Thanks to William Strauss and Neil Howe, my birthdate lands me with the term ‘Millennial’, dripped sneeringly from the lips of those Gen X-ers (born ’61 – ’81) for whom Gen Y (’81 – ’00) holds little standing. It’s derisive and speaks to the tension between generations (now we’ve learned to classify ourselves as such, and raise the drawbridges around our terms of self-identification) that seems to exist ever-increasingly in a world which is changing too fast for anyone, really, to keep up with.
We’re seen as the selfie generation – the “Me! Me! Me!” chorus in the sidelines of the way life plays out – imagining ourselves central to productions. We’re told we’re the most civic and community minded, but also the most coddled. We’re the ones who’ve paid through the nose for academic qualifications we can’t get jobs for, and so drift, transient, on a sea of professional discontent, seeking the myth of safe harbour.
We’re the spoiled ones who live in our parents basements, sponging free wifi and forgetting to change our bedsheets until reminded. Our beliefs in the traditionally safe and stalwart institutions which governed the Baby Boomers, have become wishy-washy. Our minds are filled with liberalism and sparkly fluff, preferring to check our Social Media statistics rather than engage with the world around us, and What’s Wrong With It.
We’re the second generation too young to have fought in a major war, and we’re guilty of beginning to forget the lessons learned by those who lived through one, or just after. We’re unproven by life, finding our crises (and redemption) in a series of progressively inconsequential #FirstWorldProblems.
We’re determinedly upbeat, preferring to believe that everything will turn out okay, in the face of economic instability, drastically reduced earning potential and diminished housing options from the generation before us, and an entirely uncertain future which seems, like as not, to end in being nuked by someone, at some point. We have our heads in the clouds, either because reality is too impossible, because we’ve realised self-help doesn’t help, or because we’re just too damn stupid to understand any of it.
We aren’t like those sweet little Gen Z-ers, keen to volunteer and change the world. We haven’t recognised the value in our educations like they have, and we refuse to cherish the idea that learning for learning’s sake is a Good Thing. If it won’t get us anywhere (and it won’t), we don’t bother with it, instead pouring out our every unedited thought through the World Between the Wires, desperate for the approval and endorsement of our peers throughout the network.
We’re confidently narcissistic, over-sharing our every moment as our anxious, more reticent elders roll their eyes in consternation at our lackadaisical behaviour. We write rants (like this one) which neatly and circularly encapsulate our egocentricity and lack of consideration for those beyond the bounds of our own, precious, unique experience.
We don’t want anyone else’s philosophy of life. We don’t want to know why intergenerational reciprocity might help us, or why the underprivileged of our own generation feel that the traits and stereotypes of Millennialism simply can’t apply to them. We’re too busy being trophy kids, elevated on the proud shoulders of anyone willing to play fluffer to our bewildered (but very determined) psyches.
We’re selfish techno-weenies, who cling to the intrinsic nature of our own entitlement, unable to open our eyes to the possibility that alongside rights, go responsibilities. We’re knowledgeable without research. We’re competent without qualification. We passed with minimal testing, and we’re owed. We’re bandwagon-jumpers, who took the beginnings of technology and sent it into flagrant, worldwide success. We’re wasteful consumers in a throwaway world. We’re adaptive and fluxuational. We make words up as we need them.
We’re the existential, cosseted corollaries of our forbears, and an embarrassment to our successors. We’re the ones who draw scorn from both sides, having been damned by the timing of our births and the made-to-order worlds we were born into.
Much as it pains me to write all that preceded, and to admit “I resemble that remark”, I have to disagree, fundamentally, with the idea that my generation can be so artlessly characterised (even in well-written satire).
We might keep our heads in the clouds but we’re fighting an uphill battle against overwhelming shifts for the worse in the spheres of education, finance, and politics. We’re the generation who hope against the trends that things might be better, as we’re strapped to a careening present we’ve not been adequately equipped to take charge of, and we’re trying to catch up.
On an individual basis, the Millennials in my acquaintance are a determined, irrepressible bunch, who hope to improve things for themselves and those within the circles of their care. They’re fighting ever more unbuckable systems, now the notions of flower-power and free love have ground to a halt on the cash-strapped shores of reality.
They can’t obtain a career because those things are so damn scarce, it’s a case of putting practicalities over pride and leaving the expensive qualifications on the wall as they take job after job to make ends meet. They live at home because their parents were the last set of people able to get a mortgage on just one salary. They rent and house-share because they’re saving for the hope of a future which lies who-knows-where. They don’t worry so much about retirement funds because they’re not sure they’ll be around (or be allowed to be around) to appreciate them.
They travel, because why not? They seek experience and relationships and new horizons, because the boundaries which once seemed so staid, have become subject to lightning change. They adventure. They connect. They still believe in love and light, and people being stronger together.
We’re all on the bell-curve of likeability and personal circumstance, forsure, but the advantage of our egocentrism is that we hope you’ll take us as individuals – people in our own right, whom you should weigh and measure first – before you dismiss us as ‘Millennials’.
In our endless (and much photographed) quest for selfdom, we’re increasingly aware that we’re all far more alike than different. We continue to search for meaning in a world which tells us we’re part of something it would rather sweep under the rug, because dammit, we think we matter.
And what’s more, we think you do, too.
So: let’s be open to suggestions – how are we going to go about healing the breach?