Craigslist Chic

Society changes as the younger generation rises to take its place and begins to supplant the dying-off elders.  It always happens and now is no different from when the Boomers supplanted the Silent Generation.  But we now have a problem since our economy is predicated upon consumption and yet incomes are declining and the demands upon the family budgets are growing. So how is that change occurring?  Watching Eldest and one of her peers, who I’ve had the privilege of knowing since that young woman was in early elementary school, is both educational and reflective of what’s occurring in the broader society.  It can best be described as what I refer to as Craigslist Chic.

With the news that family median income has again dropped to levels not seen since 1989 and poverty rising to new levels, it’s a new world for those who grew up expecting a particular lifestyle and finding that it’s simply unattainable.  There’s been an expectation of a newer house in the suburbs with newer automobiles, late model appliances and in a nod to this new generation, an array of interconnected devices that increasingly make up what is referred to as the sensornet.  And advertising continues to push this drive to have as much as it ever has, promoting the image and the goods with unabashed enthusiasm.  There’s obviously a gap growing here between the desire for the things and the ability to afford said things and the rise of Craigslist is one of that ways that people are managing to bridge that gap.

The site began two decades ago and in its earlier days, had a touch of the wild west aspect to it with news blurbs coming across about the occasional individual who was trying to sell a kidney or engaging in some odd and unsavory transaction.  As full disclosure, I managed to go for years without viewing Craigslist and only began to seriously view it after Eldest began perusing it on a routine basis.  The situation was now reversed because in their much younger years, I routinely monitored electronics and the media ahead of them and when the kids were truly young, I would periodically watch bits and pieces of MTV and BET to see what was happening with the culture.  At twenty years old, Craigslist is now a veritable institution on the web and as I watch, it’s become one of the key ways that the youngsters are bridging that gap so that they can far more affordably attain what’s been trotted out over the years by the consumer machine.

It has been fascinating to watch Eldest, who has the goal of her own place yet has grasped that the old ways of just walking in and furnishing a house or apartment en masse is no longer realistically operative.  She approaches the goal as a puzzle with the parameters of currently available funds, wants and available prospects via Craigslist; she is assured of safe storage because we’re already holding furniture left by other family members for when the kids are on their own.  I’ve watched her spend free time quietly perusing Craigslist with the occasional comment to her mother about how she likes this or that particular item and on a few occasions now, I’ve gotten the word that she’s gone to a particular place in order to look at one thing or another and sure enough, a piece of furniture winds up in my garage for safe disposition until its time is come for use.  In the case of the other young woman, my might-as-well-be niece, she furnished her first apartment via an assortment of means.  Utilitarian furniture came from her parents’ house to supplement what little she’d already accumulated, she purchased from highly discounted furniture stores and found to her surprise that she could purchase a like-new set on Craigslist for a fraction of what she’d seen the same set in a retail furniture store.  The site has become almost ubiquitous and the ability of consumers to connect with one another and transact goods outside of the traditional retail will only place even greater stress upon the traditional bricks-and-mortar economy, already stressed by the rise of online retailing.

The other aspect of Craigslist is its inherent teachable lessons in human nature, and this is where the youngsters might need some input from their elders.  It’s a truism amongst any retailer, either brick/mortar or online, that the customer is always right and almost all businesses at least make an attempt to honor that.  But Craigslist allows the person to interact with any kind of person and that goes partcularly to ethics – moral, immoral or simply amoral.  In my few instances of Craigslist usage, I’ve run into two instances of ethical lapses; the first was a misrepresentation about circumstances as a young adult trying to make a buck as a used car dealer misrepresented himself in a potential car sale while the second jacked the price of an item when he realized that he’d been dealing with my wife and I didn’t have a hard copy of what they’d discussed.  In the first instance, a young adult was with me and we walked on the transaction and in the second, I wound up paying an additional $30 on the deal that I didn’t realize the issue until I was almost home.  This doesn’t mean that all Craigslist sellers are dubious, because they aren’t.  But it does mean that if you know that your youngster is actually thinking of using it, it would be helpful to offer your assistance as they move forward and I suspect in most instances, they’d be willing to accept the input.  At the minimum, talk to them about some simple safety rules:  first and foremost, if you’re going to meet someone, make sure that someone close to you knows the physical details of the meeting – time, location and the identity of the seller, even if just the Craigslist identifier – and more preferable would be having someone come along with you.  Second, meetings when possible should be at public locations and if for any reason your internal alarm system is triggered – y’know, I’m a bit uncomfortable with this – find a reason to simply decline the potential transaction and get out of there.  Third would be to assure that you have a record of all communications – digital or hard-copy – to avoid the prospect of any he said/she said scenarios that might spiral out of control.  Beyond that simple threesome, you can discuss whatever other aspects you wish.

Having been around for two decades – an eon in digital terms – Craigslist and it’s peers aren’t going anywhere.  It serves a purpose and that will only increase as the youngsters use it more and more to help them bridge the gap between economic reality and the images of adulthood that they’ve been sold throughout their youth by the consumption machine.  But if you become aware that the kids are using it, feel free to offer your perspective because you have the experience factor that they haven’t yet acquired.

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