Luxury in the Millennials' Age

A former editor for technology at Newsweek, Dan Lyons is a columnist at Forbes and a screenwriter for HBO’s hit show “Silicon Valley”. In his New York Time’s best-selling book “Disrupted” (Hachette Books) Dan shares his “misadventures in the start-up bubble”. His comments on Millennials at work provide an interesting perspective on the future of luxury.

It seems that your experiences in the start-up world have provided you with some important insights into the "Millennial" generation. Would you agree? If so, and according to you, what are the defining characteristics of this group or generation?

I agree. I think one defining characteristic of Millennials, one your readers might find interesting, is that they have a different conception of what "luxury" means. My generation, I think, connected luxury with time — objects that have already lasted a long time or that are built to last a long time. Objects that transcend time. I do not think Millennials have as much regard for that. Maybe no regard at all.

Dan Lyons

The start-up culture described in your book appears to be defined by speed, relatively short attention by Cyril Demaria spans, impatience, and a lack of in-depth knowledge. However, in "Meta Luxury" Robins and Ricca define luxury as a combination of timelessness, knowledge, purpose, and history (itself the result of longevity, culture, and effort). These two worlds — the Millennial culture and luxury — seem at odds. What is your analysis of these opposing value systems? Is the culture of start-ups and Silicon Valley "antiluxury"?

Yes, I think the current ethos of Silicon Valley sets itself directly at odds with the concept of "luxury." Look at how most of these people, even the very successful and wealthy ones, dress. Look at how they eat, how they live. They are middle class and defiantly so. They regard things like nice clothing (expensive suits, well-made shoes) as ridiculous.

Luxury is, in a way, a line of horizon in human activity: the best humanly produced at a point in time. Is there any reason to believe that luxury as you understand it could survive the dual Millennial theses of "minimum viable product" and "fail fast"?

I don't think so. I think Silicon Valley has thoroughly embraced the idea of "minimum viable product." Apple may be an exception but its rhetoric is bullshit. Apple sells an image of "luxury" or "near luxe" products but really its products are ordinary electronics with a tiny touch of design savvy and a huge dollop of marketing. People are easily fooled. An Apple Watch is not a luxury item. But it is marketed as one.

Luxury, as much as fine arts, requires the ability to set aside one's self to explore and appreciate. But is there anything beyond self-centeredness in the start-up world? More specifically, when reading your book, "changing the world" appears as a leitmotiv for the younger generation, while at the same time being subject to multiple interpretations. Not all of them look altruistic, which raises the question: is there altruism at all in the Silicon Valley?

It's difficult to generalize. There are people doing good things in Silicon Valley, trying to solve hard problems. There are even some who really do hope to make the world a better place. (One example: artificial intelligence will make the world a better place. Self-driving cars will make the world a better place.). But the Valley also now attracts the kind of people who once would have gone to Wall Street trying to make a lot of money in a short period of time. Vulgar, tacky, uneducated, narrow, and greedy. Charlatans. Hustlers.

There are both kinds there.


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