The discourse comparing one generation to another is one of enormous breadth and depth. It is led by business magazines like Forbes and the Economist, who have been trying to help their subscription cope with the Generation Gap. In these articles, Millennials are usually at the forefront of speculation.
"Difficult to work with? Us? What do you mean?"
What's interesting about these articles is that they are universally written by non-Millennials. This isn't to say that their observations aren't valid, but rather that they didn't grow up in the very unique realm of the tech-saturated New-Millenium world firsthand. Since I have had the benefit of this experience, I'm going to try to give an insider's perspective.
The Millennial Condition is a term I'm using to identify a set of common experiences that have shaped the growth of our generation's character. It begins with a simple premise:
Millennials Are Somewhat Disconnected From Reality.
I grew up getting trophies for participation, watching cartoons in the backseat of my family's SUV, and carrying a Gameboy with me everywhere I went. As a result of economic abundance and the proliferation of new forms of entertainment technology, my imagination was largely insulated from the oppressive forces of "the real world." I was never told that it was stupid to play pretend. I was also told that I could be anything I wanted.
Perhaps it was naïve of my parents to raise me with this sort of attitude, but they were told the same thing when they were kids and they turned out fine. My upbringing bred in me an optimism that I boundless.
But there was another paragon that did as much or more to steer me towards toward optimism. He lived his life with an excitement that was in wild defiance of his mundane surroundings, and because of this he triumphed, even though sometimes the people around him thought he was weird or pushy.
With good intention and a zest for life, anything becomes possible. And what makes this hero's message even more powerful is that he's an undersea frycook! And if Spongebob doesn't need a fat paycheck to be happy, then why should I?
What is so powerful about the tech revolution is that it opened me up to a limitless number of different perspectives. The variety of people that I have witnessed/interacted with digitally is daunting to think about. They range from enraged online gamers to artists to biologists to lion tamers.
But they have all helped to teach me a single lesson: no two lives are the same, and all lives are equal in their beauty. What's most important is to celebrate what it means to be you.
In the last twenty years, schools and popular culture have begun to work towards dismantling ideologies that are condemning of The Other. Technology and more inclusive modern thought have conditioned into Millennials a deep appreciation for the diverse potential of human life. It is because of this that...
Millennials Are Especially Open to Multiple Narratives.
Our generation has developed a reputation for being very comfortable outside of the box. We have no interest in "climbing the ladder" the way our parents did, in fact we'd rather find ourselves an elevator.
Many of us were lucky enough to have experienced an education that is, in comparison to that of previous generations, very progressive and tech-driven. In the workplace, we are known for searching for alternate solutions, even when they are apparently unnecessary. We are known for being, in a word, non-linear.
But this desire runs deeper than just a problem-solving style. Part of a Millennials' upbringing, according Forbes writer Rob Ashgar, is a penchant for challenging the will of authority that was conditioned into us by our parents, the Baby Boomers. Because we have been bombarded by so many ideas and images, we have evolved to question everything that we are told to the nth degree.
Ashgar writes, "If a manager asks a Generation X employee to jump, the employee jumps and then asks, "Was that high enough?" But if a manager asks a millennial employee to jump, the employee is more likely to furrow an eyebrow and ask, "Why...?"
What I like about this observation is that it demonstrates that we are a generation on a quest for a greater purpose. Silicon Valley helped the American youth of my generation reinvent their expectations for the future, and now it has fallen to Millennials to start changing the system to fit this new vision.
But in this battle we have one great enemy: ourselves.
Millennials Have A Large Attention Deficit.
Humans have become a race of compulsive multitaskers. Sit in the back of any large lecture hall in the country, look out over the crowd, and I don't even have to tell you what it will look like.
Our smart phones are constantly pulling us away from the here and now. Because we've been engaged from the youngest age, it's natural that our degree of attachment should be the highest in the workforce. We're used to doing a number of tasks at once, which is fine, except for when we need to focus on one.
A shortage of experience and concentration often leads us to do things too fast, which is probably the reason that our older counterparts often criticize our work for not being "polished" enough. We tend to glaze over the details in favor of the bigger picture,
Your Gen X boss be like...
So how do we save the world?
Already, our generation appears to have a concept for a world that is very different than the one that they have inherited. We are disillusioned with the "Make money; spend money" consumerist narrative, and are in search of careers that are less strenuous and more fulfilling.
But the sad truth is that, if we want more, then we are going to have to find ways to make change happen. And change doesn't come about easily. Change takes planning and cooperation, on a large scale, and so far there hasn't been much initiative of this kind from Millennials. None that has caught the attention of the mass media, at least.
It has been said that the insulating effect of a digital upbringing is also an isolating one. That, thanks to social media and television, Generation Y has lost some of its capacity for making interpersonal connections. Or some of its desire. I don't know to what extent I agree with this, but I do know that, right now, nothing could be more important than coming together.
If we don't organize and come to a consensus on what kind of world it is that we're trying to create, then the opportunity to create a better world will slip away. That's the hard and eventual reality. Just ask mom and dad.
"Anyone else down for Woodstock 2.0? Maybe with crazier lights and more bass this time?"