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Business - Written by on Sunday, April 13, 2008 17:28 - 3 Comments

Naumi Haque
Net Gen and the un-American Dream

I came across a book review in the NY Times last week that made me realize that the era of the American Dream might be coming to an end (has ended?), mostly due to a combination of Wikinomic forces; namely the global Net Generation and rising global economies/Worldsourcing.

The review in the Times, “Wonder Bread and Curry: Mingling Cultures, Conflicted Hearts,” speaks of immigrant children in the US and “the generational process of Americanization.” I can’t say anything good or bad about the book itself, having not read it, but the entire notion struck me as quaint. The idea of cultural awkwardness among Indian immigrant children in the US – the embarrassment of bringing a curry sandwich to school instead of PB&J – is sooo 1985. Having grown up in a predominantly Anglo-Saxon city myself (I was always one of two or three minorities in my class in grade school), I can sympathize with the author’s plight. However, reading through the book description, I couldn’t help but think that the whole idea of Indian-born parents wanting the American Dream for their children is becoming somewhat dated.

From the book review:

“Jhumpa Lahiri’s characters tend to be immigrants from India and their American-reared children, exiles who straddle two countries, two cultures, and belong to neither: too used to freedom to accept the rituals and conventions of home, and yet too steeped in tradition to embrace American mores fully. These Indian-born parents want the American Dream for their children — name-brand schools, a prestigious job, a roomy house in the suburbs — but they are cautious about the pitfalls of life in this alien land, and isolated by their difficulties with language and customs.”

Perhaps I’m biased by a multi-cultural, Canadian outlook, but looking at trends in youth demographics and global innovation, it seems as though the new challenge could very well be a generational process of Indianization or Chinaization, and not Americanization. The Net Gen, unlike previous generations, is a relatively culturally-sensitive (if not culturally-curious) one. Bollywood-inspired films are making their way to Hollywood, travel abroad programs are growing in popularity, and curry is making its way into pub menus and supermarket aisles. What’s more, the new global youth culture may very well come from countries such as India and China – the Net Gen demographic in these areas combined is almost 10-times larger than the entire Net Gen population of North America.

Image Source: Bride & Prejudice movie, 2004

On an economic level, we see an advancement in innovation in developing countries that is bolstered by “hothouse” conditions, such as low-cost, and increasingly high-skilled labor; local wage-earning customers; active government involvement in the private sector; and greenfield technology infrastructures. This creates fertile ground for economic growth, meaning global firms no longer have to base operations around North American headquarters. Combine this with a generation of disenfranchised immigrants that came to North America with hopes of a better life, but in fact left engineering jobs and PhDs to become cab drivers and burger flippers (pardon the stereotype). Increasingly, I wonder how much incentive is left for families to emigrate away from rising economy countries to come to an uncertain economic future in the US.

When we take all of this together, it seems as though “the Dream” is increasingly an un-American one. The Net Gen isn’t expressly interested in having two kids, a dog, and a house in the suburbs – at least that hasn’t been my experience. And so, the next generation of immigrant “exiles” that straddle two cultures could in fact be American children trying to accustom themselves to naan and biryanni lunches, bhangra music, and Hindi language communication – or maybe it’s Mandarin, C-pop, and chopsticks.


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Dwayne Phillips
Apr 14, 2008 9:26

But look at the quality of life in an American and Canadian suburb to that in India, China, or Africa. This is subjective, but clean streets, clean lawns, working water and sewer, working electricity, and on and on. These life and health factors are not common in those countries.

Apr 15, 2008 15:19

Bollywood is making progress in Europe as well.

Naumi Haque
Apr 28, 2008 15:27

My good friend Criag just pointed me towards a book that seems to touch on many of the same themes as this post. From the book description of “The European Dream: How Europe’s Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream” By Jeremy Rifkin (author of The End of Work):

“The American Dream was based on economic growth, personal wealth and independence. It was synonymous with love of country and patriotism, frontier mentality and the unbridled exercise of power. Yet what were once considered prime virtues – cherished and idealised not only in America but throughout the world – are increasingly seen by many as drawbacks and even impediments. But while the American Dream tires and languishes in the past, a new European Dream is being born. Today we see a new set of values emerging which are focused on sustainable development, quality of life and multilateralism. More cosmopolitan and less concerned with the brute exercise of power, the European Dream is better positioned to accommodate the many forces that are propelling us into a more interconnected and interdependent world.”

A preview of the book is available from Google Books.

Now available in paperback!
Don Tapscott and Anthony D. William's latest collaboration, Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet. Learn more.

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