In Berlin’s infuriating glitterscape I know three entire people who have written their own manifestos. Three: Annie, Emily, Dave. I like that; set down on wax who you are, what you are for, how you justify your existence, and what specific pains and lessons the earth has wrought upon you to fashion you into the sentient rib-eye steak you are today. The attempted manifestation of the blueprint of an individual’s soul; after being inspired by my friends, here is my own, about a subject very close to my heart: the sickness of my generation.
Everybody is depressed.
Think of your five closest friends. In fact, pick any five people you know. At least two of them are currently dealing with some form of anxiety or depression and are on medication, another one of them has had troubles with depression in the recent past but on the whole feels better for now, and the other two sometimes feel intensely sad and have no idea why, but don’t think it’s worth talking about. And everybody seems perfectly fine on the surface. Stop me if I’m wrong.
My generation is the betrayed generation, the let down and shut up and sold out generation. We subsist in the modern world, just as young and beautiful as all the youth that has ever been lost, yet all the while our fire dims. Faceless executives have confiscated our souls, bagged them up and sold them back to us cut with washing up powder and rat poison.
Ours is the generation faced with the compound threats stared down by all of those who went before: born into a world at war, overshadowed by overpopulation, dwindling resources, a dying climate, and the ever more present threat of nuclear evisceration – but what’s more, the youth of the world today are faced with not only a crisis of the physical, but of the heart.
The need for ever-increasing capital has driven us down a road that, at its start, seemed to glitter with the promise of a bounteous life for all. However, today’s youth was born at the last junction before the end of the road, and with the finish in sight, we’ve learned that there is nothing – nothing – there. Advertising and profit seeking, business above morals, and ‘could we’ over ‘should we’ has led us here: to the removal of all meaning.
I went to a light show last week at the Fernsehturm, Berlin’s iconic television tower. A hidden projector was throwing colossal images onto the building, and as I stood in the cold night with my friends, we craned our necks to watch light and sound coalescing up the enormous column into the clouds. It was beautiful. And then, once the show had climaxed, a word faded into view: Netflix. And thus beauty dies. The four of us laughed in disgust. We had been sucked in by a falsehood; we had been betrayed by the lights and unwittingly donated our valuable time and our priceless emotions to a fucking advert.
The world we have inherited is bought and sold and spun and glossed over and edited and perfected and we are forced against our will to flail in a fabricated reality, where nothing is ever quite as beautiful as was promised. Social media: on Twitter we reduce complex issues to pithy statements, on Facebook we stoke the fires of addictions to acceptance, and on Instagram we craft our own perfect unrealities to go alongside everyone else’s perfect unrealities, all in an effort to match the perfect unreality that advertising has tricked us into thinking exists. Here is me on the beach, here is me in a club, here is me with a book, but here you will not find me crying alone on a Wednesday evening and not understanding why, because we only show the world the best of us, and consequently we live in a society where we expect the best for ourselves, and when we miss the mark we tumble into despair and wish for death.
We have never known anything else. Older generations sneer and bite and chide, but they were able to exist in a time before – one that my generation will never know. Previous generations are rueful of the end result of an experience they never underwent; one that they caused with loose morals and profiteering.
My generation do not deserve this. We didn’t ask for it; we were told we needed it. Recent politics has dealt the death knell to meaning: truth is lost. ‘Fake news’, ‘post truth’, outright lies – while awareness and compassion take huge amounts of resilience and effort, ignorance is tireless by definition. Of course everyone is depressed. Of course everyone is afraid. Of course my generation is seen as vain and lazy and nihilistic, because we were born into late-stage capitalism which denies us from ever having a real experience that isn’t in some way monetised. From the moment of our conception we have been groomed to want more, need more, spend more, crave more, and the trouble with chasing an undefinable ‘more’ is that it is absolutely unobtainable.
I can feel it now; a constant low nausea and self loathing; a vague nagging sensation of some general wrong badness that comes from not one particular source, but from every minor disappointment and every slight devaluation of what it means to be human. There is a price on everything, and in our haste to feather our nests we forgot that by giving everything a measurable value, we lose all that once was priceless.
Now, I don’t want to endlessly diagnose a sickness I feel we can all agree is there, and I have no intention of forcing you to sit through a couple of thousand words of despairing only to end the article with some bullshit rhetorical question like ‘So what are you going to do about it?’ that serves only to relieve me of having to come up with any actual answers.
So here’s my answer, for every kid out there who has been raised in this fearful new world. Here are ways to flood colour back onto an empty palette.
Stop updating social media. You don’t have to delete it. Just stop giving marketers more information about you. Social media used to be about connections between friends. It has since been monetised and molested and now every ‘like’ is filtered into algorithms that try to sell you things. Stop using it, stop feeding the machine, you will be happier. You already know what you need in order to live and thrive and be happy. You know it better than any marketer or algorithm. You won’t miss their input.
Read less news. Not never, but less. Once or twice a week should keep you up to speed while avoiding being dragged into a quagmire. Bad news sells, good news doesn’t. The bad will always outweigh good when events are reported by the press, and if that wasn’t enough in itself to drive someone to distraction, our brains are wired to focus on negative stimuli over positive. It kept us alive, once. Now it keeps us numb.
Stop watching television when you’re bored. Afternoon television is not entertainment, it is anaesthesia. How do you feel after half an hour on the sofa when the credits roll on Jeremy Kyle? Do you feel happy, or do you feel empty and ashamed? Pick up a book instead, or learn a new recipe, or go for a walk, or simply sit and look out of the window.
Reject false happiness and do not fear sadness. Understand that it is perfectly normal to feel happy, and perfectly normal to feel sad. When you are happy, look around you and acknowledge it, share it, and relish it. When you are sad, look into yourself and realise that it is momentary and often chemical. The minute you cease to be afraid of a passing sadness, you set out on the road back to somewhere more pleasant. And if you find yourself in a situation where you feel as though you should feel happy and you don’t, understand that happiness and sadness are to be respected, and will not ever be pinned down by something as obvious as circumstance. Examine your life constantly, and tend to your soul like a bonsai tree.
Understand that there is no shame in loving your friends intensely. Tell them regularly, tell them they look wonderful today, tell them you miss them, tell them you are looking forward to seeing them. Listen to them as if each utterance could be their last. Bring them gifts, expect nothing in return. Hug them when you meet and hug them when you say goodbye. Lend them books and lend them money, be happy for their victories and console their losses. Your friends are the notes that resonate with your own to make chords; look after those chords and your life will be a song.
View your life as a narrative. You are not a single moment moving through the void, despite how much it can feel that way after spending Sunday evening gazing into the nevermore of reality television, or waking up on Saturday morning alone with a hole in your bank account and a throbbing in your head. You are the protagonist in your own life, and as a hero arcs through a story, so can you. Every pain you suffer and every smile that graces your face is part of your development into something wonderful. Keep learning, keep growing, take the hits and wallow and pull yourself up and sigh and shed all the tears you need to, and know that at the end of it all you’ll be one step closer to perfection.
Go where the wild things are. Move out of your parents. Move the fuck out of London and seek out the new scenes; there are plenty of them. Meet more people and learn from them, share old ideas to create new ideas, and give your comfort zone a jolly good battering.
Be honest. For once, be honest. Ditch your fear and say something true. Mindless conversation blights the workplaces of the world, because colleagues are afraid to talk about anything more personal than their lunch. Professionalism can fuck right off. It can be whimsical or camp, abstract or morose; just say something. So much of human interaction is posturing and assuming, and it’s too easily possible to make it through an entire day without having meant one single thing you said. So here, I’ll start; here are three true things about me that I will admit to you now:
- I am afraid to publish this article because I feel enormously under qualified to speak on this subject.
- I am currently reading Tender is the Night by Scott Fitzgerald and the writing is so good it makes me simultaneously joyous and despairing, because I don’t believe I could ever write so well.
- I miss my friends in Berlin, even though I only saw them yesterday. I miss my friends back in the UK, I think about them every day, and I truly wish we spoke more often.
Skip work. Ditch the stupid, stupid mentality that blind hard work is virtuous. If that were true, we would all worship donkeys. Hard work for a goal you believe in is attractive and virtuous, yes. Hard work for your manager who has denied you holiday three months in a row is not virtuous; it just absolves you of having to actually think. There is no pride or fulfillment to be found in burning years of your life away making money for somebody else. Skip work once every few months and take a day for yourself. You deserve it.
Realise that you are not trapped. No matter how many layers of red tape and responsibility you think you are tied up in, there is always an exit. You can leave, you can quit, you can move away; save up a little money, suffer through the threadbare months if that’s what it takes, and change your life. If you are unhappy, do something about it.
Realise that everything is silly – not stupid, but silly. Stupidity is accidental. Silliness is a choice. That’s one of the most valuable things I’ve learned through my short years. Human beings pile rank and symbolism upon themselves, but in the end, nobody has the slightest fucking clue what is going on. Nobody knows any better than you, and if you want to get ahead in life, it’s no harder than realising this and leveraging it in your favour. Rank and society are fabrications that can seem immense and immortal and impossible, but once you realise the fact that the Prime Minister hasn’t got the slightest clue what is happening, it all tends to unravel delightfully, like wet spaghetti.
Accept the fact that you’re probably a selfish bastard, and do everything in your power to change it. The first step on the road to being a good person is acknowledging the very real possibility that you are a terrible one. The same goes for wisdom, intelligence, and all the rest. Mentally mark yourself as a solid ‘zero’ on the kind-o-meter and work upwards.
I think that’s about it for now. Maybe some advice struck a chord, maybe it didn’t. It’s okay. Just know that you’re not alone, and the world isn’t as vapid and meaningless as it immediately presents itself. Technological advancement has overtaken the development of our collective psyche, and we are overwhelmed. We have taken a succession of wrong turns, but I believe that it is never too late for beauty to blossom.
All it takes is a few frontrunners to burn bright and show a new way forward; people who are willing to be wrong and ugly and scared, all in the name of building a new, honest narrative. Maybe if we face fear head on and accept the fact that nobody has the slightest clue, and that honestly we all just want to be loved and accepted for who we are, we can cease to be the downbeat lost kids of a hollow-eyed generation, toiling under the eyes of Silicon Valley gods. Maybe we can define ourselves in a new way. And maybe, if we can do that, then I can save myself, and you can save yourself, and we can save all of those we love and cherish. In an increasingly fearful world, remember that meaning still abounds; unheard and unseen yet always within reach, as simple and pure as a falling autumn leaf.