Like most so-called Millennials, I’ve heard almost every youth-bashing insult under the sun: We’re spoilt, self-obsessed, entitled, lazy, precious petals that have no idea what it’s like to live in the real world. Our smartphone obsessions make us incapable of real human interaction; our hashtags, slang and acronyms are destroying the English language; our love for cat videos and selfies makes us the most vapid generation the world has ever seen. We are basically awful.
Or, more likely, we strike fear into the very cores of commentators who are already crippled by the thought of becoming obsolete. The world is complex and ever-changing, but we’ve never known it to be any other way. From our digital native status to the fact that we came of age during the Great Recession, our constantly evolving environment has shaped us in ways that some older people simply can’t understand.
Even our identity has changed. We were once known as Generation Y, only to suddenly be rebranded Millennials. We’ve grown up in the time of climate change, listened to tapes as small children and had our first MP3 players as teenagers – we’ve seen the disruption of whole industries. We know that nothing is certain and anything is possible. We are change personified and people don’t like change.
It’s a rite of passage, being hated by older generations and it’s a cycle that I find fascinating. In some ways, I’m something of an oddity. I’ve been observing Gen Xers, Boomers and even their predecessors, the Silent Generation, since I entered the music industry at 16. Some of my greatest and most beloved mentors were old enough to be my parents or even grandparents. They taught me not only about the craft, but also the world.
Much of the wisdom they passed on to me was priceless, while some of it was admittedly out-dated. Regardless, I’ve always felt an immense sense of gratitude. The mentors I’ve been blessed to have in my life never sought to denigrate, belittle or insult me for my youth; they saw me as a person rather than a collection of stereotypical attributes.
In hindsight I believe that they may even occasionally have found my youth refreshing. Even in situations where I was very clearly the student, they were open to the idea that I might teach them something too.
I was reminded of them when I recently spent a flight seated next to a 60-something-year-old man. There we were, a Boomer and a Millennial, spending an hour and a half together on a small plane from Christchurch to Invercargill – a mere 10cm between us and a gaping chasm that spanned generations.
If you believe everything you’ve read about Millennials, you’d assume I jammed headphones into my ears, began tapping away on my phone and steadfastly ignored my companion. We struck up a conversation.
We spoke about rugby, the gender spectrum, intersectional feminism, carpentry and maternity leave, among other things. We agreed, disagreed and agreed to disagree. At the end of the conversation, we’d both learnt something and passed an otherwise boring plane journey with laughter and lively debate. There was not a generational stereotype in sight.
And isn’t that how it should be? After all, whether we’re 60-something or 20-something, we’re all people living together on this planet, connected under the much broader umbrella of humanity.
The greater our diversity, within and between generations, the more we have to learn from each other.
And it’s not a one-way street. The idea that Millennials are young upstarts who know nothing and think they know everything is as flawed as it is an indication of insecurity. We don’t know everything and we’re well aware of it. If Google has taught us one thing, it’s how much we don’t know.
We are, however, holders of some valuable, specialised knowledge, especially when it comes to new technology and media. We’re on social networks some of our elders have never heard of, speaking in a language they don’t understand. As industries have changed we’ve thwarted the hierarchy, sometimes jumping several rungs to a position where our skills are applicable.
We’re now young adults, coming into our prime and knocking on the door of cultural prominence. We represent the future, and we’re here now – of course we’re scary. But, and I’ll sound like a true whiny Millennial here, it’s not entirely our fault.
The idea that Millennials are responsible for the world we live in today is ludicrous. We are the product of every generation that has come before us, of the accumulation of a great wealth of knowledge that has driven human development for millennia.
The internet was invented by a Boomer and a member of the Silent Generation. The World Wide Web (our modern online world) was invented by a Boomer. Gen Xers invented Google. We Millennials have benefited from the successes of previous generations, and we’re still learning from their mistakes. While charges of fatuousness are levelled against us, we worry about climate change, inequality, LGBTQ+ rights, an out-of-control housing market … We quite possibly love our cat videos because they offer respite from a troubled world we’re going to have to fix.
And those who think all this is a load of self-obsessed prattle from an ignorant child that knows nothing of the real world (I’ve been called worse), and remain deeply concerned about a future in which Millennials are in control, please, descend from your pulpit and actually get to know us. As that wise Boomer Nigella said this week, “nearly all prejudices are wrong”. You may even find us tolerable. And who knows? We both may learn something.
Source: The New Zealand Herald