This is What Millennials Are Going to Kill Next
“Alright, alright. Let’s get started,” said Fran from one of the sleek, modern armchairs nearest the whiteboard. “First things first, I just want to say good work everyone. As some of you know, one of our recent initiatives was featured on the Today Show. We got a full four-minute segment from Kathy and Hoda on how we’re killing the top sheet industry.”
Applause rings through the co-working space. Like every first Wednesday of the month, they’ve rented the largest meeting room, which is listed in the online catalogue as The Disruption Hub.
“The Today Show? Is that live-streamed?” asks Erik, a burly early adopter of cryptocurrency.
“It’s on TV,” said Kyle, Fran’s second in command. His curly hair is a dull brown but neatly trimmed.
Erik looks at him blankly.
“Oh.” Erik’s reaction is joined by a few murmurs of recognition.
“Anyway,” says Fran. “It’s always nice to see that our work is making an impact, and to the boomers, the Today Show is still a pretty big platform — ”
“Who cares? Why should we care about the mouthpieces of the analog establishment?”
“For God’s sake, Maureen-”
“She has a point. When are we going to-”
“All in good time,” says Fran.
These sort of debates are nothing new, but she allows them to keep the peace. Better to let some harmless steam escape than to let dissent boil over.
“As we’ve discussed at length on Slack, these superficial stories are vital for keeping the powers that be distracted,” she continues. “I know the top sheets aren’t a big deal, but it’s extremely important that they be received as such.”
“Just another relic of the 20th century! Fitted sheets forever!” says a guy toward the back. His declaration is met with a few ironic cheers, before Howard jumps in with characteristic snark.
“Nice, Jon,” he says. “How’s your sheet-share startup coming along?”
“That’s enough,” says Fran, trying to strike the balance between good-natured amusement and gentle authority. “With the success of the top sheet story, we need to get started with some new initiatives. We have several proposals on the agenda today. Are we ready to start, Kyle?”
“If there’s no pressing matters-”
“We’re out of cold brew!” calls a voice from the back, to scattered laughter.
“Then get a kombucha,” says Fran. “Okay, then. Who’s first?”
“Anita Cardenas,” Kyle reads from his laptop. He keeps the agenda and meeting minutes perfectly updated and organized in the shared Google Drive. Anita, a short woman in a slouchy cardigan.
“Hey everyone,” she says. “I think our next target should be one that affects many of us. Like a lot of the products and industries we’ve taken down, it’s one that relies on deception and inconvenience to keep us consuming. The good news is that it’s a fast-moving industry so I think we could see significant change in a relatively short period of time.”
“That sounds great,” says Kyle. Fran isn’t surprised at his interest. He’s all about low-hanging fruit and measurable wins. “What’s your proposal?”
“Our next initiative should be to end fake pockets.”
The suggestion is met with a smattering of applause, mostly women and non-binary people, but also some men.
“Huh?” says Erik. “What are you talking about?”
“Seriously?” says a woman sitting a few seats away. “Half the time when I buy pants, I get them home and take the tags off to find out the pockets aren’t pockets.”
“What do you mean the pockets aren’t pockets?” Erik says, annoyed.
“Look!” cries another woman, who walks right up to him and gestures to the fabric illusions stitched on her hips.
“Okay, okay” says Fran. “For those who don’t know, manufacturers of women’s clothing frequently design garments to appear as though they have pockets when they do not. It’s partially for looks but also to save fabric and to push women to buy bags.”
“How would we go about ending this?” asks Kyle.
“The first step is simple,” says Anita, still a bit nervous but seeming to draw confidence from the charged response of the room. “We stop buying anything with fake pockets.”
“Easier said than done,” a woman calls out. “That’s money and time I don’t have!”
“It would definitely require more conscious consumption,” says Anita, patiently. “But it would fit perfectly into our brand: feminist, pragmatic, and local.”
“Ha!” Maureen shouts. “Yeah, big feminist stand there!”
“That’s exactly the point!” Anita shoots back. “That’s exactly what the boomers will think: just those stupid millennials causing problems about things that don’t matter. This will not only discourage this deceptive fashion practice, but it does so while making us still look shallow and harmless.”
“Very nice,” says Fran, smiling. “I like it. Functional improvement without arousing too much alarm… Did you get everything Kyle?”
“Great. I think that’s definitely a possibility for our next initiative, but we do have to keep things moving today. Thank you, Anita.”
“Next up is Ernesto,” says Kyle.
The skinny young man with an undercut hairstyle proposes that the collective set their sights on Outlook.
“The email platform?” asks Kyle.
“If you could call it that,” Ernesto sneers.
The proposal sparks a spirited debate about style, function, and the ongoing power of Microsoft.
“While I think Outlook is definitely a problem we’ll have to deal with eventually,” Fran starts, giving Ernesto a sympathetic look. “This is definitely going to be a long-term battle. I don’t think it’s something we can make moves on in the next few months, but if you’re up to it, you can start a committee to study the industry and come back with a more detailed approach.”
Ernesto looks a little disappointed, but gives her a nod. Although she’s used the tactic before, Fran is always surprised at how a simple request can build trust with someone or distract them from a rebuke.
The next proposal is also tech related: Chad wants to completely eradicate the world of wired computer mouses. But the consensus is that this issue will take care of itself within the next three years.
Xioux gives a poised presentation of the inefficiencies and dangers of combined freeway on- and off-ramps, but it’s also set aside as a long-term prospect to investigate.
“Infrastructure is such a beast,” says Fran. “That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but we’ll need to get some of our people on the inside.”
They get through a series of more light-hearted proposals for new industries and products to take down: cuff links, baby carrots, valet parking, and Velveeta cheese.
Then Amit rises and maneuvers himself into a gap between the tables, chairs, and couches. His wears well-tailored slacks and a sharply-pressed Oxford shirt, though his black hair shags over his forehead.
“We’ve waited long enough,” he says. His deep voice is even, his speech is not rushed. He’s done his homework, probably binging on TED talks about public speaking. “It’s time to take on the 40 hour work week.”
After a hushed moment, crosstalk takes over the room.
“Hell yeah! Finally!”
“What? Are you serious?”
“Do you really think we’re ready — ”
“Quiet down,” Fran says loudly but calmly. Silence spreads from those sitting nearest to her until it reaches the edges of the gathering. There are still a few whispers and glances exchanged, but all attention is on her.
She looks directly at Amit, her face inscrutable, and says, “the 40 hour work week is a key part of our ten year plan.”
She knows that Amit knows this. Her brain is formulating the right approach to shut down the proposal without resorting to the authoritarianism that was the downfall of her predecessor. “Why do you think we should move up the timeline?” She’s fairly sure he has no arguments beyond the usual: I want it now.
“We’ve already made significant progress,” Amit begins. He seems to have expected the question. He has no notes but doesn’t have to grope for words. “Working from home, freelancing, side hustles — the growth of these practices have already paved the way for a post-40 workforce, as I call it.”
Fran can’t help but let a small smile cross her lips. The term would be perfect for headlines. She has no interest in changing the timeline, but it’s a nice touch. She’s sure Kyle will get it in his notes.
Amit looks around at the room and Fran takes the opportunity to take in the mood of the rest of the assembly. The millennials are focused on Amit, some rapt with attention, others dubious, but most just looking on with noncommittal curiosity.
“The social acceptance of an untraditional work schedule has never been so high,” he continues. “The tide is turning and we don’t need to wait any longer. With more and more of us moving up in established companies, and others starting their own, we can now start instituting alternative schedules.”
“My alternative schedule sucks,” says a man from the older end of the generation, maybe 35 years old. “I work at one of those work-when-you-want startups, which really means work all the time. And when I’m not taking customer success calls on my phone, I’m using it to drive for Lyft. I would kill for a 40 hour work week.”
Amit turns to the disgruntled man, who has bags behind his square-framed glasses. “That sounds like a really difficult situation.” Fran smiles as she watches Amit try to handle the guy. “But if we can create a new norm where work-when-you-want actually means something, then we’d be able to get past that illusory form of freedom.”
“Yeah, my sheet-share startup has a really generous time off policy. If you’re looking for-”
“Oh shut up, Jon!” says Howard, who turns back to the exhausted Lyft driver. “And just because you can’t manage your time doesn’t mean we all have to be cubicle jockeys.”
“Oh, is that what I need to do?” the driver shoots back, his face flushing a color just shy of magenta. “Manage my time? Great, why don’t you send me some productivity blogs, Howard?”
“Let’s reel it in a bit,” says Kyle. “I think we’re getting off-track.”
“Kyle’s right,” says Fran, glad he spoke first. It keeps her from looking too aggressive. “Obviously, taking on the traditional work week is going to be a huge task. We have to contend with major corporations, the gig economy, and the trouble of constant communication. There’s a lot to unpack. That’s why it’s a long-term goal.” She says it soberly, successfully disguising her relief that objections have derailed the proposal before she had to.
“It’s not going to be easy,” says Amit, his voice finally starting to show a bit of frustration. “But waiting isn’t going to make it happen any faster!”
“It’s not about waiting,” says Fran, gently. “As you all know by now, we’re playing the long game. That means that the moves we’re making now might seem painfully slow, but that’s what allows us to stay under the radar. As long as our victories seem small, we remain an oddity — just another segment to fill the news cycle. Make no mistake, I want the 40 hour work week gone as much as you do, Amit. But lasting change takes lasting effort. Like you said, we’re already making tons of progress. But considering your passion for this issue, would you be interested in leading some research into that progress? Sort of a State of the Work Week presentation?”
She can see in Amit’s eyes that he knows she’s trying to handle him, to placate him with minor responsibility without committing to any action. He holds her gaze for a moment.
“Of course,” he says. “I’d be happy to. By the next meeting, I’ll have a full overview of our progress until now and action items to accelerate change.”
Fran smiles demurely, getting Amit’s signal that he won’t be brushed aside so easily.
“That would be great, Amit,” she says. Fran turns to Kyle, “That was the last proposal on the agenda, right?”
“Well, Amit was the last who submitted in time to be put on the agenda but…” Kyle pulls out his phone to check the time. “We did have one more person who asked to be added…”
“It’ll only take a minute,” says Vanessa, all smiles beneath her braids. She breezes by Amit as he returns to his seat. She also doesn’t have notes but the way she engages with the room and meets people’s eyes is much more natural. Whereas Amit’s attempts at connection and comeraderie felt rehearsed, almost calculated, Vanessa has the easy charm that creates a rapport before she even speaks.
Fran has always appreciated Vanessa’s ability to uplift the room, but she’s also grown wary of her. Charisma is a weapon and Fran knows she is outgunned. She just hopes Vanessa doesn’t realize the depth of her influence.
“I’ll keep it quick,” Vanessa says, through her burgundy-painted lips. “I’d like to suggest that the next industry we kill is hot dogs.”
“Seconded!” calls a vegan named Shawn. “They’re instruments of cruelty — for both people and other animals.”
Different pockets of the room take the proposal in a number of different directions: animal rights, the environmental effects of livestock, the class dynamics of food justice. There are also grumbles from foodies, who bring up free-range livestock and the importance of food trucks.
Before Fran or Kyle can jump in, Vanessa pipes up: “Whoa! I wasn’t trying to start World War III!” The girl’s smile is a hit of visual dopamine.
Vanessa’s meager joke is met with chuckles and brings the room’s attention back to her. Fran notes Vanessa’s effect on the gathering and looks on, wondering where the proposal is going. She happens to know that Vanessa loves bacon. It figures frequently on her food and DIY-focused Instagram, which has more than 14,000 followers. Whatever Vanessa’s motive, it’s not related to ending meat consumption.
“It seems like there are a lot of reasons people want to take out the hot dog industry, and that’s great,” she says. “But it helps to have a prevailing storyline, you know? And is it’s something too serious, it won’t get the same coverage. So instead of taking any of those angles — which are really important — let’s give them another ‘look at those crazy millennials’ story.”
“What did you have in minds?” asks Fran.
“The buns,” Vanessa says simply.
The room plunges into confused silence.
And then Fran makes the connection. She’s opening her mouth to speak when Vanessa goes on.
“They never match,” she says with an impish grin. A few groans of understanding, a few laughs. “You never get the same number of hot dogs as you do hot dog buns.”
The laughter swells and overtakes the room. It’s impossible to separate the reception of the idea from the popularity of the messenger.
“It’s perfect!” says one woman a few seats from where Vanessa stands. “It’ll drive people crazy.”
“I figure we can tap into all types of narratives,” Vanessa says. “That we’re spoiled, lazy, entitled.”
“And alone,” Fran adds. “We can work in the fact that so few of us are married and have kids. Why would we buy whole packs of hot dogs?”
“Exactly,” says Vanessa. Fran looks back, trying to read her smile. Whether enemy or ally, she will have to keep this influencer close.