WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This editorial takes a look at Millenials but also the other generations…”baby boomers” and “generation X” who come with their OWN baggage. Are millenials really so unlike the generations that came before them? At the end of the day, if you take a close look, they may not be so different after all.
The millennials have surpassed baby boomers to become the country’s largest living generation, according to the Pew Research Center. How does that make you feel? Responses in the form of a selfie or an emoji are optional.
If you’ve never taken a selfie or used an emoji, indeed, if you stumble over the terms, you’re likely not a young-adult millennial. And you may wonder how things will pan out for society when they take charge. Especially since they never pry their phones away from their faces.
That’s not us talking. We’re, ahem, slightly past millennial age, but work closely with those in the 19-35 age bracket and they knock us out. However, plenty of people in older generations are puzzled by millennials, concerned that they will turn out to be less responsible than running the world requires. Nagging oldsters fuss over millennials’ quirks. To generalize (always unfair), the rap is that they’re technology-addicted, entitled and frankly rather soft.
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Psychology Today collected many of the perceived weaknesses in one paragraph: “They seek constant feedback and immediate gratification. They multitask and can’t focus. They’re sensitive to criticism and unable to work alone. They refuse to pay their dues. Don’t even mention their (limited) verbal and writing skills.”
The marketing world struggles mightily to understand millennials as consumers and citizens. Fabrizio Freda, a baby-boomer cosmetics CEO, told The Wall Street Journal: “Millennials are much more about immediate results than saving for the future. The 30-year-old today gets more photographs of themselves in a day than their mother did in a year, so they care about what their skin looks like now, not when they are 40.”
Talk about self-absorption. No, not by millennials. By boomers, who see the world through their own lens, crowding out the ability to look objectively, or generously, at the younger generation.
We’re not trying to shame Freda, who runs Estee Lauder. Millennials get grief all over. Writer Molly Worthen in The New York Times objected to millennial use of the phrase “I feel like” as an alternative to the declarative “I believe” or “I think.” She tied the squishy sentiment to the safe zone/trigger warning/microaggression movement: the silencing of controversial or provocative discourse in the guise of being inclusive and sensitive to others. Meanwhile, a put-down story about millennials in The Atlantic magazine was titled, “The coddling of the American mind.”
Each generational shift profoundly ushers in roiling changes to the culture at large that feel natural to the ones coming of age but startle older folks not paying close attention. Boomers as a group are set in their ways, and so is next-up Generation X. Millennials are still evolving, but one day soon, brace yourselves!, they will take power and reshape society based on their own experiences.
Already, their influence suffuses America. Offices look different because millennials have their own work style. Tattoos, beards, energy drinks, Chipotle, all millennial trends. Their priorities are different, their tastes are different. Everything about millennials is different. Except for one crucial, ironic twist: the concern this young generation sows in parents and grandparents. Looking down on the kids is something that never changes. Remember, boomers?
If you go back to the late 1960s, you’ll find the establishment was whipping itself into a frenzy over what to do about hippies, real and imitational. They would ruin everything! Young people were drug-addled (as opposed to “technology-obsessed” today), promiscuous (free love vs. Tinder and other hook-up apps today) and had awful taste in music (the Grateful Dead, compared to Deadmau5 today).
In August 1969, after the Woodstock musical festival, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal lit into the concertgoers as self-centered, uncivilized regressives who wouldn’t amount to anything. “It would be a curious America if the unwashed, more or less permanently stoned on pot or LSD, were running very many things,” the Journal sniffed.
The New York Times knew whom to blame: “Surely the parents, the teachers and indeed all the adults who helped create the society against which these young people are so feverishly rebelling must bear a share of the responsibility for this outrageous episode.”
Of course the boomers (who also mistrusted previous generations) turned out OK. Their cohort ended the Vietnam War, pioneered equality movements, started a tech revolution. But they didn’t do everything right. They created a hellacious pension debt crisis to fund their retirements. Oh and thanks for the college tuition hikes. That’s the judgmental voice of millennials, saddled with paying for the messes left by older generations.
American millennials will face rising challenges. But they are our most educated generation in history and our most diverse, too. They’re open-minded. They’re demanding (they want to work from home or Starbucks) and yes, coddled (everyone gets a medal for competing!). Yet they’re also flexible, caring and savvy.
The millennials are unique but, like preceding generations, will prove themselves extraordinarily capable. Our country will be in good hands. Maybe better.