The Digital Nation for College Grads Pissed About Living with Their Parents
"Seceding is the first step to success."
Image: Daniela Gilsanz
Like unpaid internships and the Apple Watch, being forced to move back in with mom and pop after graduating college is part of the rich, earthy shit-tapestry of our generation. But if you're feeling self-conscious about trading nights at the club for bingeing on your parents' food and mooching their cable subscription, you could always turn your childhood bedroom into its own secessionist territory.
Lah Lah Land is the latest micronation—startup nations that are often little more than a flag and a website—on the scene, joining other recently invented countries like Liberland and the Kingdom of Enclava in Croatia. But Lah Lah Land isn't the kind of micronation with serious aspirations of being recognized as a sovereign state. Instead, it's of the other sort of made-up country: based on the internet and in the bedrooms of whoever becomes a "citizen." Namely, unemployed grads.
"Doing this is a way to overcome [embarrassment] and say, this is okay, and that we can bond over this," Daniela Gilsanz, who created Lah Lah Land and refers to herself as "Princess D," told me over Skype. "We can find all these people, get together, and say, 'You are not alone. You are part of a nation with all these people in the same situation.'"
Gilsanz—I mean, uh, Princess D—just graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and she told me that she's about to move back in with her parents. Lah Lah Land's purpose, according to Gilsanz, is to give people trading their pride in for free rent a way to reclaim some of their dignity by applying for citizenship, printing out a flag, and annexing their bedrooms. The country's tagline is "seceding is the first step to success."
The idea polishes good 'ole bootstrap-pulling individualism with a shiny Silicon Valley startup veneer and finishes it off with a dollop of self-help. But, in terms of online micronations, Lah Lah Land isn't that novel: many of the longest-running micronations like the Aerican Empire, founded in 1987, began with a childhood bedroom—albeit with an actual child inside—and a website. If micronations are strange little communities in their own right, then the internet is the glue that holds them all together.
Despite Gilsanz's sunny optimism, it's hard to deny that there's something pretty depressing about the idea that this is what it's come to: fake, jokey claims to territorial independence, because, you know, actual independence is out of reach. Census data from last year indicates that just above 50 percent of 18-24 year olds are living at home, and roughly 15 percent of 25-34 year olds.
The reasons for this are debated, but crushing debt is a likely a significant factor. It's gotten so bad that some students are "debt striking," or refusing to pay their loans back into a system that they feel ripped them off. Organizations like Strike Debt, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, have even popped up to encourage people to resist their creditors and refuse loan payment. Strike Debt also buys up packets of anonymous debt from banks selling them for pennies on the dollar and abolishes it.
"Maybe it's less depressing than we think," Gilsanz said, when I asked her about the dark side of Lah Lah Land's entire reason for being. "[Moving in with your parents] makes financial sense. I'm from New York City, so for me, it was kind of a no-brainer because I can have free rent in a prime location. We should be able to make fun of ourselves instead of saying, 'I live with my parents, please don't judge me!' Because nobody wants that, either."
Lah Lah Land currently has seven citizens, Gilsanz told me, most of whom she knows personally. This is a tiny number, but it's pretty much par for the course when it comes to micronations—even vintage ones—which are usually made up of someone's friends and family and primarily based on the internet.
Gilsanz told me that she hopes Lah Lah Land will one day have many more citizens, and this would certainly benefit her in her own quest to move out of her parents' house. "I would maybe show it in a professional setting," Gilsanz said, "It's not the end goal, but I'm interested in branding and community, so that's where I'd like to head."
I guess this is all just to say: welcome to 2015, where you can join a fake internet country to feel better about going back to sleeping where you once wet the bed because everything sucks.