The Satori Generation

Roland Kelts writing for Adbusters:
A new breed of young people have outdone the tricksters of advertising.


This article appeared in issue #113, now available in our Blueprint for a New World Series Box Set.

They don’t want cars or brand name handbags or luxury boots. To many of them, travel beyond the known and local is expensive and potentially dangerous. They work part-time jobs—because that is what they’ve been offered—and live at home long after they graduate. They’re not getting married or having kids. They’re not even sure if they want to be in romantic relationships. Why? Too much hassle. Oh, and too expensive.

In Japan, they’ve come to be known as satori sedai—the “enlightened generation.” In Buddhist terms: free from material desires, focused on self-awareness, finding essential truths. But another translation is grimmer: “generation resignation,” or those without ideals, ambition or hope.

They were born in the late 1980s on up, when their nation’s economic juggernaut, with its promises of lifetime employment and conspicuous celebrations of consumption, was already a spent historical force.  They don’t believe the future will get better—so they make do with what they have.  In one respect, they’re arch-realists. And they’re freaking their elders out.

“Don’t you want to get a nice German car one day?”—asked one flustered 50-something guest of his 20-something counterpart on a nationally broadcasted talk show.  The show aired on the eve of Coming of Age Day, a national holiday in Japan that celebrates the latest crop of youth turning 20, the threshold of adulthood.  An animated graphic of a smiling man wearing sunglasses driving a blonde around in a convertible flashed across the screen, the man’s scarf fluttering in the wind.  “Don’t you want a pretty young woman to take on a Sunday drive?”

There was some polite giggling from the guests.  After a pause, the younger man said, “I’m really not interested, no.”

Critics of the satori youths level the kinds of intergenerational accusations time-honored worldwide: they’re lazy, lacking in willpower, potency and drive.

Having lectured to a number of them at several universities in Tokyo, I was able to query students directly.  “We’re risk-averse,” was the most common response.  We were raised in relative comfort.  We’re just trying to keep it that way.

Is this enlightened, or resigned? Or both?

Novelist Genichiro Takahashi, 63, addressed the matter in an essay 10 years ago.  He called the new wave of youth a “generation of loss,” but he defined them as “the world’s most advanced phenomenon”—in his view, a generation whose only desires are those that are actually achievable.

The satori generation are known for keeping things small, preferring an evening at home with a small gathering of friends, for example, to an upscale restaurant.  They create ensemble outfits from so-called “fast fashion” discount stores like Uniqlo or H&M, instead of purchasing top-shelf at Louis Vuitton or Prada.  They don’t even booze.

“They drink much less alcohol than the kids of my generation, for sure,” says social critic and researcher Mariko Fujiwara of Hakuhodo. “And even when they go to places where they are free to drink, drinking too much was never ‘cool’ for them the way it was for us.”

Fujiwara’s research leads her to define a global trend—youth who have the technological tools to avoid being duped by phony needs.  There is a new breed of young people, she says, who have outdone the tricksters of advertising.

“They are prudent and careful about what they buy. They have been informed about the expensive top brands of all sorts of consumer goods but were never so impressed by them like those from the bubble generation. We have identified them as those who are far more levelheaded than the generations preceding them as a result of the new reality they came to face.”

The new reality is affecting a new generation around the world.  Young Americans and Europeans are increasingly living at home, saving money, and living prudently.  Technology, as it did in Japan, abets their shrinking circles.  If you have internet access, you can accomplish a lot in a little room.  And revolution in the 21st century, as most young people know, is not about consumption—it’s about sustainability.

Waseda University professor, Norihiro Kato, points to broader global phenomena that have radically transformed younger generations’ sense of possibility, calling it a shift from “the infinite to the finite.” Kato cites the Chernobyl meltdown and the fall of communism in the late 1980s and early 90s; the September 11 terrorist attacks in the early 2000s; and closer to home, the triple earthquake, tsunami and ongoing nuclear disasters in Japan. These events reshaped our sense of wisdom and self-worth. The satori generation, he says, marks the emergence of a new “‘qualified power,’ the power to do and the power to undo, and the ability to enjoy doing and not doing equally.  Imagine a robot with the sophistication and strength to clutch an egg without crushing it.  The key concept is outgrowing growth toward degrowth.  That’s the wisdom of this new generation.”

In America and Europe, the new generation is teaching us how to live with less—but also how to live with one another. Mainstream media decry the number of young people living at home—a record 26.1 million in the US, according to recent statistics—yet living at home and caring for one’s elders has long been a mainstay of Japanese culture.

In the context of shrinking resources and global crises, satori “enlightenment” might mean what the young everywhere are telling us: shrink your goals to the realistic, help your family and community and resign yourself to peace.

What Takahashi called “the world’s most advanced phenomenon” may well be coming our way from Japan. But this time it’s not automotive or robotic or electronic. It’s human enlightenment.

Roland Kelts is a half-Japanese writer based in Tokyo and New York. He is the author of the bestselling JAPANAMERICA: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US, and a contributor to enlightened media worldwide.

Millennials Aren’t Cheap, They’re Broke

Lynn Parramore writes for AlterNet

Pundits lament that young people are not buying cars and houses.

 Millennials, that perennial favorite topic of pundits, are back in the news. This time they’ve been dubbed the “Cheapest Generation” in a recent piece in the Atlantic Monthly.

Fair assessment? Or fairly out to lunch?  Photo Credit:

“Millennials,” announce the authors, “have turned against both cars and houses in dramatic and historic fashion.” Among the many reasons given for this curious circumstance are new mobile technologies “enabling a different kind of consumption” and patterns of re-urbanization.

The authors do allow that “the Great  Recession is responsible for some of the decline” in purchasing. But they worry that young folks just don’t seem to want to spend as lavishly as their parents did, which is a problem because since the end of World War II, new cars and houses have powered the American economy. “Millennials may have lost interest in both,” they warn. They’re more interested in their smartphones than a new ride or a phat pad.

Here’s another thought: they’re broke. Granted, that’s not as sexy for magazine writers to talk about as sussing out cultural and demographic trends. But it’s awfully hard to buy a house or a car when any of the following apply:

  • You are in student debt up to your eyeballs.
  • You can’t find a job.
  • When you do find a job, that job is insecure, low-wage, with few to no benefits.

A company called Revolution, which examines consumer behavior, came out with a report October 13 that the authors of the Atlantic Monthly piece might have consulted before labeling millennials cheap:

“[The report] revealed key motivations behind why millennials are buying fewer cars. And, contrary to many of the reasons cited in hundreds of articles and reports, the bottom line is clear —they don’t have enough money to buy vehicles due to the continuing weak economy.”


The Great Recession amplified the unemployment and poor jobs and crap wages, but the tale began around the time millennials were born in the 1980s, when Reagan convinced much of America that laissez faire capitalism was the ticket to good times. That was true for a tiny portion of the country, which may now be observed buying McMansions and yachts. But pretty much everyone else, from the middle class on down, got screwed, and the screws are tightening every day.

Millennials have never seen a world in which union-bashing, outsourcing, shareholder value ideology, crap temp jobs, stagnant wages, and growing inequality were not the norm. Most millennials did not go to college, and if they have a high school diploma, it’s worth less than it was than for any generation that came before. Many of the college-educated started out getting exploited as unpaid interns, then didn’t get the jobs they were promised, and subsequently found themselves struggling for one gig after another with plummeting hopes of forging a meaningful career.

Yet pundits are constantly exploring the choices these young people are making as if there is some great mystery to be divined. They aren’t getting married! They’re still living at home with their parents! It must be because they are lazy, or immature, or indecisive, or turning away from consumption for ideological reasons.

No, they just don’t have any money. And money is what you need to do stuff like get married and set up your own household and buy expensive items.

True, you may lose some interest in things you can’t afford to buy and redirect your attention and efforts to stuff that is more attainable. So you think about sharing an apartment instead of a buying a house, or sharing a Zipcar instead of buying your own snazzy new automobile. But these decisions may have a lot more to do with the fact that you just can’t afford what your parents had at your age than some grand urge to live with a small footprint or not to be a spendthrift.

To be young is to be selfish and want things for yourself. It’s hard to imagine that the majority of young people are saying, “No, I don’t think I’ll opt for my own apartment, but rather deal with noisy roommates because really I’m just kind of cheap/environmentally conscious/more interested in downloading apps on my smartphone.” They may be looking for things besides cars and houses to make them happy, and maybe that’s not a bad development in many ways, but it probably isn’t because they are so fundamentally different than generations past. They are simply trying to deal with the raw deal that has been handed to them as best they can. Some pundits describe this as a pragmatic response to the “new economy.” You might also call it trying to survive. Let’s examine what they’re up against.

  • Millennials have the highest unemployment rate of any generation.
  • They have more student loan debt than Gen Xers and Boomers did at their age.
  • More millennials live in poverty than previous generations did at the same stage of life.
  • They make up 61 percent of Americans making minimum wage.
  • Having entered the workforce during an economic downturn, the effects on their future wages will likely be permanent, even if the economy bounces back.

Millennials need decent jobs. They need the power to bargain with employers. They need health insurance that does not suck. They need student debt forgiveness. They need investment in America’s infrastructure. Given that policy in America is currently dictated by the desires of the one percent, which has gotten control of much our political system, they probably aren’t going to get these things anytime soon.

But there are 80 million of them. That’s 25 percent of the U.S. population, and if they could organize themselves, they would be a powerful force to take on the forces that would deprive them of a decent future.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of “Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.” She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet’s New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.



How the iWatch will change advertising forever

By Tom Goodwin,

Tom Goodwin, a director of the Tomorrow Group, explains how he thinks the iWatch will change advertising forever.

Tom Goodwin: a director of the Tomorrow Group

Tom Goodwin: a director of the Tomorrow Group

It will take a tiny screen to finally wake the industry up to what the digital medium really means – a bright future of the new, and not the mindless misappropriation of advertising platforms of the past.

It’s amazing how many opportunities we’ve missed mindlessly layering old techniques onto new media. We’ve got excited about better ad targeting, improved measurement, or the opportunity to do real-time marketing, but the vast majority of digital advertising innovation today still comes from the placement of ads and not the message. What an incredible waste.

In fact, the entire ecosystem of contemporary advertising is an absurdly unimaginative recycling of what we knew how to make, buy, measure and sell before. We’ve been stuck in a cycle of technological determinism, framing future possibilities based on previous technologies, and adapting models and structures of the past, to fit the form of the present

When the worldwide web presented us with space to convey brand messages, we did what we knew best: we mindlessly copied newspapers ads, digitised them and in a moment of genius, made them clickable.

When websites allowed page takeovers, we filled those pages with what we knew best (direct marketing) but we made it clickable.

The first brand websites became online brochures, but digitised and made clickable.

When bandwidth made branded videos possible, we just put on TV commercials.

Despite having access to over $10 billion of R&D budgets from new media owners like Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter, we still see print ads in digital editions of magazines, we see flyers used as ads on Instagram, TV ads in Facebook feeds, and mobile ads that are essentially just tiny, electronic versions of newspaper ads from the 1750s.

The only thing we’ve invented is new terminology. We now have advertorials online, but we call them native ads, we have advertiser-funded TV, but we call it content marketing. We have had tactical print ads, but we now call it real-time marketing. Every single tool in advertisers’ arsenal today has been available since the 1960s.


The digital world is a world of incredible abundance – it’s got the biggest creative canvas, the most incredible technology, huge optimism and boundless funding.It’s the best thing that could ever happen to advertising, and yet we all started lazily with what we knew best. Things will soon change. For the first time ever we will start to do what we do best, to think originally and to solve problems with creativity.

We’ve now reached a stage in which new technologies are forcing a paradigm shift, and it starts with the iWatch. When the digital medium becomes an extension of our senses, our minds, and our bodies, as [Canadian philosopher Marshall] McLuhan predicted, we have to consider not what we have, but what is possible.

When we’re faced with a new platform, with a set of unique characteristics, we have to rethink our approach to advertising: from pushing messages out to consumers based on past models of communication, to finding ways to add value and service, based on behaviour, needs and habits, and enhance their lives.

The future of modern marketing lies in starting afresh and seeing past pre-determined ideas about media platforms or advertising. For brands, the future is not in catchphrases like “real-time” or “data”. It’s about asking questions and exploring new territories:

  • How do you work with route guidance apps or GPS?
  • How do you link with data from social networks, based on proximity?
  • How should you use audio signals, NFC capabilities, or health inputs?
  • How are you leveraging real-time data like current, the news or the stock market?
  • How are you incorporating mobile coupons, or integrating with our calendars?
  • What becomes of the rise of the invisible app, how can your brand run as an assistive, typically invisible layer?

Maybe it’s about providing the information that you are located near a train station when the traffic is bad.

Maybe it’s the flash sale in the store you are passing, the beer voucher as your friend is close by, the suggested happy soundtrack to your can of Coke, the Gatorade after your gym session.

SmartWatches may or may not be here soon, and they may or may not work, but regardless, as a concept, they stand for what advertising becomes when the true power of technology, new media opportunities and creative thinking come together.

The future of digital advertising won’t look like advertising.

This article was first published on

The Cheapest Generation

Why Millennials aren’t buying cars or houses, and what that means for the economy

By Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann


In 2009, Ford brought its new supermini, the Fiesta, over from Europe in a brave attempt to attract the attention of young Americans. It passed out 100 of the cars to influential bloggers for a free six-month test-drive, with just one condition: document your experience online, whether you love the Fiesta or hate it.

Young bloggers loved the car. Young drivers? Not so much. After a brief burst of excitement, in which Ford sold more than 90,000 units over 18 months, Fiesta sales plummeted. As of April 2012, they were down 30 percent from 2011.

Don’t blame Ford. The company is trying to solve a puzzle that’s bewildering every automaker in America: How do you sell cars to Millennials (a?k?a Generation Y)? The fact is, today’s young people simply don’t drive like their predecessors did. In 2010, adults between the ages of 21 and 34 bought just 27 percent of all new vehicles sold in America, down from the peak of 38 percent in 1985. Miles driven are down, too. Even the proportion of teenagers with a license fell, by 28 percent, between 1998 and 2008.

In a bid to reverse these trends, General Motors has enlisted the youth-brand consultants at MTV Scratch—a corporate cousin of the TV network responsible for Jersey Shore—to give its vehicles some 20-something edge. “I don’t believe that young buyers don’t care about owning a car,” says John McFarland, GM’s 31-year-old manager of global strategic marketing. “We just think nobody truly understands them yet.” Subaru, meanwhile, is betting that it can appeal to the quirky eco-­conscious individualism that supposedly characterizes this generation. “We’re trying to get the emotional connection correct,” says Doug O’Reilly, a publicist for Subaru. Ford, for its part, continues to push heavily into social media, hoping to more closely match its marketing efforts to the channels that Millennials use and trust the most.

All of these strategies share a few key assumptions: that demand for cars within the Millennial generation is just waiting to be unlocked; that as the economy slowly recovers, today’s young people will eventually want to buy cars as much as their parents and grandparents did; that a finer-tuned appeal to Millennial values can coax them into dealerships.

Perhaps. But what if these assumptions are simply wrong? What if Millennials’ aversion to car-buying isn’t a temporary side effect of the recession, but part of a permanent generational shift in tastes and spending habits? It’s a question that applies not only to cars, but to several other traditional categories of big spending—most notably, housing. And its answer has large implications for the future shape of the economy—and for the speed of recovery.

Since World War II, new cars and suburban houses have powered the economy and propelled recoveries. Millennials may have lost interest in both.

Half of a typical family’s spending today goes to transportation and housing, according to the latest Consumer Expenditure Survey, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the height of the housing bubble, residential construction and related activities accounted for more than a quarter of the economy in metro areas like Las Vegas and Orlando. Nation­wide, new-car and new-truck purchases hovered near historic highs. But Millennials have turned against both cars and houses in dramatic and historic fashion. Just as car sales have plummeted among their age cohort, the share of young people getting their first mortgage between 2009 and 2011 is half what it was just 10 years ago, according to a Federal Reserve study.

Needless to say, the Great Recession is responsible for some of the decline. But it’s highly possible that a perfect storm of economic and demographic factors—from high gas prices, to re-­urbanization, to stagnating wages, to new technologies enabling a different kind of consumption—has fundamentally changed the game for Millennials. The largest generation in American history might never spend as lavishly as its parents did—nor on the same things. Since the end of World War II, new cars and suburban houses have powered the world’s largest economy and propelled our most impressive recoveries. Millennials may have lost interest in both.

When Zipcar was founded, in 2000, the average price for a gallon of gasoline was $1.50, and iPhones didn’t exist. Since then, it has become the world’s largest car-sharing company, with some 700,000 members. Zipcar owes much of its success to two facts. First, gas prices more than doubled, which made car-sharing alluring. Second, smartphones became ubiquitous, which made car-sharing easier.

The emergence of the “sharing economy”—services that use the Web to let companies and families share otherwise idle goods—is headlined by Zipcar, but it also involves companies such as Airbnb, a shared market­place for bedrooms and other accommodations for travelers; and thred­UP, a site where parents can buy and sell kids’ used clothing.

From a distance, the sharing of cars, rooms, and clothes may seem a curiosity, more hippie than revolutionary. But tech­nology is allow­ing these practices to go mainstream, and that represents a big new step for consumers. For decades, inventory manage­ment was largely the province of companies, not individuals, and continual efforts to reduce inventory—the stock of things just sitting around—helped companies improve their bottom line. But today, peer-to-peer software and mobile technology allow us all to have access, just when we need it, to the things we used to have to buy and hold. And the most powerful application is for cars.

The typical new car costs $30,000 and sits in a garage or parking spot for 23 hours a day. Zipcar gives drivers access to cars they don’t have to own. Car ownership, meanwhile, has slipped down the hierarchy of status goods for many young adults. “Zipcar conducted a survey of Millennials,” Mark Norman, the company’s president and chief operating officer, told us. “And this generation said, ‘We don’t care about owning a car.’ Cars used to be what people aspired to own. Now it’s the smartphone.”

Some automakers are slowly coming around to that view. Last year, Ford agreed to become Zipcar’s largest supplier on more than 250 college campuses. Young people prize “access over ownership,” said Sheryl Connelly, head of global consumer trends at Ford. “I don’t think car-buying for Millennials will ever be what it was for Boomers. But we know if they have the opportunity to drive Ford, they’re more likely to choose Ford if they buy a car.”

Subaru’s publicist Doug O’Reilly told us, “The Millennial wants to tell people not just ‘I’ve made it,’ but also ‘I’m a tech person.’?” Smartphones compete against cars for young people’s big-ticket dollars, since the cost of a good phone and data plan can exceed $1,000 a year. But they also provide some of the same psychic benefits—opening new vistas and carrying us far from the physical space in which we reside. “You no longer need to feel connected to your friends with a car when you have this technology that’s so ubiquitous, it transcends time and space,” Connelly said.

In other words, mobile technology has empowered more than just car-sharing. It has empowered friendships that can be maintained from a distance. The upshot could be a continuing shift from automobiles to mobile technology, and a big reduction in spending.

Millennials, of course, are sharing more than transportation: they’re also sharing living quarters, albeit begrudgingly, and with less gee-whiz technology involved. According to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, between 2006 and 2011, the homeownership rate among adults younger than 35 fell by 12 percent, and nearly 2 million more of them—the equivalent of Houston’s population—were living with their parents, as a result of the recession. The ownership society has been overrun by renters and squatters.

Nine out of 10 Millennials say they eventually want a place they own, according to a recent Fannie Mae survey. But this generation’s path to home­ownership is fraught with obstacles: low pay, low savings, tighter lending standards from banks. Student debt—some $1 trillion in total—stalks many potential buyers as they seek a mortgage (or a car loan). At a minimum, homeownership rates are highly unlikely to soon return to the peaks they hit during the housing bubble.

Still, in the next decade, a group of people the size of California’s population—­most of them Millennials—will likely come together to form new households. The question is: Where, and in what manner?

In some respects, Millennials’ residential aspirations appear to be changing just as significantly as their driving habits—indeed, the two may be related. The old cul-de-sacs of Revolutionary Road and Desperate Housewives have fallen out of favor with Generation Y. Rising instead are both city centers and what some developers call “urban light”—denser suburbs that revolve around a walkable town center. “People are very eager to create a life that blends the best features of the American suburb—schools still being the primary, although not the only, draw—and urbanity,” says Adam Ducker, a managing director at the real-estate consultancy RCLCO. These are places like Culver City, California, and Evanston, Illinois, where residents can stroll among shops and restaurants or hop on public transportation. Such small cities and town centers lend themselves to tighter, smaller housing developments, whether apartments in the middle of town, or small houses a five-minute drive away. An RCLCO survey from 2007 found that 43 percent of Gen?Yers would prefer to live in a close-in suburb, where both the houses and the need for a car are smaller.

Wholly apart from their urban sensibility, townhouses and other small houses are more affordable, all else equal, and developers know that to attract Millennials, they need to cater to tattered bank accounts. “The types of properties young people are buying now are different from what [that age group] bought five years ago,” said Shannon Williams King, the vice chair of strategic planning at the National Association of Realtors. “They are within walking distance of shopping centers. These buyers want bike shares and Zipcar. They like feeling connected.” In short, the future of the house might look a lot like the future of the car: smaller, cheaper, built for a new economy.

If the Millennials are not quite a post-­driving and post-owning generation, they’ll almost certainly be a less-­driving and less-­owning generation. That could mean some tough adjustments for the economy over the next several years. In recent decades, the housing industry has usually led us out of recession. When the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates in the midst of the sharp recession of the early 1980s, for instance, a construction boom helped fuel the “Reagan Recovery.” With the housing market moribund, the Federal Reserve has lost a key means of influencing the economy with lower interest rates. The service-led recovery we’ve gotten instead is not nearly as robust.

“I don’t think car-buying for Millennials will ever be what it was for Boomers,” said Sheryl Connelly, head of global consumer trends at Ford.

Smaller houses built in dense, mixed-use neighborhoods generally take longer to build than McMansions on green-field sites. And of course, because they require fewer fixtures and furnishings, their construction spurs less economic activity.

What’s more, both construction and automaking are solidly blue-­collar sectors. They employ millions of middle-class workers, who could be hurt by a transition away from home construction and auto manufacturing. The tech companies that sell personal electronics and provide high-speed Internet connections don’t need as many workers. And the jobs they do create—domestically at least—skew heavily toward the top of the socioeconomic ladder.

Yet in the long run, there’s good cause for optimism as well. Nobody is suggesting that the American consumer has bought her last house or car—only that houses and cars may lose some of the outsize importance they’ve had to the economy for the past 10 or 20 years or more. “There are a lot of countries, Germany for example, where homeownership rates are a lot lower than ours, and they have healthy incomes,” said Robert Lerman, an Urban Institute fellow in labor and social policy. Simple arithmetic says that if Americans spend less money on cars and houses, they’ll have more money left over to spend or save—and not all of that will go to electronic gadgets.

Education is the “obvious outlet for the money Millennials can spend,” Perry Wong, the director of research at the Milken Institute, told us, noting that if young people invest less in physical things like houses, they’ll have more to invest in themselves. “In the past, housing was the main vehicle for investment, but education is also a vehicle.” In an ideas economy, up-to-date knowledge could be a more nimble and valuable asset than a house.

What’s more, the shift away from traditional suburbs toward denser, urban-light living could have major economic-growth implications on its own. Economic research shows that doubling a community’s population density tends to increase productivity by anywhere between 6 percent and 28 percent. Economists have found that more than half of the variation in output per worker across U.S. states can be explained by density. Our wealth, after all, is determined not only by our own skills and talents, but by our ability to access the ideas of those around us; there’s a lot to be gained by increasing the odds that smart people might bump against each other. Ultimately, if the Millennial generation pushes our society toward more sharing and closer living, it may do more than simply change America’s consumption culture; it may put America on firmer economic footing for decades to come.