Precariousness of contemporary life

Occasionally my partner heads out of town for a conference and, while I look forward to seeing him himself, I really like the habit he’s developed of giving me a New Yorker on his return. We don’t usually buy magazines, so it feels like a real treat to receive one, especially when it is chased with a plan for him to have the kids and me head out for some much needed “introversion time”. Which is what I had last Monday.

This was the article I read. For the last year or so, about once a week I think to myself I would really like to up sticks and go and live in a van and get things even more simple and elemental than they already are for us. This article kind of put me off–perhaps because I wonder if it is sneaky marketing through memes and social media (which, although I largely avoid by virtue of not being on any social media, I still see when I go online) that has made me want to do it. Anyway, this paragraph really jumped out at me:

But, for all its twee escapism, vanlife is a trend born out of the recent recession. “We heard all these promises about what will happen after you go to college and get a degree,” Smith said. “We graduated at a time when all that turned out to be a bunch of bullshit.” The generation that’s fuelling the trend has significantly more student debt and lower rates of homeownership than previous cohorts. The rise of contract and temporary labor has further eroded young people’s financial stability. “I think there’s a sense of hopelessness in my generation, in terms of jobs,” Foster Huntington said. “And it’s cheap to live in a van.” And so, like staycations and minimalism, vanlife is an attempt to aestheticize and romanticize the precariousness of contemporary life. “It looks like they’re having fun,” Huntington said, of King and Smith. “But they’re working a lot.”

These days, I don’t know many who live in a van, but I do recognise the aestheticization of the simple life. In many ways, this blog is based on that. As well as this kind of creative response to the practical problems of living as a precariat, do you think that centering practices like mindfulness and gratitude are also more prevalent, as a coming to terms with or a making sense of this way of life?

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4 thoughts on “Precariousness of contemporary life

  1. Sarah (@SarahRooftops) says:

    This resonates with me. Growing up in the 80s and doing uni in the 90s, there was a real sense of hopelessness: there are no jobs; everybody’s in debt; oh, the Tories; what’s the point? I remember us all glamorising our awful little bedsits and our diets of beans on toast and our slacker jobs because otherwise… what? We’d be left feeling resentful of all the things we couldn’t imagine we would ever have.

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  2. jaqbuncad says:

    do you think that centering practices like mindfulness and gratitude are also more prevalent, as a coming to terms with or a making sense of this way of life?

    I do think that the trends toward mindfulness and gratitude are a direct response to existing in a cohort that has no trust in the future – it’s just #YOLO in a suit and tie. You only live once, so live in the moment, because it’s the only reality you can trust (memory can be falsified, and who knows what the future holds and whether you’ll be there to see it when it arrives). You only live once, so be grateful, both because it could be so much worse and because that’s yet another way to defy an older generation who call us slackers for appearing to have no higher motivation than to live in a van, traveling the country.

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  3. slowgrowingblog says:

    Agree with your entire comment, Jaqbuncad. A friend and I were having this same conversation the other night, but instead of YOLO, saying more fatalistically, “what’s the point?” It is too depressing to live a life with that as a mantra, so I guess the optimism of gratitude and mindfulness can keep us going from one moment to the next…

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