Last month, Anne Helen Petersen wrote a hard-hitting and extremely long article for Buzzfeed about millennial fatigue which I didn’t finish because I found it millennially fatiguing. But the first three paragraphs struck a nerve. Petersen taps into a familiar sensation: ‘errand paralysis’.
We millennials, she says, are achievement-addicted ‘optimization’ machines, unable to enjoy time off because it is synonymous with time wasted. Thus, we pathetically and repetitively assert to ourselves that HARDWORKMAKESYOURDREAMSCOMETRUE – like a wretched Simon Cowell pull-string doll in the bargain bin of a fading HMV – and thoughtlessly pursue near-unachievable ambitions.
A consequence of this toxic attitude is that, when faced with the most mundane tasks, we are paralysed by the fear of precious time wasted. Petersen describes how she will put off jobs like “getting knives sharpened” or “taking boots to the cobbler” – a slightly unsettling window into her job as, presumably, some kind of medieval chef? But this is the problem: we are prevented from completing simple tasks as we have been brought up to focus only on achievements that will drastically improve our lives. It was baby boomers, as obsessed with over-parenting as they were with ham and melon hors d’oeuvres, who turned us into these goal-oriented machines.
But I disagree with Petersen. It’s not my relationship with work that gives me errand paralysis. It’s my relationship with technology. It’s the hundreds of tiny robot servants in my life that help me clean things, organise things, make things, eat things. They’ve spoilt me, these robot butlers, and I love them for it. But they have paralysed me, too, with their refusal to fill in the gaps.
I have an electric toothbrush which cleans my teeth at lightning speed, whilst playing Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’ if you apply the correct pressure. It is a technological miracle. But for the last two weeks I have been using it manually, because the idea of taking it into my bedroom, unplugging my bedside lamp, and plugging in the toothbrush charger port, fills me with millennial dread. How many newly-installed induction hobs go untouched, only because their millennial owners are crippled by the thought of having to buy a new type of pan? Beware, millennial, this promise of technological ease. For it is a wicked siren-call, that only wishes to see you stranded on the rocks of errand.
We are living in a time of contradiction. Medical technology expands into the far-reaches of science fiction, but at the same time, the simplest ailments are left behind. It’s now possible to give amputees full mechanical control over a bionic hand connected to their nervous system, but when I randomly get a nosebleed in the middle of the night (yes I am twenty-five and this still happens) the only treatment I have available is sticking a piece of paper up my nose that I originally bought to wipe the poo off my bum. It is not a work ethic instilled by overbearing parents that causes my errand paralysis, it is the offer of technological ease, never actualised.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still the baby boomers’ fault. They were the ones feeding us with the insane technological optimism of the 90s and 2000s. iRobot is set in the year 2035. According to my intensive calculations that gives us sixteen years until the robot uprising. Minority Report is set in 2054. The driverless cars in that film travel on a citywide network of horizontal and vertical slopes. It’s 2019 – the latest tests of driverless cars found they were unable to navigate around a pigeon standing in the road. It’s no wonder Petersen can’t face taking her boots to the cobbler – as a child she was promised her own personal humanoid to cobble her shoes whilst simultaneously plotting an uprising.
Unlike our irresponsible parents, millennials never make these ridiculous promises to each other. Take Busted – they went to the year 3000, and claimed ‘not much had changed’. This is a song written by millennials, for millennials: a resistance to technological over-hype with a healthy dose of expectation management. The life we live is haunted by the ghosts of technologies that should already be. It’s a half-life, a life of empty promises. A bit like one of those shonkily-drawn, fading portraits of Mickey Mouse on the slightly dubious ice cream van outside the park on Fridays: all the constituent parts are technically there, but the overall result is profoundly unsettling.
And so this is our cry, from Gen Y to Gen X: take responsibility for your actions. Make good on your wanton promises. Build us robot butlers.
Images by: Santeri Viinamäki, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67978822
Pen Waggener – Flickr: prosciutto with melon, CC BY 2.0.
Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons), CC BY-SA 4.0.
ITU Pictures – https://www.flickr.com/photos/42121221@N07/34328656564.