Petersen offers an insightful treatise on the 'burnout generation' that is a far cry from the essentialist portrayals of both generations that dominate the current discourse. Rather than dissect who is to blame for the plight (and it is a plight, histrionics aside) of millennials, Petersen offers a moving discourse on why the kids are not alright and, even more importantly, why they are not, despite how they’ve been characterized, the spoiled, lazy, feckless generation ... Petersen’s conversations with adult millennials are moving and unsettling ... The moments when Can’t Even grapples with the burnout that has now become the hallmark of the millennial generation are insightful and leave the reader hungry for more ... a must-read both for millennials and the generation that made them.
Burnout is a one-word descriptor that Petersen argues is capacious enough to encapsulate an entire generation’s crisis—even if it affects individuals and groups in wildly different ways ... Over the course of nine bleak chapters, Petersen seeks to show, basically, how much worse things are for millennials than even they might realize ... Although Petersen’s synthesis of the existing literature is cogent and clear, and although her anecdotal reporting nicely complements the studies she cites, little of what she writes is new or surprising. What is new is her argument that all of this—the need to work constantly, which began for millennials in childhood and never stopped—can be summed up with a diagnosis of 'burnout.' Our generational affliction is more than poverty or precarity; it is endless fatigue. Can’t Even is convincingly argued, but it raises a question: Is a psychological diagnosis really appropriate for such a varied, and fundamentally economic, affliction? ... Does the pressure a BuzzFeed writer feels to constantly post on social media and Slack really stem from the same condition that makes so many fast-food workers so tired and harried that 79 percent literally burn themselves, according to one 2015 study cited by Petersen? ... In spite of these critiques, Can’t Even is a powerful book. Petersen ably blends scholarship and reportage, but her most important intervention is her relentless empathy.
It is my sincere hope that millennials will read Can’t Even ... well-researched ... a sharp critique of boomer parents and employers ... readers don’t need to be personally burnt out for Can’t Even to resonate. If social media or the gig economy touch your life in any way, there’s something to chew on here. Fortunately, Petersen doesn’t offer any 'hacks' or 'tips' to pare back our busy lives. Instead, she advocates for societal self-reflection and an assessment of our values to spur change: Do we really want to live this way?