Domestic Cozy: 7

This entry is part 7 of 13 in the series Domestic Cozy

Domestic cozy is something of a pre-emptive retreat from worldly affairs for a generation that, quite understandably, thinks the public sphere is falling apart. I’m not sure that’s wrong. The world looks forbiddingly difficult to break into today compared to when I turned 22 in 1996, or even compared to a few years ago. More to the point, it increasingly does not seem worth the effort.

The Zoomer slogan appears to be: the world is not mine oyster, I don’t have a sword to open it with, and there are no pearls to be found out there anyway.

I don’t entirely blame them. They have it far harder than the smug older generations — and this increasingly includes the oldest Millennials — yelling at them to toughen up. Software eating the world has made a lot of little things much easier, but a few big things incredibly tougher. Net, everybody above 25 had it easier, by a little or a lot.

The contrast between the 2019 zeitgeist, and the heady excitement of the dotcom era propelling me and my peers out into the world circa 1997, convinced we were going to have great lives, is just wild.

What is domestic cozy a retreat from? To probe the question, I tweeted a prompt asking for antonyms of cozy, and got a variety of intriguing responses, which I’ve attempted to plot in this word cloud.

The suggestions seem to cluster into four groups, representing retreats from discomfort, ceremony, deprivation, and danger respectively. There were also three proposals for archetypal antipodes to the domestic cozy condition, which map well to three of the four clusters. Domestic cozy is not an airport (discomfort), or a minefield (dangerous), or a mansion (ceremony). I added desert as a fourth archetypal location representing deprivation.

If you put the four repulsion forces together, domestic cozy seems to be a retreat from uncomfortable and dangerous zones of deprivation and/or ceremony.

The Four Horsemen of the Weirding

Discomfort, Danger, Deprivation, Ceremony. DDDC, the four horsemen of the Weirding apocalypse. Population: Z. With plummeting rewards for tackling any of them.

That last one may seem odd, but it actually makes perfect sense — think of the kind of unpleasantness you endure when you have to put on stiff formal clothes, and go to a highly ceremonial event where you have to be on your best behavior, and follow a bunch of exhausting social norms. The phrase is standing on ceremony, the opposite of slouching. The fundamental public behavior driving access economics (as in access journalism). It used to be worth it. It largely isn’t anymore. Institutions that suits and ties used to buy you access to are increasingly not worth entering at any cost. What residual value remains has been captured by elites for their children. The coziest among the cozies.

If for the youngest millennials, the retreat was at least informed by the very mixed results of stressful exploratory forays through the recession and early Weirding, for Gen Z, there may never be much of an advance to begin with. I hope I am wrong, but signs point to a generation with stillborn public personas. If I were 22 today and had the option of remaining in my parents’ basement playing video games, I’m not sure I’d leave.

Four Retreat Vectors

Take some mix of the four DDDC elements and you get the premium mediocrity of Maya Millennial (think a financially precarious career teetering on the brink of destitution, forced to keep up ceremonial appearances, and inhabit a landscape of aestheticized deprivation behind an opulently formalist facade).

That’s life in the Mansion. It is harder to get, and worth less every year.

Take some other mix of those four elements, and you have people crashing through the API, rendered homeless amidst urban blight, dodging crazy homeless people and gingerly stepping around feces, fallen scooters, used needles, and condoms, as they navigate around high-rises they cannot afford to live in. As I was writing this at a Starbucks in downtown Los Angeles, a block from the premium-mediocre high-rise I live in, a crazy older homeless woman was attacking a man with a scooter just outside. I kid you not. The baristas called the cops.

That’s life in the Minefield. Watch your step as you hurry from mansion to mansion.

Or take an exhausted, globe-trotting, cosmopolitan Gen X middle manager, living half the time out of airport lounges, trying to beat the odds and craft a livable retirement out of a career in an embattled global industry trying to navigating looming world trade wars and climate change, hoping to retire before their employer gets disrupted by a software company with a tenth as many employees, or trade wars or climate crises destroy their industry. The dream is to walk away as things blow up behind you. Cool X’ers won’t look at explosions.

That’s life in the Airport.

Or take somebody from any generation, left behind in the desolate hinterlands of major neourbanizing metro regions, wandering deserted malls, abandoned construction sites, and increasingly desperate-looking big box stores in strip malls, waiting for the prancing and strutting Trumps on the world stage to deliver on election promises and make their ways of life great again. Or failing that — which they fully expect — deliver a bloody nose to those in mansions and airports, and dehumanizing those in the desert to the point that they don’t need to be thought about. The rent is still affordable, but livability is in precipitous decline.

That’s life in the Desert.

If you were 22 today and looking out at this landscape of options, would you want to venture out at all? Would you have the courage? If you had the courage, would you care enough about any of the prizes on offer to put in the effort?

Even the fraught precarity of premium mediocrity that older Millennials could access with some hustling a decade ago is not easy to achieve now, let alone the globetrotting cosmopolitan life in MNCs or the pleasant suburban life, that X’ers and Boomers enjoyed, for a while, when the world was briefly a more open place.

Is the picture really this bleak? I don’t know, but in some ways, enough people believing it is this bleak is all it takes to make the perception a reality. Domestic Cozy is indirectly a self-fulfilling prophecy of Blighted Public.

I hope someone spots pearls in the oysters soon.

Series Navigation<< Domestic Cozy: 6Domestic Cozy: 8 >>

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Is this how a 22 year old sees? I guess not. Perspectives of an aging person definitely are because they have seen a world that they deem is comparatively less complex. A 22 year old who just setting out doesn’t have the ground for a bias and moreover might not even be looking to head towards cozy!

    • Aruna Kumar says

      And, I have to concur with your view Madhavi. I had a boss once who often said to me, “it is the lens with which you view the world that is age-ing, there has always been a younger generation – and now you are not it!” I recall Oscar Wilde’s quote from I think it was something to the effect of there are only two tragedies in life, one is getting what you want and the other is not getting it. I think this “cozy” idea is perhaps a bit of the second tragedy archetype. :)

  2. I’m a US Millennial who got ahead of the curve on this issue by becoming hyper-conscious of my economic precarity sometime around high school in the early 2000s. I think it was the 2001 recession that did it, and then the 2007 financial crisis cemented the attitude in me. I’m a first generation immigrant and was always one of those socially awkward outsider kids who got into computers early on, so I became really aware that I had few prospects of any kind of social safety net to rely on, and all the economic and social institutions that I’d been implicitly relying on in my childhood in the 90s seemed to be unexpectedly collapsing. So really early on I retreated into an attitude very much like what you describe with the domestic cozy idea. I wanted to find a way to get outside of everything and wrap myself up in my own little comfortable mini-reality while everything burned to the ground around me. I did well in school and managed to use that to pretty much realize that ideal for myself by the time I was in my late 20s, but the original idea was pretty naive and probably too fearful in its basic attitude. I’m working on ways to go beyond “isolationism” without uselessly trying to dive back in to a society that’s just pretty much continuing to fall apart as before, but now instead of economics it’s collapsing along dimensions I’d never even conceived of previously…
    It’s interesting to see people starting to talk about the effects of being part of a generation raised on the internet. Due to being a loner I never had much insight into the question, but now that people are talking about it more, it’s really revealing some startling things about myself as well.
    Thank you for writing this blog btw, you’ve helped me think through a lot of things I was struggling with but didn’t have any good frameworks to think about. This is one of the best sites on the entire internet as of 2019.

  3. Progressian says

    I’m in my early 20’s and plan to live in a van. I have the van (it was bought for me by my small-sized trust), and I’m going to rig up a roof fan, a sink, a hammock, some shelving, recirculating shower etc. to make it so that I can live in something that’s not quite an apartment on wheels. A/C is way too expensive and not really needed anyways… just drink water, stay in the shade, ventilate, and go somewhere during the day with A/C if it’s really that hot. I wound up tent camping for two months out of a car at various campsites, and this is what convinced me that I can tolerate or even like this kind of living.

    I’m doing it so that I can save money (long term plan: financial independence, maybe by working in a physical labor job like electrician), be more flexible in my life (moving sucks!), have more minimalism in my life (being more viscerally in contact with the things that sustain my life), and be more in touch with the outdoors (my sleep schedule and …satisfaction? improved when the sun woke me up every day and I had to tough out temperatures). Plus I might get to regularly travel and see my friends around the country.

    Is this domestic cozy? I suppose in a sense it’s sort of like I’m preparing myself to survive unpredictability in the future, by being frugal and saving resources for when I might need them. But I’m also feeling like it’s a good bet anyways since, if things grow rather than decay I can pursue a larger range of lifestyles than is implied by being tied down with a house and bills, without having to rely on hotel-hopping or couch-surfing. A lot of my time preparing for this is spent on thinking about basic comforts such as clear- and grey-water management, cooking and food storage, and building the electric system without frying the batteries or appliances… I don’t want or care to put in fancy curtains and wood (like you see on the #vanlife Instagrams) unless I feel like that’s something I want later, after I’ve lived in it for a while.

    I see the world political and economic stage and think to myself, “This is all really confusing and I don’t know what’s what.” I could try to reduce some of that confusion, but it’s an infinitely deep rabbit hole, and I’m tired of going down it. I satisfy myself instead by retreating to blogs like slatestarcodex and this one, and hoping I can learn some useful things instead of getting politically charged one way or the other. Perhaps that’s also domestic cozy?

    (I dunno, this is all really confusing!)

    • Your whole mindset is virtually identical to mine in my early 20s. It’s kind of uncanny. In the end I never did go live in a van because I got a job at a startup that made me enough money that I could have that kind of flexibility but still live in an actual house. I guess you can take it as a good sign that someone in a similar situation and with similar views was able to be successful by his own standards, even if I ended up taking a different route, and I don’t know how much has changed in that regard between 2009 and 2019. If you end up anything like me though you have a hell of a ride ahead of you trying to make all that work in modern first world societies. Good luck :)

    • TerenceMcKenna says

      “I can pursue a larger range of lifestyles than is implied by being tied down with a house and bills, without having to rely on hotel-hopping or couch-surfing”

      When I was nearing 23 years, I designed, built and set off traveling in a used 06′ Ford with a 24″ top and solar panels, etc. Though vanlife is a sort of domestic cozy, it is also ambitiously taking on a whole new set of skills and efforts, not the least of which is the constant relocating of parking, eating healthy, and avoiding substance use. After 18 months I was pretty burned out, and began renting an apartment again. If I didn’t work in software, live in a cold winter state, or end up with a girlfriend at that time, I may have stayed cozy enough in the van.

      …But I started an ultimately toxic relationship instead and suffered all sorts of trauma to my psyche, quite a bit more than the sizable than the trauma of van-dwelling all across the country.

      I’ve now mostly healed from both and find domestic cozy in simply working and going to home to a room in a shared house. Its relatively cheap and has the some free social satisfaction not built-in to solitary living (van or apartment). I have more free time and energy than I would in the van, much of which goes towards working. Once I save a bit, I’ll probably quit the job and go van-dwelling again, so I can visit friends cross-country without trying to balance that with work. I was initially (and still am) inspired by Tim Ferris’ “mini-retirement” idea. Backpacking, without bike or vehicle, is in some ways the best option if you stay in regions you enjoy sleeping outside and can figure out transportation for where you want to go. I did this for a month in Kauai a few years prior the van idea and I still look back on that as the happiest time of my life. Workaway is another good option, depending on what you want out of your lifestyle and budget. Good luck in your journeys!

  4. I feel as though the ‘tiny house’ movement should be mentioned here. Bespoke trailers. ‘We might be able to have something beautiful, but it will be tiny’ (and people need to fight government/council legislation to be allowed it. Let’s hope the older generation sorts that out). Hard to fit kids in those tiny houses, too.

    • >Hard to fit kids in those tiny houses, too.
      If your neighborhood is safe, there’s no actual need to fit your kids INSIDE your tiny house most of the time. It wasn’t that long ago that people were clutching pearls about kids spending too much time indoors, but it seems that faction has completely capitulated by this point. The actual fact of the matter is that if your air is clean and the environment is safe, the more time you spend outside the better you feel and the healthier you are (this coming from an introverted guy who considered himself the “indoors” type most of my life, much to the detriment of my health and happiness). So there could be some secondary advantages to tiny houses or RV living in that respect

    • J.G.Ballards ‘The Enormous Space’ might be its psychotic version. I wonder the story hasn’t something to say about ‘Domestic Cozy’ either.

  5. I’m an early millennial, in my early thirties. I have managed to get 3/4s of the way towards premium mediocre, but I’m crashing rapidly. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my Romantic partner I would have crashed down towards domestic cozy years ago. All my fantasies involve moving to a small cabin to read books.

    I made it to a midling position in my chosen career, but the job is a classic Bullshit Job and I’m crap at it anyway. The psychic torture is not worth the cracker jack prize and if the zoomers can see it, good for them. I wish them luck wherever they go.

    • >premium mediocre
      I really can’t believe how well Venkat nailed with this concept the thing that bothered me by far and away the most about American middle class society that I couldn’t put into words, that made me basically completely give up on it straight from high school and decide “I need to get rich and just sit at home and play video games forever, because what all the adults around me are subjecting themselves to is indistinguishable from some kind of bizarre torture”.

    • I relate to this comment so much! That`s my ultimate fantasy too, and people look at me crazy when I say that. But what`s crazier is trying to make it in this world as its disintegrating all around and not many seem to care. Now that I`m in a midling position too, I can`t fathom how the previous generation actually put up with it.

  6. It’s interesting, thank you for sharing.

  7. Zoomer reminiscent of boomer. The goal of it is to create aa divide between gens y and z.Not calling us that.

  8. If what we’re now calling ‘the public’ is where only grifters rise to the top, because pretending to be good is easier than actually being good, and the epistemic climate is so clouded with crap and noise that no one can quickly and reliably distinguish between real and fake, and competition is now so harsh that the energy savings of being a pretender has become the decisive factor…why even bother? Actually being good at something is now only decisive in an arena that isn’t oriented around competition…private life.