We know. You love hating on millennials, that shiftless, whiny, useless generation overrunning the streets with their brunch and their black-rimmed glasses. We never had it as hard as you — oh, except for how many of us have endured war for over half our lives, along with multiple economic downturns, skyrocketing costs of living, rising education expenses, a student loan crisis…but yes, other than that, we have it laughably easy. To be 30 in this day and age is to have no perception of our role in society, and really, what have we contributed? Right?
Selena Simmons-Duffin took on that very issue at NPR last year, and she had some delightfully crispy words on the subject. She points out that millennials are at the forefront of innovation in the US right now, especially in the tech sector, and that we are much more diverse and liberalised than previous generations. We are old enough to have begun to shape the communities around us, not just to participate in them, and the shaping we are doing is having a powerful effect. We are the next generation, and we are growing up — in fact, many of us are grownups, at this point, and yet, we’re still being treated like spoilt children.
‘Millennials have already steered the country to a place where diplomats tweet, gay marriage is turning mainstream, and running a blog can be more financially secure than a company gig…If we’ve done all that before 35, get ready,’ Simmons-Duffin notes, challenging the notion that people can only create change with age, and that coming into maturity is the only way to be able to make a social difference. People of all generations have something to contribute to society, and innovators can develop and execute a new idea whether they’re 17 or 70, or 10, in the case of Cory Nieves. We are a generation with tremendous power.
We have been shaped by the circumstances in our environments, just as previous generations have. While the tech industry has come with some high social costs as well as benefits, it is undeniably changing our environment, and thus, developments in it are critical. Developments outside tech are no less important and millennials are playing an important role in those, too. While we’re sometimes cast as tech-obsessed brats who can’t look up over our laptops, we’re everywhere, doing all sorts of things, and it’s a grave injustice to write us off as people tethered to gadgets who can’t imagine functioning in any setting without working cell networks and a power outlet.
As I travel, I meet all kinds of people in their 20s and 30s, doing all kinds of amazing things. These are the everyday millennials, the people all over the world creating change in large and small ways. They’re launching new devices, they’re creating apps and websites that offer innovative services, but they’re also creating time banks, and coming up with more efficient and better ways to cook and dig wells, they’re improving the practice of medicine and the scope of available medical treatments, they’re creating a brand new and fascinating world. And they are my peers. They are my fellow millennials. These aren’t even the people like the titans of tech, the Zuckermans of the world, the billionaires barely older (and in some cases younger) than I am. These are ordinary people.
Just like the ordinary people of previous generations, my ordinary people are doing something remarkable, and amazing, and outstanding. And we are continually trashed by members of older generations who seem to feel a sort of obligation to dismiss us, to make it seem like we are contributing nothing of value or importance to society. Many people don’t seem to understand the scope of the work done by my generation, what we’re doing for the world, the kinds of cooperative projects we’re working on to make the work a better place.
In the fact of continual reminders that older generations think it’s hilarious and necessary to talk trash about us, it’s perhaps not surprising that some millennials become insular, lash out by in turn speaking ill of older generations. Just as we are not spoilt, older generations are not hidebound, resistant, and unable to deal with change — but it often feels that way when we’re being caught up in the latest meme where people talk about how useless we are. This sort of ‘kids get off my lawn’ attitude is counterproductive and dull — I always want to ask if this is really the best people can do, if this, trashing us, rather than getting to know us, is really the tack that people want to take.
We have so much to offer, we are offering so much, that it’s offputting to continually be denigrated. And while this is something common to all up and coming generations — the previous generation was told their worthless, as were their parents, and so on, it’s still frustrating to encounter. You’d think that generations could learn from their own experiences, that we could collectively move beyond troped treatments of people who are younger than us.
I confess, I am looking forward to seeing what the next generation does. I want to see how they reshape their environments, I want to see what they inherit and what they do with it, I want to see how they improve on the things we have developed and explored. We are passing down a heavy debt to them, something that troubles me deeply, but we are also passing down a fascinating and lively legacy with so much potential — and rather than trashing what they do with it, I’d rather learn more about their lives and where they’re coming from.
Image: Young Girl Blogging, after Ramon Casas i Carbó, Mike Licht, Flickr