Millennials: the Lazy, Entitled, Screen-Obsessed Generation Building a Better World
Millennials Are Criticised for the Very Things that Make them Awesome
“A generation of people who feel that everyone apparently owes them something, instead of getting their asses off of Facebook, going out and earning their way in life, rather than combing their man buns and sucking down Soy Frappachinoes (sic) while also eating Tide Pods.” That is one definition of “Millennial” given on Urban Dictionary, and it isn’t even the nastiest.
Young people have long had a bad rap. “Respect your elders,” they are told, even though they themselves get no respect at all. It is hard to be taken seriously when you are young, and your perceptions and world views are dismissed as “lack of experience”, even on matters which they have more experience than anyone else. Like, say, being young, and what it means in today’s world.
The young have always been the object of mockery and criticism, but perhaps never more than today, because there is such a wide gap between those called “Millennials”, defined as those born between 1982 and 2004, and those who came before. Millennials grew up with technology, with a failing social security net, growing economic precariousness and a planet scheduled for collapse. They grew up in a society where equality was supposed to be insured but where inequality was blatant. Plus, they had the intellectual tools and frameworks to deconstruct that inequality and see it for the oppression lurking behind it. The things they expect from the world, the way they communicate and self-identify are very different from any generation before, and they are criticised for that, constantly.
The amount of things Millennials are supposedly to blame for has become a running joke. They are assumed to be lazy, entitled, addicted to screens, shallow, whiney, and self-absorbed. But when you look a little closer, when you give Millennials the benefit of the doubt, it becomes clear that all those things that give the young generations a bad name are actually the same things that make them an awesome generation, and one that will change the world for the better.
Reasons to love those much-maligned Millennials
Young people are often accused of caring only about themselves and their appearance, mainly because they spend a lot of time on social media and writing posts that contain the word I. This is apparently something to be criticised because people aren’t supposed to value themselves and because it is better for society when everyone is isolated rather than sharing their experiences. Once they start talking about what happens to them they could realise that their experiences aren’t isolated, but societal issues. #MeToo was a movement where hundreds of thousands of Is made society shake.
I don’t think any other generation would have been capable of such a widespread movement. I don’t think that any other generation would have been willing to be so vulnerable as to tell all the terrible stories of #MeToo. Just look around Medium: people, mainly Millennials, are bravely telling their stories, they are using their most painful experiences to denounce some of society’s greatest ills, breaking taboos and stigma around mental illness, sexual abuse, racism …
Our generation uses the word I to talk about wider issues, that doesn’t mean that we can only think of ourselves. As people become more and more willing to be vulnerable, a radical empathy is spreading amongst young people.
It’s a fact, Millennials spend a lot of time on their phones. On their phones, they are rebuilding social connections in a world where individualism is on the rise and people are becoming more and more isolated. There was a time when almost all activities were shared and constantly discussed. Messaging your friends every few minutes is bringing back that sense of community.
Every time there is a doubt about a fact or figure, a Millennial will pull out her phone to check. It’s like the world was a huge game of Trivial Pursuit where cheating is encouraged because people really want to know. Millennials read a lot, without even noticing it, and they constantly seek to remain informed about the world. They might not always turn to the right sources, but that isn’t their fault, and what is really important is the shared desire to stay on top of current affairs, meaning that a generation often deemed apolitical is far from jaded by social and political issues. They know more about sexism and racism and other forms of systemic oppression than any generation before. And they are ready to demand better. This is what is often called “entitlement.”
The reason the young generation seems more entitled than the ones before it is that the people who feel like they deserve to have agency in their own lives aren’t just upper-class, white men. Historically oppressed groups, promised equality since they were born, are asking for more. And the thing about these people feeling “entitled” is that the things they feel entitled to are more legitimate than those old posh white men.
Millennials are demanding to be treated like humans, to have access to basic social services and jobs with decent working conditions, for clean air and a planet which isn’t poisonous. That isn’t being “entitled”, it is knowing you are a human being who deserves dignity. The fact that it is seen as entitlement shows just how deeply the idea of collective action and protest has been destroyed by neoliberalism — that we demonise those who ask for the most basic things.
Across the world, high school students are going on strike and marching against climate change. Young activists like Greta Thunberg are forcing grown-ups to listen. Young people from less privileged backgrounds are finding their own ways to make a stand. The other day I was visiting Grigny, a grim estate in Paris’ Banlieue, and there I met a group of drug dealers who told me about the brutality of the police towards young people of colour when they are arrested. They told me about the cat-and-mouse game they play with the police which is their own form of resilience, and how videos of police brutality are shared on social media.
Whatever obstacles they face, the young generation is finding ways to take part in global movements for social and environmental justice. So much for being selfish and shallow.
Marriage is just another of the long list of things Millennials are supposed to have killed. And that, too, is something to be celebrated. Millennials are looking beyond the monogamous, heterosexual model and exploring new ways of loving. Boys that date girls sometimes date boys and girls that date boys sometimes date girls, and that is normal and good, and people are questioning their own desires and the things they had taken for granted. It is still difficult to be LGBTQ, but young people are taking on that difficulty, just like they are taking on the very scary task of reinventing relationships, walking blindly forward on uncharted paths. There are no role models for polyamory, few examples to follow of being gay or bisexual or trans, and questioning the established idea of being a “couple” is brave.
“The generation that won’t grow up”
A lot of the milestones of adulthood are inaccessible to our generations for financial reasons, but that isn’t the only reason why they are refusing to conform to a predefined model of growing up. Young people don’t want to get a boring job and devote their entire life to it. They want a job that will bring meaning to their lives and they have a deep moral sense that work should contribute something to the world. They are called lazy despite the fact that this is the generation which will work their asses off at unpaid internships, just for the prospect of being able to have an underpaid but worthwhile job later on.
Millennials don’t want life to follow a script, they want a life which suits their own personality. They want to know who they really are, and they feel like knowing that is more important to growing up than getting a job, getting a house, getting a spouse, having two kids, having money and a nice house and a nice car and all the gadgets you could wish for. Having no time at all and looking forward to retirement to finally feel alive.
They aren’t buying into the myth that material things alone can make you happy, they are longing for experiences because they know that living is about more than possessing. Sure, for now, experiences are still sought out via consumerism, in the form of activity holidays or avocado toast or unicorn milkshakes, but the shift from the material to the immaterial has begun, and Millennials are the ones that started it.
In reality, Millennials’ faults say more about society than about the young people themselves
Of course, Millennials aren’t perfect. They do live in a world of screens where physical appearance is more important than ever, where influencers reinforce social and gendered beauty standards, where consumerism is still seen as the only way to seek pleasure and has swallowed hobbies of all kinds, where a certain lethargy is socially accepted, often dissimulating Mental Health issues. That so-called “laziness” of the young may just be widespread depression.
But the things we criticise Millennials about, their faults, say far more about society than about the young themselves. It shows that the world we live in doesn’t want to change, that questioning inequalities and an alienating way of living will always lead to a backlash.
The good thing is, Millennials are brave, they show it every day. And they might just be brave enough to ride on over the backlash. They certainly aren’t being put off by the insults that are thrown at them. Instead, they are making memes and writing tweets and laughing in the face of their attackers.