What is a millennial? It seems like a hot-button issue – one that has tendrils all over that big ol’ collection of entertainment, knowledge, opinion, and crap, known as The Internet. It’s a Google hit-term. That’s for sure. What else? Millennials outnumber baby boomers in this country, and NPR has named them “The New Boom”. But do you want the truth of what a real “millennial” is?
“Millennials” is a marketing term.
That’s correct. “Millennials” is a marketing term. Nothing more. Nothing less.
There’s something inherently ridiculous about identifying an entire generation of people, but society has been doing stuff like this forever. Labeling a group of people based entirely on their age is rarely going to get you much more than Buzzfeed articles and overarching generalizations that aren’t really applicable once you hold them up to a level of higher scrutiny.
It’s true. There are over 8 billion people on this planet. Nobody is the same. We have different DNA, different personalities, and different fingerprints.
But what this sort of labeling CAN do is identify certain cultural indicators and how these indicators affect those young souls as they tip-toe into adulthood. “The Greatest Generation” grew up during the Great Depression and fought in WWII – both extraordinary in scope. But are they really the greatest just because Tom Brokaw coined them as such in 1988 (when he was nearly 50 years old)? What defines “greatest”?
Did they light the fire of the industrial revolution? No. Did they fight for independence from the most powerful country in the world – Great Britain, and win? No. Did they amend government to include rights for women? African-Americans? Homosexuals? No.
The reason I use “The Greatest Generation” as my example is that there are a few things those people DID accomplish that lend themselves to that fickle term of, “greatest.” They did kickstart the imperialist machine of the United States; she of world police, wars on terrorism or drugs, Bosnia, The Cold War, and The Middle East. The militarization of this country following Pearl Harbor was unlike anything the world had ever seen.
Same goes for the mobilization of the female working force, the male soldiership, and the national pride hoisted on Rosy the Riveter and countless others. If greatness is defined as being unique and exceptional – then those actions most certainly fall under that umbrella of exceptionalism. But “The Greatest Generation” didn’t exist until the end of The Cold War – well within the grips of Generation X. Sure, it sounds great – The GREATEST Generation – but it’s not accurate.
It was never really a marketing term, but rather a sort of postdated, cultural bookmark for a certain idealism – to a time before Vietnam, The Bay of Pigs, The Kennedy Assassinations, MLK, and Altamont.
Then the war ended and we found ourselves with “The Baby Boomers”; who were probably known best for their mass, their size, their economic power and spending ability, and their exodus to the suburbs. Some of them became hippies, but most of them remained hawks. Let us not forget, Eisenhower and Nixon sandwiched JFK’s presidency.
Next, we have Generation X; the children of the hippies and the hawks who rebelled against the hardness of the 70s and the insincerity of the 80s. And with Generation X, we have our first ancestor of the millennials.
Generation X was the first generation that found itself labeled and organized, at the time, by those outside of said generation. This sort of organization was used in an assortment of ways; including marketing, a capitalization on global consumerism, and eventually the supposed denial and rejection of those same elements of Reaganomics and free market economics (the idea of a disenfranchised youth of the 70s and 80s was as much a myth as anything else we’re talking about).
And now we have millennials; those boys and girls born between the early 80s and the new millennium. Are there things we have in common? Sure. We have a sense of technology and its ability to morph and change. We have The Internet, cell phones, personal computers, and other devices that have opened all sorts of new lanes on the information highway.
This technology has influenced the way we go to school, and the way we learn. It has opened the world up, and promoted a level of global visibility unseen in the history of mankind.
But does it mean we don’t like to communicate because of Facebook? Of course not. Facebook was founded in 2004 – I was already in college. Have we lost the ability or desire to socialize, or do business “the old-fashioned way” with a handshake, because of our iPhones? No, we haven’t.
Cell phones were not a normal thing for most of us until high school, or even college – far past the point in life where one develops social skills. Does all this technology mean that we are lazy and don’t work? Or has the economic boom of the Bush/Clinton/Bush administrations made us fat and worthless (along with Taco Bell)?
These things are true for a number of young people now, just as they were true for a number of young people (lazy & worthless) in 1950, 60, and 70, and just like they are true for a number of old people. Young people are sometimes lazy, just as old people. Are old people smarter than young people? No. Wiser? Absolutely. Do young people have a hard time accepting this? Yes. Have young people and old people ever gotten along?
NO! Of course not!
Elvis. Rock and roll. Jazz. The Beats. LSD. The Rolling Stones. Gender equality. These are your signifiers of a culture reaching adulthood, of young bumping shoulders with old, and with the old grasping tight in resentment of their fading cultural ego.
So what is a millennial? It’s a person that, right now, is between 35 and 15 years old. Do you know many 15 year olds that have a lot in common with a 35 year old? Me neither. Do you know many 15 year olds that have a lot in common with ANYONE that’s not a 15 year old? Me neither.
The term “millennial” is a romantic term, just as “baby boomer” or “the lost generation” or “the greatest generation” or “the lucky few” that fought in Korea and Vietnam. It means something only to those fit to make money off of it. And with the millennial generation taking hold of the workforce, of the economy, of the country – the ability to sell goods and services to this conglomerate of people is important. We want to sell goods to one another. We want to make money, just like everyone else.
But this term “Millennial” is false. It doesn’t say anything about any of us. It says only that most of us came of age somewhere around the new millennium, when technology bursted out of Silicon Valley (sorta) and into the living rooms and classrooms of our generation(s). It is a Google search term, which is fitting. Do we love Facebook? Sure. But who doesn’t? If the technology would have existed for Facebook back for the baby boomers, the lost generation, or generation X, they would have done the same thing as the rest of us.
My grandmother has Facebook. She was born nearly 50 years before me. We are of different generations, with different ideals, customs, and tastes; all determined by the culture from where we came. While this might mean that Facebook has a lot of power, it doesn’t mean her generation is any “greater” than mine, or vice versa.
And just like everyone before us, Millennials are not long for this world. Generation Z is already coming up. The earliest of them are teenagers who speak in a lingo I don’t understand, spend their days on phones with programs that I’ve never heard of (certainly not Facebook), and without doubt, I will think they are lazy and “technology-obsessed” as I become more cynical through experience.
But MILLENNIAL is a term just like HOW TO LOSE WEIGHT FAST, or THE TOP TEN DANCING CATS! It’s click-bait. It’s trivial. There’s no great truth behind it. And that’s okay.