Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Killing It

How's this for a headline: "'Psychologically scarred' millennials are killing countless industries from napkins to Applebee's — here are the businesses they like the least." Here's a better idea. Maybe certain industries, products and ways of doing business are simply dying because the times, they are a-changin'? The Business Insider article lists 19 things that Millennials, scars and all, are "killing" this week. I noticed that I don't do much with many of them myself.

Casual dining chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee's - An observation: People in my circles were referring to a certain restaurant chain as "Crapplebee's" back when my circles were still exclusively Gen-Xers. You didn't go to "casual dining chains" for the food. You went there for a gathering or whatnot at a place that served some semblance of food. I haven't set foot in a casual dining chain restaurant in over a decade. Mainly because my friends don't think of them as useful gathering places anymore, and I don't work near enough to one that its a place to hang out with coworkers after work.

Beer - I'm not a beer drinker because, let's face it, beer is an acquired taste, and I've never been interested in doing the work to acquire it. And again, many of the people I hang out with, most of whom are Gen-Xers like myself, aren't beer drinkers, either. I don't know why Millennials drink less beer than previous generations, but maybe it's because they didn't spend their late high-school and college years (the time when most people I knew were acquiring a taste for beer) thinking that beer was ambrosia or something. It might also have to do with their being less cachet to simply being drunk off one's butt, which seemed to be a lot of people's goal in life back when I was in school. And there's the one factor that never changes - the disdain that many people have for mass-market beers. And the "craft" beers that the mass market brewers bought up when they became trendy.

Napkins - The only time that I ever purchased napkins was when I was having a party, because when you need 200 of them, folding paper towels down to napkin size is just too time consuming. Millennials didn't invent the idea that paper towels were just all-around more useful than napkins (especially when something spills).

"Breastaurant" chains like Hooters - Now, I never really saw the point behind Hooters and other breastaurant (I can't believe that's actually a word) chains. Going to a place with "casual dining" level bad food for the privilege of having waitresses in revealing outfits pretend to flirt with you just never appealed to me. Apparently, it doesn't appeal to Millennials, either. Which makes sense, considering that they are, for the most part, the generation that Social Justice Warriors are drawn from. It's kind of strange to think that people who see catcalling as a serious affront would patronize a restaurant chain whose whole shtick is making the wait staff into sex objects. But it seems strange to think of Millennials as "killing" this segment. After all, I'm old enough to remember when these joints first hit the scene. The whole thing counts as a fad, if you ask me. And fads aren't exactly known for their staying power.

Cereal - Most breakfast cereals are aimed squarely at children, and are designed to be sweet. I have some samples of "Reece's Puffs" cereal. While the box proudly proclaims that the first ingredient is whole grains, when you look at the ingredient list, you quickly realize that this is because they've listed every sweetener individually. But when those sweeteners are taken together you wind up with something that's literally 1/3 sugar by weight. You may as well pour milk on Jolly Ranchers. And while this is an extreme example, most breakfast cereals, even the ones aimed a adults who want a healthier diet (like Special K and Cheerios) add sugar. Anyone who cares about their health and/or their teeth is advised to steer clear of the stuff, no matter how old you are.

Golf - I have played golf exactly once. It was as boring as watching paint dry. But it also seems like one of those things that becomes simply more or less popular over time. And for right now, it's simply not that popular. Likely because I can't imagine spending a few hours watching a golf stream on the web.

Motorcycles - I like motorcycles, but I've never owned one. It seems to me that one has to be a bit of a motorhead to really be into motorcycles, given that they're not quite as easy to handle as cars are, and if you live in any sort of built-up area, you have a decent number of transportation options. Buying a motorcycle just seems like it wouldn't be a priority under the circumstances. Especially if you live in an area where you can't ride year round. I think there are exactly five people in my extended social circles who ride motorcycles regularly - and one of them had a father who worked for Harley-Davidson.

Homeownership - If you live in most urban areas, houses are simply out of reach of a twenty-something's salary. And that really applies if you live someplace where the housing values have skyrocketed. Housing values, especially in desirable areas, have outpaced the rate of inflation like crazy. And with lending standards being rather tighter than they were before the Great Recession, it can easily take more than a year's salary for a decent down payment. And with the Global Pool of Money constantly looking for anything that will generate a steady return, homes are attractive investments for wealthy institutions, which keeps the prices up. There is a difference between killing a market, and being priced out of it.

Yogurt — especially light yogurt - This strikes me as another fad. Again, I remember when yogurt was the hot new thing. It doesn't strike me as at all strange that it didn't stay that way.

Bars of soap - I was never really one to worry about germs on my soap. After all, it doesn't make sense to use soap to kill the germs on your body, if the germs are just as happy when the soap is there. But things change. Liquid soaps (or as the trendy like to call them, body washes) have been around for a while, and considering how paranoid the last generation or so of parents has been about things, it makes sense that people who were worried that soap could harbor germs would move to a form factor that didn't put all of the soap in contact with your body.

Diamonds - You'd have to be living under a pretty big rock by this point to not know that diamond prices are artificially high, and that "big jewelry" is behind most of the "traditional" amounts that you're supposed to pay for these things. I'm not morally opposed to spending $10,000 on someone that I simply loved to death (not that I've ever been in love) but if I'm going to shell out for an expensive gift, it makes sense to buy something that's not subject to one of the most egregious examples of artificial scarcity in the history of the world. Besides, women don't need expensive tchotchkes to pawn if the wedding is called off.

Fabric Softener - This is something that I can take or leave. I like tossing something in the dryer that will tame the static electricity, but then again, I live in an apartment with some pretty serious carpeting. I could power a cell phone with my bare hands some days. But again, this isn't a necessity, it's a nice to have. And even beyond being able to same money by passing on it, you have to have a place to keep it. And as housing prices go up, homes become smaller.

Banks (Physical branches, really) - Most banks don't really need much in the way of the brick-and-mortar presence anymore. And, given the work that banks have put into making physical branches obsolete, it doesn't make sense to lay this at the feet of Millennials. The main reason I still go to my bank from time to time is that it on the way to and from work, and I have an investment that I inherited that still pays out in physical checks every month. But even with that, if I never wanted to actually go to the bank, I could set it up so that I don't have to.

Department stores like Macy's and Sears - Millennials or none, Amazon and online retailing in general is sounding the death knell for the old-school department store. The example I usually use is J. C. Penny - the last time I bought clothing from there, it was cheap, but it had a lifespan measured in weeks. And the last time I went clothes shopping at a department store I couldn't find a single one of the items I was looking for in my size. The salesperson helpfully suggested that I could order it online, and that takes us back to Amazon. Because it makes more sense for me to by things from an online retailer that I use already, than it does for me to open up yet another online account that I'm unlikely to use again for years at a time; in spite of all the spam that they'll send me.

Designer handbags - Has it occurred to anyone that maybe Millennial women have finally clued to the fact that you can score a well-made handbag without spending an arm and a leg? It's just like anything else. I wouldn't spend $300 or more on a designer laptop bag, when any relatively decent manufacturer can make one for a lot less.

Gyms - So business insider says that Millennials are "ditching gyms in favor of boutique, class-centric centers." In other words, rather than pay to figure it out themselves in a giant room full of other random people, they're paying to have someone instruct them on what to do. This seems like simply another shift in the marketplace, given the number of people I know who have (or are) personal trainers.

Home-improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe's - Huh. People who can't afford to by their own homes don't go to home-improvement stores. Never would have guessed. When I go to home improvement stores, its for things like lamps. mainly because the selection is decent, and it's closer than the nearest department store.

Football (Football on television, really) - One of my big gripes about cable television, before I dropped it, was paying big bucks for sports channels that I didn't watch, because they only rarely played the sports I was interested in - like English Premier League Football/Soccer. But here again, the issue isn't Millennials. It's football. A lot of American sports have adapted themselves specifically to television. And so when television's dominance began to slip, the sports that had tied themselves to it also started to slip.

Oil - What they meant by this is that younger people don't see the industry as viable, in the long term, and therefore aren't rushing to work in it. Which makes sense, really. Everyone has known for some time hat eventually, we'd run out of oil, and as the consequences of fossil-carbon-based fuels become more noticeable, people are shying away from it. Sure, the oil industry is likely yo die slowly, rather than quickly, and in this sense, it makes little sense to say that Millennials are "killing" it, because it will likely survive them, but that ship is slowly foundering, and so it seems reasonable to not want to get on it now.

In the end, what strikes me about the constant "Millennials are killing things" yammering is that it predicates a failure of industries to adapt to changes in society, and social tastes, as the doing of a generational cohort, rather than the industries themselves, which is the way we always thought of it before the World Wide Web came along, and everyone was competing for the catchiest (if not necessarily the most honest) headline. I mean, no one ever accused us of "killing" the typewriter, even though we pretty much abandoned them in droves for computers and printers. And our shift to corresponding by e-mail didn't earn us credit for "killing" the postal service, which we all understand is a shadow of its former self.

Maybe that's something else we can hope that Millennials will kill - the "[Random age cohort] is 'killing' things" headline.

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