Book review: Nast, M. (2016). Generation Beziehungsunfähig (1st ed.). Edel Germany.
Synopsis : The book “Generation of impossible relationships” translated from German “Generation Beziehungsunfähig” and published in 2016 by Michael Nast is an assessment of the current feelings of those born between 1980 and 1995, also known as “Generation Y.” This cohort typically lives in metropolitan areas and have daily lives centered around social media. Nast focuses on the (absence of) life choices of this generation as well as the growing incapacity to be in a relationship for this cohort, as outlined by the first sentence of the book : “Often, there are moments when I wonder, what would my life look like If I had made other decisions at certain points in my life. It is during questions such as ‘and what would have happened if …’ when I imagine another version of my life.'”
Through the description of impacting situations in the lives of certain characters as well as in his own, Nast reflects critically on the life and feelings of his generation and the changes that have occurred. He reviews new ways of (not) being in a relationship, interpersonal relationships in a more general way, and the professional perspectives of this generation. According to the author, Generation Y is characterized by a high level of egocentrism, a dependence on the amount of “likes” regarding material posted in social media, and the use of social masks to maintain a “perfect” façade without thinking about the implicit cost within. The generation described by Nast seeks individuality in the same compulsive manner as the previous generation had sought to acquire a clean house. According to Nast, today’s “self-optimizers” nevertheless have more in common than just the obsession to differentiate themselves from others: their fear of relationships.
Our analysis :
- The book offers a critical analysis of the modus operandi and perceptions of Generation Y
Nast’s book gives a caricatured representation that helps to identify the characteristics of Generation Y, especially in occidental metropolitan areas. These include the negative consequences of being permanently available via smartphone and social media, escaping through extreme experiences in the work hard play hard mentality (a lot of work, excess pleasures such as party, sex, alcoholism and drugs) and extreme consumerism. This lifestyle results in procrastinating the confrontation of broader issues, including self-realization, different ways of living, and more generally, the meaning of life. For many, this has resulted in a reduced level of personal satisfaction, because unlike previous generations, many life and professional choices are now available to everyone, and much has become based on the comparison with others. The obsessive search for individuality and one’s “own brand” combined with a wide range of potential partners and forms of relationships, facilitated by online dating applications, have contributed to the growing inability of this generation to form concrete relationships. This simplified representation of this generation, even if it seems biased due to association of the author’s own experience and mixed perspectives between narrator/ author and characters, allows readers to get a larger, global idea of the lived experience and the challenges of Generation Y.
Overall, Nast only provides an assessment about observations regarding the “generation of impossible relationships”. He recommends that this generation should try to tackle its issues; however, he doesn’t provide constructive solutions on how to improve the situation.
- In the absence of proposals with regard to a possible action plan for “Generation of impossible relationships”, other solutions have to be identified
Indeed, the author only makes observations with a rather pessimistic tone of the egocentrism of this generation. Nast could have focused more on the recent changes in the organization of work, such as flexible working hours and teleworking, and the fact that many young people start working in start-ups or create their own structures to be more independent. “Healthy” solutions are mentioned in the book but from a slightly ridiculous perspective. For example, the author mentions ideas for a healthy diet, i.e. a vegan diet, or gym memberships (which people often give up on half-way), as well as having a psychologist, which, according to the author is now a standard for people in their thirties. However, these choices can have a strong positive impact on people’s lifestyles, or have become, for others, a real necessity. It is therefore important to identify appropriate solutions on a case by case basis.
Generalities among an entire generation come into conflict with specific examples of those who make up this generation. Indeed, what is a real danger for Generation Y is a current state of exhaustion or even burnout resulting from the stress of a permanent digital connection combined with an increasing workload, which the generation tries to respond to by means of multitasking. In this context, the author correctly finds that Generation Y does not take the time to stop for a moment to see what is going on internally on a personal level, allowing its cohorts to ask essential questions about the purpose of life. Given the author’s strong popularity in Germany and his role as a spokesperson for Generation Y, it is precisely this path of reflection that the author could have developed further by proposing concrete solutions in the field of personal development. Such solutions could take the form of a combination of mindfulness practices (i.e. starting with breathing exercises for a few minutes every day), sport and a healthy and balanced diet, on the one hand, and the development of critical thinking in relation to political and societal trends on the other hand through individual or academic continuing education. Indeed, these tools are now available for free or at very low cost, via websites, applications, and MOOC (for “Massive Open On-line Course”), just to name a few.
In conclusion, reading Nast’s book will help you to obtain a simplified view of the pitfalls of Generation Y. Nevertheless, we recommend opting in for a more critical and nuanced perspective when you read the book, asking yourself why this generation actually faces these issues and identifying possible solutions to each of the issues raised throughout.
“Generation of impossible relationships” is a bestseller of the German political weekly Der Spiegel. Michael Nast, author and columnist, born in 1975 in East Berlin, regularly publishes on the subject of Generation Y. He was designated spokesperson for his generation by German newspaper Die Welt.