Are you a millennial?
Congratulations. You’re the most spoken about person on the internet. The magical myth of The Millennial.
“2 Out of 3 Millennials Don’t Own a Credit Card.”
“Survey Says Millennials Want To Live In New York, Research Suggests They Should Live In Philadelphia.”
“Career Tip For Millennials: Be Clear, Concise And Compelling.”
“Will McDonald’s new, hip move attract Millennials?”
These are but a few of the news headlines bobbing about the internet this morning: all of them directed to, or talking about, the grand and elusive ‘millennials’. Busy bunch, we are.
It is a little word that has come to carry a heavy load of meaning – so who exactly is the media’s ‘millennial’, and do they even exist?
It is important to note that for as long as the earth has spun around the sun, the older folk have been grumbling about their younger counterparts.
As far back as 700BC, Greek scholar Hesiod was having a ripe old time lamenting the foolish youth of his day.
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words,” he wrote. “When I was a boy, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.”
Which is basically an ancient Greek way of saying – “Kids of today, ammiright? Jerks. All of ’em.”
Time hop to any home, at any point in history, and the scene would be the same: two parents with furrowed brows, sitting at the kitchen table, exchanging concerns about the youth of the day.
It didn’t matter if they were sowing fields, sharpening their axe, or sweeping the floor of their prehistoric cave; the ‘younger generation’ has always been viewed as lazier and ruder than the last. Naive and mindless, blessed with an unfair advantage they just don’t appreciate.
It’s always been that way.
We ‘millennials’, therefore, are just a modern update on an age-old practice – collectively labeling peer groups in order to try and understand them.
And trust me when I say this is nothing new.
In the early 20th century there was the ‘G.I’ Generation’ and the ‘Silent Generation’. Then the ‘Depression Babies’ birthed the ‘Baby Boomers’ who birthed the ‘Baby Busters’; and the ‘MTV Generation’ was nipped at the heels by Generation X, Generation Y, Generation Z…
And yet – with every push of the turnstile, the newest model of humanity apparently becomes worse and worse. The rock’n’roll teen rebels of the 50’s were trumped by the free-love hippies of the 60’s, which were both made to look positively angelic by the LSD munching, bra burning, violent protesting activists of the 70’s. On and on…
In his article titled, ‘Why Do We Always Sell the Next Generation Short?’, writer Adam Thierer notes this phenomenon.
“And so it goes generation after generation,” he writes. “Not only does every generation have its doubts about the younger generation and their new technologies and forms of culture, but they often predict a sort of apocalyptic ‘end of history.’ ”
Hum. Sound familiar?
In fact, this inter-generational concern is such common practice, it even has a name: ‘Juvenoia’, meaning an “exaggerated anxiety about the influence of social change on children and youth.”
But even taking into account the natural human inclination to worry about the younger generation, the concerned ‘millennial’ murmurings seem louder than ever before.
The term 'millennial' was coined all the way back in 1987.
Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe first used the term in their book Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 to describe the group of men and women born from 1982 to 2004.
Little would they know how prolific this word would become.
The word 'millennial' today brings up 21,900,000 search results through Google, with over 1,440,000 news articles existing online that use that word in their headline. People love to talk about millennials.
And little wonder: we are in the driving seat of one of the most rapidly changing societies our world has ever seen. There's a lot to talk about.
We've got unprecedented and pervasive technology (smart phones, tablets, virtual reality), an impending environmental crisis (global warming), random violence (ISIS fuelled terrorism) and financial pressure (static wages, ballooning cost of living).
We're the first generation in a long time for whom owning a house, buying a car, or going to university might be unaffordable for almost everyone.
But we are also the most diverse generation in many decades, and should be celebrated as such. We are bolstering LGBTI rights, feminism, mental health awareness, and racial equality. The hidden shames of previous generations - being gay, being poor, being unhappy - are no longer skeletons in the closet. The message of the millennials is acceptance, diversity, and honesty.
It therefore goes without saying that the stereotype of 'the millennial' as the incapable and indulged adult-child, with no life skills and too much attitude is wildly inaccurate.
But you know what? It's is SO tempting to use. And as a journalist and content writer - I can honestly say that I use it all the time. Guilty.
The 'darn millennial' tag (usually paired with an eye roll) is a quick and easy solution to understanding how the world works. Everything from Donald Trump to global warming comes at the hands of the lazy, entitled millennials. It's an easy type of person to market to. The jokes about lazy millennials are almost too easy to make.
It is the staple 'type' that everyone from advertisers to workplace protocols use when deciding how to communicate to the younger folk. But for every millennial who has walked straight out of an episode of 'Girls', there is another woman who has mortgage repayments, private health cover, and a ten year plan.
There is no 'type'.
The millennial tag might be a fallacy...but it's going to be a hard one to shake.
Adam Conover is a comedian and the host of myth-busting series Adam Ruins Everything. He also thinks the 'millennial' tag is inaccurate and offensive, tackling the topic in his performance at Deep Shift Conference in March of this year.
"You can't treat them as a monolith," Conover said. "Almost any statement made about millennials as a group other than how diverse they are is going to be false by virtue of how diverse they are. Right? All they are is young."
Conover refers to the famous TIME Magazine May 2013 cover story on millennials (pictured above) which reads, "The Me Me Me Generation: Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents."
In his performance (which you can view here) Conover points out the the media have been slandering the previous generation in this fashion for decades.
In 1960, he points out, Life Magazine ran a story that claimed "the phrase 'to make a living' could have absolutely no meaning" to baby boomers. And in 1990, TIME magazine published a cover story that asked if Gen X were, "Laid back, late blooming, or just lost?"
And now it is these very generations who are looking at the Gen Y age group and shaking their heads.
Millennials have been wedged under a microscope of our own making.
Social media has given rise to a prolific ping-pong game of news, information, self-help, self-analysis, and self-involvement. We've been sucked into a vortex of extreme self reflection on a daily basis, and continue to feed the endless hype machine of Understanding The Millennial with every click/like/share.
In fact, we've maybe even convinced ourselves of our own flaws.
Phoebe Lockhurst of The Pool writes about the 'young fogey': a millennial so terrified of their future that they've adopted the same conservative practices of person double or triple their age. In short, we've gone soft.
Apparently, we are an era of clean eating, germaphobic, exercise obsessed, image-regulating fogies.
"We’re all anxious and neurotic," writes Lockhurst. "And on a connected note, we’re all hopelessly self-obsessed with presenting our lives favourably on social media. We’re too self-possessed to enjoy the thrilling abandon of previous generations: someone might share an unflattering picture of us on Facebook the next day."
Well, maybe that part is true.
Whilst I rail against the extensive stereotyping, I can certainly see the truth in Lockhurst's words.
The swooping judgements - lazy! indulged! anxious! - are now morphing from harmless titters into widely discussed attributes of a generation. It's impossible not to believe them...even just a little bit.
And for my peers? It's high time to stop the mass review and starting considering our own personal challenges and attributes.
You are not a Buzzfeed listicle on the 'Top 5 Reasons Millennials Can't Even Deal.'
Nor are you TIME's "...lazy, entitled narcissists who still lives with their parents."
You are not a stereotype.
But then, that's exactly what a narcissistic millennial would say, isn't it?