Who and what are Millennials?

Updated: Jan 19, 2019

Apparently, this is what Millennials look like according to a popular stock image website

The “millennial question” resurfaces again and again, and I am yet to discover any coherence between answers. There does not seem to be an agreement even on the age range. Some say it is as broad as 1977 to 2000. Often it’s just said to be anyone born after 1980. There is, also, always that separation between Generation Y (Gen Y) and Generation Z (Gen Z) to think about. And everybody seems to have different opinions on which generation deserves the eye-roll + deep sigh + “Millennials”.

First, let’s explore some differences between Generation’s Y and Z, with this convenient infographic:

What’s important to note is that the separation between the two generations is not always the same. A lot of people say Gen Z starts later, which explains why I, as a 20-year-old born in 1998, do not know which generation I belong to. The main reason being that I do not seem to relate fully to any of the two. I have an older brother, who is undoubtedly in Gen Y, which may explain why I was so influenced by everything Gen Y. I have much more memories of listening to Destiny’s Child and The Black Eyed Peas than Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, which were very popular among my peers. Simultaneously, the current 10-year-olds I’ve talked to seem to listen to completely different music and have much different interests. I didn’t grow up with tablets, my first phone, which I got when I was 7 because I started school, had one game and it was Snake. Sure, it was a fancier version than the original, but it was still Snake. I was barely aloud to touch the computer when I was younger, mostly, I just watched my brother in amazement when he did anything on it. I still can’t get into Snapchat, I really rather read a book than scroll my feeds and I consider myself neither entitled, nor lazy and I don’t agree with the concept of narcissism as described in popular media (as I think the “selfie culture” is not based on narcissism, but insecurity and the need for validation). Point is, I find myself in a very awkward middle ground and I know I’m not the only one. I have many friends who seem to be as confused as me. But it doesn’t matter which generation I fit into, because I am of the current working/thinking/active young generation, therefore I am percieved as a Millennial.

As such I am apparently entitled, narcissistic and lazy.

Simon Sinek, who is an author/motivational speaker has a very famous video about millennials in the workplace:

He defines millennials as being born after 1984 and goes on to explore four things that shape millennials: parenting, technology, impatience and environment. I am not going to go into all the things I find questionable about his ideas on the subject, you can find a perspective on that here. I am instead going to ask a simple question concerning the idea that four characteristics shape a whole generation: Does it not sound familiar?

Hasn’t every generation of “young people” been shaped by these things? Have they not all at one point or another been accused of being entitled, narcissistic and lazy? As an English Literature student I immediately thought: ‘well, what about novels and the language of literature?’. English used to be a peasant language in England between 1066 and 1466. I can imagine how the old French speaking aristocrats frowned upon the young people when they first started speaking in English. Their own ‘received pronunciation’ English, of course, unlike the commoners, but still English. Of course, these are my own assumptions, but they are fairly plausible considering the historical facts surrounding them. In slightly more contemporary times, we could consider novels. Before they were the good old-fashioned intellectually stimulating objects we currently view them as, they were as equally frowned upon, as Twitter is today. They were a distraction, a bad influence to the minds of the young people, especially when it came to women. Women were said to be unable of differentiating fiction and reality after reading too much. Similar things have been said about children and video games. We all know that there is always a pattern of generations clashing. Are all the bad things being said about Millennials due to the fact that they are currently the youngest generation of adults?

It turns out that I am not the only person who decided to look into those questions. I took my idea of the historical udermining of “the youth” to, you guessed it, the internet. I am a millennial, after all. I found this very interesting video, which examines how young people have been viewed thoughout history:

What is curious is that, quite often, the same people who complain about millennials want to sell products to them, because it’s profitable. I mean, have you looked at the advertisements recently? Watching ads nowadays is like walking through Shoreditch — beards, coloured hair and tiny glasses everywhere. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a bit ironic.

If you don’t quite understand what I’m trying to convey, here is a humorous video depicting the advertisements aimed at the youth:

Something else, which we seem to be prone to is this haunting, insurmountable nostalgia. This is probably due to the memories of the older generations of the times when they were younger and full of life. When their life-batteries were charged, and their phone-batteries non-existent.

But through the nostalgic and entertaining tales of “the good ol’ days” our parents and grandparents love sharing with us; through the constant romanticising of history in films and novels alike, we become ignorant to the issues of the past. Something worse, we sometimes even romanticise the struggle and the pain of those times.

Have we not all heard at least one person say:

Oh, I wish I was born in the 1920s (replace with any era)!

Do you? Do you really want to be born in the 1920s? When racism and organised crime were booming? Oh, and let’s not forget the Prohibition! 1930s — Great Depression… 1940s — erm, war… 1950s — cures and asylum for the gays; barely any women in collage; segregation… 1960s — constant fights for rights, war in Vietnam… and it goes on and on, because each decade has its issues and the issues mentioned here are just the ones, which were most recognised in the West (and only some of them). The point is, every decade, every generation, every year, every day even, has its positives and negatives. The latter, however, is often masked over by that feeling of nostalgia.

Where does that leave us? In this constant circle of looking down on the youth, whist looking over them and into the past, where we see our own childhoods, remembering the times when we had less worries and more freedom. And by practicing this backwards thinking cycle, one generation after the other, we are further fuelling our negativity towards the younger generations and towards our present situation. Problems are inevitable, but the solutions are rarely in the past. We must remember history in its entirety. We must remember the good, but we must also remember the bad, so we can recognise our progress and make sure we don’t repeat our mistakes. Most importantly, people should, as a collective, both younger and older generations, look forward together. Trust that Millennials are capable of carrying the burdens of the previous generations just as the next generations will carry those of the ones before them.

Children are the future.

We love saying that. Maybe it’s time that we actually start putting our trust in them. Before we criticise the youth about their new ways, which make them entitled, narcissistic and lazy, maybe we should remember that we were treated the same in our youth. And I suppose that when you read those comments about your own generation, you believed that it was not true and a total overreaction and generalisation, as well.

So who and what are Millennials? They are the equivalent of every generation, when they were “the youth”. They are the biggest generation yet, which makes them the hardest generation to generalise. They are a group of individuals, with different interests and beliefs, just like all the other “generations” before.

Take it from a Millennial — we’re not that bad. And if you don’t trust me, look at the statistics I’ve been telling you to stop looking at. And plus, if you “condemn” us all, who’s gonna tell you how to use your phone when it updates.


First published on Medium June 19, 2018

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© Gery Galabova.