Growing up on the internet

In defence of a generation

In a world marred by financial instability, political and social unrest and the media cult, it’s hard to be a young person. Society is being slowly handed down to the Millennials, and it feels like we are being presented with something in between a shit sandwich and an unexploded bomb. In spite of preemptive criticism, Generation Y has a few tricks up it’s sleeve in order to make their tenure a progressive, empathetic and all round memorable stint at the wheel.

I believe that our future holds more than Buzzfeed quizzes, selfie sticks and MDMA, that the next few decades will be a time of social change and enlightenment. Here’s a few reasons why you shouldn’t dismiss all this Millennial malarkey:

1. We are in charge of our self(ies)

Millennials tend to live their lives on a carefully constructed stage. Social media sites and apps, such as Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, allow people to curate their own public persona, picking and choosing the moments to share with an audience of the similarly-minded. Celebrity millennials, such as Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj, use social media to not only allow fans and followers to gain insight into the star’s life, but also to provide priceless promotion for their own endeavours. In order to be witness to Minaj’s backstage activities, you also have to take notice of the brand of soft drink that she promotes. Cyrus, on the other hand, uses her popularity to raise awareness of LGBT homeless youth, with the Happy Hippie charity that she co-founded. Big business and government officials may try to replicate this method of reaching a wider audience, but it originated with these young celebrities, and Beyoncé (@beyonce) has over 4 times as many Twitter followers that Barack Obama (@potus). It’s these web-savvy skills that sets Generation Y apart from the older population, as our connection to the digital domain is effortless, a natural way for us to link with millions of other people.

When Kim Kardashian published a book of her selfies, entitled “Selfish”, the backlash was brutal. Many saw this act as a flagrant display of true vanity, and failed to see the satire and genius behind the idea. Kim Kardashian (the person) and Kim Kardashian (the product) became separate entities as soon as she began monetising her appearance, and with the book, she playfully hinted at this separation, seeming to question where the line between real and fake is drawn. She is the performance artist and the world is her captivated audience.

What we learn from Cyrus, Minaj, Kardashian and other famous Millennials, is that ‘the self’ is now a marketable product, and a valuable tool for us to use with some caution. If you can learn to separate your true self from your public persona, you can curate and manipulate an image that allows you to achieve the things you want to. This opens up an array of possible identity crises that may have a detrimental effect on our generation if we don’t act responsibly.

2. We have problems, and we know that

It was Generation X which began the exploration of the young mind. Xanax, Prozac and cognitive-based therapy became part of every day life, as more young people decided to talk about, and deal with, their negative emotions. Generation Y have also embraced various treatments for mental health problems, and the world of talk-based therapy, internet help groups and SSRIs has expanded. It’s more accepted than ever before to be depressed, which means people are more likely to receive the help that they may need.

Blogging platforms and social media have become make-shift therapy groups for people who need support but are unable to receive it in person, and it’s our collective openness about our problems which makes it easier to solve them. The internet allows every body to have a platform on which to speak about themselves, and I for one wouldn’t be anywhere near as comfortable talking about my own mental health problems without this society of sharing.

Our generation’s empathy and understanding could well be the final push to end mental health stigma, and that is one of the biggest positive impacts I believe that Millennials have the capacity to deliver.

3. We eat information for breakfast

It’s easy to feel overloaded by information when you are an active reader, viewer and Internet user, but I believe that Millennials have developed quite a skill to ingest and digest this information with ease. We receive and a constant stream of news, updates, messages and images through social media and yet, we are able to stop, think and reflect on these things without falling out of the loop. Once more, we are able to compound our thoughts and feelings into 140 character tweets. When we do this, we act upon the assumption that the people around us are at the same level of knowing as we are, and due to carefully curated trending topics and news updates, they usually are. It’s this assumed intelligence that allows us to act in such a fast-paced and condensed way, and due to this, long-form writing is falling out of fashion.

Sites like Medium, my blogging platform of choice, aim to bring long-form writing back into vogue through embracing so-called ‘social journalism’. Social Journalism is where we are headed to, and what the media has already started to become under the Millennials rule: A hybrid of traditional journalism and reader-created content that allows news sites to have eyes and ears all over the world, and to appeal to the fast-paced nature of today’s news consumer.

I, for one, see this development as a positive thing for journalism, as it allows creative freedom and long-form writing to prevail as a part of a system that aims to inform, guide and entertain.

4. We defy all labels

Millennials are often accused of being ‘pragmatic idealists’ — a term that is derogatory in it’s impossibility. Practical thinking and idealistic thinking are classically seen as being in opposition of one another. An idealist belief is one of morality, of adopting principles despite their possible negative effect on the individual. The pragmatist, on the other hand, solves their issues by rejecting any moral principles that may be in the way of their own success. The oxymoronic label of ‘pragmatic idealist’ is used to label Generation Y because we are otherwise impossible to pin down. In the eyes of older generations, and the establishment, Millennials are a contradiction.

But are our hopes so contradictory? Is it foolish to undermine a generation with such advanced technological, philosophical and sociological skills? Every single post-war generation has been labelled, put-down and theorised into defeat by the un-developing world elite. What is different about Generation Y is that, unlike our predecessors, we are in control of the most important media platform, the internet, and we are equipped with the tools necessary to make our voices heard. Of course, Generation X spawned a stream of culture: TV shows, music, literature, comics and much more, but what we have is more immediate, and ever-changing just like our label.

In truth, you can’t make a sweeping generalisation of the Millennials. It may be inconvenient for the Establishment to not have a perfect profile of our generation to study and manipulate, but I believe our cultural diversity, varied interests, rich/poor divide and progressive beliefs make us impossible to pin down to one ideal.