Thursday, May 15, 2008

In Defense of the Millennials

Radar just posted an article railing against the "Millennials," the generation of us born between 1982 and 2002, which includes me and assumedly you, dear reader. Lanham's article seems to be a composite of deeply entrenched generational contempt for the Baby Boomers, who gave his Generation X a name which implied anonymity and unimportance. He comes across as a jealous and "misunderstood" whiner, just the kind of person the Baby Boomers categorize as a Gen Xer. Lanham argues that the Millennials are coddled, and "think updating a spreadsheet while simultaneously posting to a Twitter account about the latest gossip on is an essential corporate skill." (Hello! Multitasking takes WORK. And that's where our "addiction to adderall and Red Bull" comes in)

I have to disagree with Lanham, though as a Millennial, obviously I'm a little biased. The Millennials are more plugged in than ever, with 80 million people blogging, and an obsession with Facebook and online media (like, ahem, RADAR) that sets us apart from generations before us. But are we really to blame for this? Gen X invented the internet. Lanham even concedes that they gave us Google and Myspace and Gawker. So if being an internet whore is a disease, we have the Gen Xers to blame for infecting us all.

And though I wail a lot about the creepy nature of Facebook, has there ever been a website that has so profoundly defined a generation? Everyone has a Facebook, regardless of what year you were born. It's used for work, school and social networking. It allows you to define and market yourself in a way that was both previously impossible and now arguably undeniably necessary. And we have a Millennial to thank for all that. Lanham himself even has a Facebook:

My generation has allowed itself to be defined by the internet, a bordering on sick obsession with celebrity culture and the monster of reality TV. We are self-important and naive in a lot of ways, because the internet has given us an alternate route that leads away from news stories like the death toll in Iraq or thinking critically about what tragedies like 9/11 actually meant to us.

But it doesn't mean we care any less about global situations or life in general-- we are simply using the internet in a different way than Gen Xers and their predecessors. Blogs are a medium we use to express our outrage - just today, a video of a 16 year old girl in Florida surfaced showing her begging for help in taking criminal action against her rapist. She says it herself: "I didn't want to do it this way, but this is the only way I know how." Is this a dumbing down of our generation- introduced and perpetuated by the Gen Xers's internet they invented and marketed - or is it simply a cultural shift, where Youtube becomes the new self-help radio show, and blogs become how-to guides and newspapers?

Labeled as "stoic," what Lanham and his fellow Gen Xers fail to recognize is that, as I pointed out earlier in this post, my generation is also using the internet in order to develop personal identities. There is nothing wrong with blogging, especially if it means figuring out who you are through writing, as opposed to the Gen Xer's mind-expansion-through-drugs method. (We still use drugs, but not for the same purpose - we are addicted to drugs like adderall that aid success, not curtail it) The point is that we are much more in touch with our feelings, and much more capable of articulating them because of the internet and blogging. Ask a Gen Xer - like my father, for example - to parse complicated emotions, and their faces fall flat and ghostly. The ability to recognize, analyze and discuss our emotions with each other sets us apart from the stoicism of Gen X, who invented the means for us to do so, but didn't properly take advantage.
Many coin Millennials as lazy and unrealistic about the "real world," but that could be said for everyone under 25. Let's not forget that if being a Millennial means you were born between 1981 and 2001, the oldest among us are only 27 - and the youngest are 7! Furthermore, we have a lot to be disenchanted and removed about: our parents and grandparents ravaged the earth, leaving us to have to pick up the pieces. The cost of education is only growing. The American government left us in a particularly fragile situation as we continue to remain at the crux of world disgust. We are frequently the product of broken marriages, feeding us with inaccurate and unfair relationship expectations, and leading us to place more value on consumerism and workplace success than romantic ventures. And if we were bred on TV and junk food and leniency, we have only our parents, the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, to blame for that. If we are thoughtlessly brand conscious, and "worship at the altar of Steve Jobs," then we can only blame the intensive marketing campaigns showered upon us by the Gen Xers that made us that way.

Millennials have their handful of fuckups that allow us to be branded as dull and drug addled and nonchalant. But what generation doesn't? The Gen Xers had Anna Nicole Smith, for fuck's sake!
Lanham and his fellow Gen Xers have a reason to be scared - not just of the millennial masses, which outnumber them by 50 million, but because of our drive, savvy and emotional connectedness. If workplaces and schools are catering to Millennials, it's because they should be - we are strong, resolved and ready to tackle this world, one Facebook login at a time.



Michele said...

Actually I think Lanham's bigger point was that Gen X was criticized for doing the same things that Millenials are doing. X-ers want work/life balance and we're "slackers." Millenials want it and they're "reinventing the workplace." Gen X "has a short attention span" and Millenials are "multi-tasking." I'm not sure that's the fault of Millenials, though. I think his bigger issue should be with the Boomers who are acting like this is the first time they're seeing any of these behaviors.

X-ers have been expected to "pay their dues," which we've been doing for 20+ years now and finally when it looks like it will pay off as Boomers begin to retire, they're handing over the cultural reins to Millenials, skipping our generation entirely. I think you can see where that might be more than a little annoying. It's like being in that meeting where a woman says something and everyone ignores her. But then a guy says the same thing and everyone thinks it's amazing. We feel a little like that right now. Stuff we've been saying/doing for a while and been criticized for is now being recast as the new way to be.

Marshall said...

The rap on Gen X and whatever the hell we are (I refuse Millenial) is that we didn't effect and engage in the social change that the Boomer generation did. Yet there's been a concerted effort to marginalize youth culture by pushing it to the forefront of society, thereby removing its teeth, so we can't entirely be blamed.

Plus the inciting factors such as the draft have been removed, thereby shifting the burden of war from the young to just the poor, who have not historically been successful agitators in this country. Nevertheless with something like 60million of us living today, to say we have so far failed in our generational responsibilities would not be an overstatement.

Bianca Reagan said...

I can't believe that toolio had the nerve to say "We created rap." What? No, you did not create rap. Rap was being created when you were still in elementary school.

Also, guy, don't decry the sweeping generalizations inaccurately placed on your "generation", then turn around and attribute those same falsehoods to your younger sisters and brothers. Doofus.

I get so annoyed when I read about 40-year-olds writing faulty articles and error-laden books about how lazy and spoiled Generation Y is. As if we can all be represented by one idiot dressed as Tinkerbell on his Facebook page. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

i'm a little late, but i wanted to say that, as a millennial (i'm 21), i thank you for writing this and generating positive discussion.