Hurry up and wait

Two weeks in a row of niche publishing nonsense, so I'm going to take a break and talk about MARKET SEGMENTATION instead. You'll be begging for more pulp publishing history before long.

‘Waithood’ is the period between being adult and being able to achieve ‘adult’ goals: marry, have children, own a home, have a career or a business. Waithood is that liminal status when you’re supposed to be doing things, but lack the capacity to do them. The term originated out of studies into a new generation of youth in Middle East and North Africa, the insight behind is more broadly applicable.

I like the term a lot. It provides an (accurate, reasonable, segmented) alternative to the term ‘millennials’, which, in and of itself, is priceless. 'Millennial' is somehow cursed with being both wibbly (you can find over 15 different age ranges in the Wikipedia entry alone) and exclusive (virtually every article on ‘Millennials’ assumes they are middle-class, college-educated and white).

By contrast, ‘waithood’ is more specific, doesn’t have the media baggage, and, importantly, is cross-generational. Millennials are now; waithood happens to everyone, everywhere. Generation X faced waithood and explored it through their, uh, art. So did the generation before, ad infinitum. Youth today didn't invent the existential crisis, they're just the first to make it into an Instagram Story.

However, today's young adults are caught in a preternaturally elongated waithood. A hefty waithood, if you will. There’s a housing crisis. There’s a jobs crisis. There’s a careers crisis: the jobs that are available are low-skill, part-time, and low-progression. A decade of austerity means fewer windfalls and fewer retirements; fewer down payments and job openings. How do you buy a home? How do you plan a family? How do you repay your loans - or get one to start a business? The waithood finishing line keeps slipping further and further out of reach. 16-25 year-olds are particularly pessimistic about their prospects and their future, and, well, they should be. 

Waithood hurts everyone. Lisa Schmeiser, who is really, really good at this, has written at length about the knock-on effect of Millennial's precarious economic state. She points out how the furniture industry, for example, has taken a beating: as you could expect in an era where no one can afford to buy their own home. I've heard the confessions of a diamond company's brand manager (that sounds like a Katherine Heigl vehicle) in which she expressed similar concerns: engagement rings aren't selling as well - people can't afford them and they're putting off getting married. Industries that rely on 'traditional life-stages' - adults achieving 'adult' goals - are all suffering.

Waithood has a sinister edge as well. Those trapped in the waithood sargasso are often the most vulnerable to extremist narratives. They’re existing at the furthest possible gap between potential and actual, feeling the full weight of social hypocrisy. Waithood means living at home, in the same room you’ve had since you were born; in a house your parents bought when they were your age, when they had you. It is easy to see the lure of grievance narratives. Extremist ideologies explain why the world is unfair, and promise you an opportunity to challenge a failing system. They give you a chance to be significant.

That's all pretty damn grim, but as with all things, life finds a way.

With traditional goals out of reach, young adults are creating new ones. The conventional definitions of home, career, family, romance - ‘adulthood’ –  are all being adjusted to fit the contemporary context, and are giving rise to new methods of meaningful self-actualisation. Rather than forcing the increasingly impossible, those kept waiting are finding new ways to succeed. The rise of self-employment and hyphenate careers. Political activism. Community service. Creative expression. All are on the up-swing with the 16-25 audience. Buying a home may be impossible in 2018; but, oddly, writing and publishing your novel is not. These are all ways of creating measurable success; having an impact, gaining respect, and, most of all, feeling significant. You're not waiting if you're doing something meaningful.

And these are insider movements. Imagine what would happen with if the outsiders got on board. Rather than kvetching about the avocado industry, the media could focus on changing the stereotype of 'adult' achievements. There could be concerted efforts to make classic goals more achievable - or contemporary ones more rewarding. Is it IKEA nursery furniture for studio spaces, new forms of co-working spaces, tax breaks for the self-employed? The existential crisis of adulthood isn't going anywhere, but we all need to grow up some time. 

Get: Adults
To: Minimise others' waithood
By: Supporting them to achieving (meaningful) goals (that they choose)

The charming weirdos at 538 have made an open access database of 3 million tweets from accounts connected to Russia's dubious-af 'Internet Research Agency'. I'm curious to see what researchers find. The politics are, of course, interesting - but also the attempts for the trolls to fit in - or jump on particular hashtags. What if we learn that the Russians were behind the #saveBrooklyn99 campaign? WHAT THEN?

Advertising can pack up and go home. It peaked years ago.

Frances Hardinge, winner of the Costa Prize, gives '10 Tips for Writers'. These also work very, very well for planners. Huzzah, I got in a book reference after all!

I'll be talking about the 'Podcast Opportunity' with Acast's Sophie Herdman for the PRCA at the end of the month. Location tbd, but tickets online here. Remember, if you're throwing a creative industry or professional event - that is accessibly priced - let me know, and I'll gladly share it.