(Ben Green) #1


The young people now in
high school, college and just
spilling out into the workplace,
part of Generation Z, are
frustrated, angry and scared.
In 2019, their exasperation
broke out in a firestorm of
just two words: “OK Boomer.”
The meme came about as
part of a viral TikTok video
—an irritated teenager writes
the phrase on a piece of
notebook paper in response
to a geezer who’s gassing
on about the folly of youthful
idealism—that gave voice to
millions of young people who
look forward to emerging from
college saddled with debt, only
to inherit a decrepit financial
infrastructure and, far worse,
a rapidly heating planet.
The phrase isn’t just a
teenage fad: Chlöe Swarbrick,
a 25-year-old New Zealand
politician, used it as a sly dis
when an older colleague cut
into her Parliament speech
on climate change. (When she
was told that he was actually
a member of Generation X,
she responded that “boomer
is a state of mind.”) And the
sentiment may be a divisive
force in the U.S. presidential
election; it percolated beneath
the surface of every one of this
year’s Democratic debates.
The field of candidates
stretches from the young (Pete
Buttigieg, 37) to the rather
old (Joe Biden, 77, and Bernie
Sanders, 78), with each end

of the spectrum expressing
skepticism of the other. Is
the country more in need of
youthful energy or the wisdom
of experience? “OK Boomer”
is shorthand for all that
Gen Z-ers and millennials
who hold the boomers
responsible for milking the
system dry are understandably
resentful. Yet many in the older
crowd have volubly indicated
their hurt feelings, asserting
that the meme represents
a gross generalization: plenty
of them do care about the
environment, and still have
the old ecology-symbol-
emblazoned jean jackets
to prove it. Many have been
politically engaged for
decades. Maybe this is the
time to remind everybody of
a much older catchphrase,
a meme of its day. The words
“Don’t trust anyone over 30”
originated in the mid-1960s
with Jack Weinberg, an
environmental activist and
a leader of Berkeley’s Free
Speech Movement, a group of
young radicals who fought for
the kind of change that many
in today’s younger generations
also desire. It’s young people’s
right to want to change the
world, and to find their own
words, but it’s the action
behind the words that counts.
OK, Gen Z. Show us what
you’ve got.
—Stephanie Zacharek


The “OK Boomer” meme captures the tension between
the young and old. But is it fair to be so dismissive?

The laTTer unicorns may yet prove the
naysayers wrong. But for now, if there’s any
relationship between the early consumer-tech
IPOs and this year’s flops, it’s in the business
philosophy that Google, Facebook and their peers
inadvertently passed on to future tech company
heads, who raised venture-capital money and
ran their businesses on the idea that one should
prioritize acquiring a huge user base over
achieving profitability. If you get the users, the
thinking has gone, profitability will figure itself
out over time. For a while, it seemed even Wall
Street bought into that philosophy —counter-
intuitive as patience might be to capitalism.
But in an era in which the cumulative years of
“we’ll figure things out” seem inextricably linked
to Big Tech’s lack of foresight around problems
of privacy and security, market dominance and
content policies, taking a bet on some of the
newer unicorns may represent more risk than
Wall Street can really bear.
The ride-sharing apps face the threat of
regulation of their contracted labor force;
WeWork, the reality that no matter how many
cucumber slices you artfully arrange in a water
jug, it’s hard to mask the dubious economics
of renting short-term space to risky startup
But as drama has swirled the unicorns, the
2019 business-software IPOs have chugged
forward in a more predictable fashion, and largely
out of the limelight, including videoconferencing
software company Zoom and the cybersecurity-
focused CrowdStrike.
It’s hardly surprising. When you think
about it, “move fast and break things”—the
old Facebook mantra—is the kind of energetic,
anticorporate philosophy that attracts fresh
college grads, that emphasizes a break from
the past and traditional ways. But for risk-
averse Wall Street, a more dependable, if less
inspirational, tagline might be “move fast and
build reliable software that can be described in
complicated B2B jargon and ensure profitability
from day one.”
Consumer tech is far from dead, and Lyft,
Uber and their peers could still pull things off.
But don’t be surprised if the next big wave of
successful IPOs aren’t “unicorns” but rather
“paper clips”—a bit boring, perhaps, but based
on reliable business software. Companies
where business-model drama is a bug and
not a feature.

Powell is the former head of communications
for Google and the author of The Big Disruption:
A Totally Fictional but Essentially True
ILL Silicon Valley Story









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