A Cubicle Is Not a Home; Maybe This Younger Generation Is Populated by Those Who Are Willing (or Able) to Trade Slightly Less Money for Slightly More Contentment

By Quindlen, Anna | Newsweek, May 29, 2006 | Go to article overview

A Cubicle Is Not a Home; Maybe This Younger Generation Is Populated by Those Who Are Willing (or Able) to Trade Slightly Less Money for Slightly More Contentment


Quindlen, Anna, Newsweek


Byline: Anna Quindlen

Creeping codgerism is an inevitable effect of getting older, a variation of memory loss. When I complain that my daughter's skirt looks more like a belt, or that my sons keep vampire hours, those are the churlish carpings of a woman years removed from the days when her own dresses were sky-high and her idea of a good time was sleeping until

noon. "Turn down that music," I have been known to yell, and my only saving grace is that I hear the words through a filmy curtain of generational dejA vu.

Perhaps that is the kindest way to explain why Hillary Rodham Clinton veered off the grid of common sense to complain in a speech recently that young people today "don't know what work is." As she talked of an unfortunate sense of youthful entitlement and the good old days when there was only a single TV in her own home, it seemed as though any minute she would soar to the rhetorical heights of codger deluxe and describe walking five miles through the snow to school.

The senator was indulging in a time-honored tradition, the older generation's complaining that the younger one is not like them, and therefore somehow not as good. Maybe there is anecdotal evidence of absurd indulgence on television: teenage girls' being gifted with BMWs at lavish birthday parties or peevish brides obsessing over ice sculptures. But for every one of those you can find plenty of young people waiting tables to put themselves through college or waking before dawn to get to the construction site or the firehouse.

If it's anecdote that tells the story, consider this: In 1974, I graduated from college. I'd paid my own way the last two years with jobs as a resident assistant and a newspaper summer intern. I rented a small, cheap one-bedroom apartment in lower Manhattan and started work as a reporter. I still have the Royal typewriter I used to write my stories.

Only a fool would think that experience had any resonance for the class of 2006. To earn the money to pay for a year at a fine liberal-arts college today, a student would have to have a summer job robbing banks. There are no cheap one-bedroom apartments in lower Manhattan. In fact, the monthly rent today on my former apartment is probably about the same as my total annual tuition was in 1974. And the use of computers means that when these students begin working, they are essentially at the office every hour of every day.

What lesson have they learned from watching their parents leave for the office early, come home late, check e-mail at midnight? …

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A Cubicle Is Not a Home; Maybe This Younger Generation Is Populated by Those Who Are Willing (or Able) to Trade Slightly Less Money for Slightly More Contentment
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