I remember the first time someone called me a hipster. I think my hair had been side-parted into a braid, my feet propped up on the cafeteria seat next to me. I had been drinking tea and writing notes in my copy of On the Road. And yeah, because I had been taking photos of student government candidates for my school newspaper, I had a camera hanging from my neck.
My friend had called me "hipster" jokingly, but she got me thinking about what that really meant. I thought about why the hipster movement had resurfaced, why my generation is so obsessed with reliving whatever traces of the past we can find -- why we try so hard to look and dress and talk and drink like the writers and thinkers of generations past. Because when you look hard enough, you realize my generation is nostalgic for eras we can only read about.
The thing is, we need to understand the beauty of our own generation. The '60s are over, the '70s are dead and gone, and good Lord nobody's bringing the '80s back anytime soon. My generation (and yeah, I'm guilty of this too) tends to idolize the intangible. We idealize the past. We're in love with the idea of going on the road, with hipster glasses that look like they've been stolen from Ginsberg's grave and a Kerouac desire to live in the moment, but we don't want to take action. We can't. Dean Moriarity can't travel the country when he's got SATs to take and a pile of incomplete college apps saved on his desktop.
Our generation doesn't have many unifying factors. Sure, we grew up in the tech age. We love our iPhones and we'd do pretty much anything to salvage our WiFi access. We drink a lot, statistically, but aren't big fans of the drugs that defined the '60s and '70s. We're pretty darn future-oriented: we plan for college years in advance, try to plot the right path to our golden Dream Jobs, consider the merits of various careers long before we graduate high school. We're asked, practically from the first day of kindergarten until our fateful college interviews, what we want to do when we Grow Up. And we wait and wait and wait and hope that someday we'll find ourselves awake and alive in those Grown Up shells.
But I have to believe that this generation is special, darn it. We have the power to succeed, to actually make a difference, to catalyze a positive change in a world that never stops churning. We're a dedicated bunch, loyal as heck, built on a steady dosage of SnapChats from our BFFs. We love to interact with each other. Constantly. (Maybe to a fault, but hey, what's so bad about incessantly updating each other on our lives?). We believe that our thoughts are valuable, that our ideas and opinions and what we had for breakfast are Twitter-worthy. We hold on to memories. We assign significance to the simplest moments -- Instagramming a sunrise, taking a Vine of a beautiful view. We take billions and billions of pictures, maybe out of habit, but also because we as a generation believe that the instants we can capture are worth attention.
Maybe past generations were like this. They had to also get frustrated and bored, although they didn't use those endless bored hours stalking Facebook walls and reading tweets from four months ago. I'm sure not everyone in the '50s was sitting back in coffee shops, scrawling some metaphor about the death of gods while fixing side-swept hair. The hippies were a small minority; not everyone in the '80s discoed and boogied down. Other generations had to be as overwhelmingly shapeless as we are. Still, we need to realize that our generation has its own character, our own beat -- even if we're not another Beat Generation.