The second external trauma of the Millennial generation has been the disturbance of social media, which has amplified the pressure to craft an image of success—for oneself, for one’s friends and colleagues, and even for one’s parents. But literally visualizing career success can be difficult in a services and information economy. Blue-collar jobs produce tangible products, like coal, steel rods, and houses. The output of white-collar work—algorithms, consulting projects, programmatic advertising campaigns—is more shapeless and often quite invisible. It’s not glib to say that the whiter the collar, the more invisible the product.
Since the physical world leaves few traces of achievement, today’s workers turn to social media to make manifest their accomplishments. Many of them spend hours crafting a separate reality of stress-free smiles, postcard vistas, and Edison-lightbulbed working spaces. “The social media feed [is] evidence of the fruits of hard, rewarding labor and the labor itself,” Petersen writes.
I don’t want to get too hung up on the degree to which social media is or is not responsible for Millenials’ stress levels, but I think the point about the intangibility of knowledge workers’ output is an important one.
I am not a Millennial, but for me, I think the intangibility of digital tools and platforms is the main factor driving me toward analog, real-world tools—pens, paper, typewriters, physical books. You do work on these kinds of tools, and the output is there in your hands when you are done. You can touch it, feel it, mark it up.
This connection isn’t some kind of mystical mumbo-jumbo like the “analog warmth” audiophiles go on about when talking about their vinyl and their $15,000 mono amplifiers. It’s a real thing. My paper journal may not be instantly searchable across multiple devices, but short of my basement flooding or my house burning down, it will probably outlast all of the text files shared via Dropbox and iCloud. Moreover, that paper journal is a storage format that does not required support from a third-party vendor for me to access it.
Mostly, though, it is represents the real-world physical output of my work.