us to go down as the collective that prioritised the possibilities of the future, over the security of the present. Our motto would be in English, because Latin is too mainstream: “What’s the worst that could happen?” proudly emblazoned on our armour.
In the good ol’ days of black and white TV, debutant balls and TV presenters who could abuse minors without causing such a fuss, a school reunion would be the only time you’d be expected to justify your life choices to friends and acquaintances, yet we do it everyday. We have allowed the pursuit of creativity to grow roots under our skin and ultimately to strengthen us. That’s why it matters. The idea that many of us travel to far-off lands to “find ourselves” is a myth. We do it at home, and, it is for the existence of cities like London that we should be eternally grateful.
A flash of light from a camera has brought my attention back to the coffee shop. It is somewhat comforting to know that another pattern gracefully administered unto a foam tip has been documented for eternity. It is now significantly busier. The sight of settling is sound-tracked by the wondrous tones of a Jackson 5 album, and a rather frustrated waiter, who like the rest of us, can’t comprehend why ‘Adam’, whose name he’s shouted for several minutes, won’t claim the espresso and blueberry muffin he ordered. By ‘us’, I mean the others that have chosen this spot to achieve whatever it is that needs achieving this very Saturday. My powers of deduction, and hearing, tell me that the group to the left are preparing a pitch for their new start-up. The group leader – engulfed in a scarf so big, it brings back nostalgic reminders of my duvet – suggests they pitch for a retail price of £400, which, she exclaims, “Is a bargain!” because all her friends have promised they would pay at least £600 for it. To my right, a man I will call, beard-in-progress, is writing a script. I know this because beard-in-progress is speaking very loudly on his phone about the status of his Kickstarter to his father – the only person who has pledged a donation.
The current culture of start-ups is a long tale, with each creative just trying to put right the paragraph they write. Cities like London are the perfect place to seek inspiration through exploring and developing the emotional connections you need to mould an idea into a distinct shape, and maintain it. As it is with hipster, the word creative is loaded with all kinds of forced meanings, and is often used by others as a way of beating us with another stick, but there are many sides to creativity, many reasons for why, and what for. Many people hang not just their pride, but also their livelihoods on bringing to life their ideas; and fearing public reaction is the one thing that can wrap it all up, suffocate it and ensure that it never sees the light of day.
I have lots of friends who have tried to represent their passions and interests to a wider audience by creating something new, on various scales: from starting business, to blogs, to Tumblr’s, SoundCloud playlists, and even a simple Pinterest board – and on whatever scale, they deserve credit. We are obviously not the first generation to demonstrate creativity, but we are the first to be so varied with our creativity, squeezing out of environments like London every last inch of possibility, and putting in as much of ourselves as we can, despite the potential for our failures to be played out so publicly.
iBoyfriend, and iGirlfriend are now enjoying what appears to be some ‘me’ time. They both have their phones out and are completely indifferent to the presence of the other. It might be the smell from the salt-beef bagel bakery across the street mixing with the sounds from the Norah Jones album rising in the air that is playing with my emotions, but there is something relatively charming about the ease in which they interact in stages. Silences are punctured by sudden bursts of excitement as one is filled with the sudden desire to share something they’ve just discovered on their phone. This sight is so common now; it’s barely worth mentioning.
Situated a short walk from Kings Cross station, is a free space for creatives to work called, Tent. The décor is stripped down to the bare essentials you would expect to see in any modern space run by twenty-somethings: mismatched furniture, chalk boards, a speaker system attached to a dedicated Spotify account. The people that fill this space know the vast majority of new startups will fail, that their ideas may not lead to a Hollywood biopic, but they are driven forward by the comfort that comes from sharing their experiences and expertise with each other and reaffirming the value in adding something to the world, and, more importantly, to themselves.
I asked a friend whose first startup had failed, what the hardest part of starting again was. “It’s not just the feeling of failure sticking that can be frustrating, but when people on the outside assume it’s just a hobby, or vanity project” he said. “Most people imagine all startups succeed, and if they don’t, that’s it’s easy for you to brush it off and move on to the next thing.”
Where money, a mortgage, and 2.4 kids may have sustained previous generations, we have chosen a culture that encourages appreciating the fact you have a personality, and finding ways to show that. And it almost doesn’t matter how you choose to do it. You could forget to update your blog for months, but when you do, that new post will be met like an old friend. And it is in this never-ending desire to continue to add, discover, and create; and to freely put a little bit of yourself out into the world, that you will find the case for our generation, wrapped and presented in a shiny new app.
As I was leaving the coffee shop, an elderly group arrived. By this point, space was at a premium, so they politely asked scarf girl if she wouldn’t mind sharing her table. She responded by huffing and puffing at various levels of unexplained frustration, and stormed to another table. In reaction to her rudeness, we all would’ve understood if a member of the group had chosen to tweet their frustrations, or even used it as an anecdote at the end of an article they were writing. Surprisingly, they chose to do neither, and despite her behaviour, one of the elderly ladies walked over, and apologised for inconveniencing her, and even offered to buy her a coffee. Scarf lady was too shocked, and, I like to think ashamed, to accept. The rest of the room was filled with a respect-infused silence at the grace of this elderly lady for doing something none of us would have even comprehended.
Maybe other generations aren’t too bad either.
Dipo Faloyin is the Editor of Smoke and Tales