In case you didn’t know, I’m obsessed with the future.

People like Ray Kurzweil and Elon Musk and Vinay Gupta inspire and excite me about the future of the 21st century and the potential positive impact humans can have on the world.

At the same time, I know that America currently exists within an ineffective, deadlocked two-party governmental system. I’m pretty sure that the effects of global warming will probably hit us hardest after we have accepted just how dangerous it is. I also believe that there will always be a sturdy base of people who remain in the clutches of the world’s major religions, and someone is going to keep letting that fucking M. Night Shyamalan guy make shitty movies. 1Even though his newest film Split seems to actually be getting positive reviews. I’ll let you know what I think if I ever see it.

I try to not let these things deter my excitement.

Some people take stock of the current state of the world with nothing but optimism, certain that we will be fine because we’ve always been fine. And if problems come up, then we have some smart people like Bo Burnham and Malala Yousafzai and that Does Equis Guy to save us from ourselves.

Other people are a little more pessimistic, though. They look at the world and all of its shit and conclude that we must be in a toilet and it’s only a matter of time before the universe decides to flush us down.

The ice caps are melting. North Korea will likely have the ability to make nuclear warheads by 2020. Donald Trump is president of the United States and five bucks no longer gets you a footlong at Subway. (Don’t even get me started on Subway.)

For obvious reasons, I don’t care much for pessimism. Or really optimism, for that matter. It’s important to have a positive attitude in the face of adversity, but positivity only gets you so far.

You can believe that you can lift a 7-ton boulder as much as you want. You could try to Ned Flanders the fuck out of that situation, but at the end of the day, neither you nor Ned nor the two of you combined will be able to move that boulder.

ned flanders waving
“I just don’t diddly think we’re gonna be able to move this thing!”

That’s called realism.

So when I look at the future, part of me is optimistic because of all of the cool things happening in the world, and part of me is pessimistic because of all of the shitty things happening in the world. But mostly, I try to be realistic about the future of the world.

Instead of focusing on opinions and beliefs to gauge what will happen, I prefer to look at data. Evidence. Trends. Graphs and lines and numbers. Some Jake Silver nerd shit.

And as I look at our future, I see one obvious, unarguable point: it will be shaped by us. Young people. Millennials. 2I’m assuming if you’re reading this that you’re a millennial. I can’t imagine that my progressive thinking and sarcastic wit attracts many ...continue

The last of the millennials have recently come of age and are now either in the work force, away at college, or lounging in their mom’s basement in a Mountain Dew Kickstart and stuffed crust pizza hangover.

I am sure many people are terrified of this fact because a generation of lazy, crybaby, smartphone-clutching, safe space needing, participation trophy-wielding social justice warriors will soon be running the country.

But the problem with this fear is that it is misplaced and misguided. Millennials, just like every other young generation coming of age, see the world differently than their elders. The Gen Xers were different. The Baby Boomers were different. The Silents were probably different, too.

And no one ever said that change was a bad thing.

In fact, many practices and trends that millennials engage in are rooted in a deeper sense of cultural understanding that hasn’t been displayed by previous generations. Young people will always possess the benefit of coming into the game of life a little later and being able to, in just a few short years, soak up society’s collective knowledge that previous generations of people had to stumble through over the course of lifetimes to acquire.

Of course, there is also something lost when you gain insight or knowledge secondhand. There is value in direct observation and experience, and future generations will have to continually cope with their inability to directly experience the past in the way their ancestors did.

It is for all of these reasons that millennials, and the generations of people that will follow us, will be responsible for shaping the future of the world.

But we hear enough about all of the problems with the millennial generation from people like Bill O’Reilly or Simon Sinek. 3Bill O’Reilly’s opinion on just about anything should be able to be presented without comment because he’s Bill O’Reilly, but I would like to ...continue

Although I prefer the Sinek brand of critical assessment to that of the O’Reilly’s of the world (because contrary to popular millennial belief, we aren’t infallible and we do have shortcomings that aren’t all the product of generational misunderstandings), when you hear anyone speak about millennials, it is usually done in a derogatory way that seeks to paint the way the world is going to take a turn for the worse as the entitled, needy, whiny generation takes over.

The millennial generation has its problems like any other generation, but I am here today to present this article as the first in a series of posts on societal and cultural trends regarding millennials that demonstrate the ways in which we will make the world a better place.

What The Hell Is A Millennial Anyway?

Before we delve into ways in which millennials are changing the world, let’s first take a second to define exactly what we mean when we say “millennial.”

Millennials are an arbitrarily created demographic of people that are generally accepted to have been born sometime between the years of 1980 and 2000. (This means that as of 2017, when this was written, millennials are between the ages of 36 and 16.)

Different sources use different starting and ending years, but that’s just a testament to the ridiculousness of trying to stereotype an entire group of people based purely on the range of years in which they were born. 4Adam Conover explains it best here.

But regardless of the mass confusion surrounding something we easily could have decided upon long ago, the data in these articles breaks down the generations of age in this manner:

chart of generational ages

We don’t have to get too muddled up with dates, though. For the sake of clarity and generalization in this series, millennials will refer to young adults born in the latter half of the 20th century.

Millennials are often said to be entitled and narcissistic because of their dependence on technology.

They are also often described as needy, whiny, self-absorbed, impatient, coddled, demanding, easily offended, unfocused, shallow, spoiled, self-promotional, and unwilling to pay their dues. To name just a few.

While I don’t believe that stereotypes come out of a vacuum, that does not mean that we need to lend equal weight to each and every generalization made about a group of people.

Some millennials may be some of those things. Some may not. In order to examine whether or not any of these adjectives accurately describe today’s young people, we must first understand the benefit of being able to talk generationally.

Why Do We Even Talk About Generations Of People?

The short answer is for the same reason we talk about nationalities, religions, and political affiliations: it’s easier to generalize aggregate data trends regarding groups of people to understand their collective beliefs and motivations than it is to attempt to factor all of the individual nuances together that may exist on a spectrum of individual opinions.

When you want to understand micro concepts, you look at things on the micro level.

Why did little Timmy throw his bowl of butternut squash soup on the floor? Because Timmy fucking hates butternut squash soup. That’s why.

But when you want to understand macro concepts, you have to look at things on the macro level.

Are lots of kids across America throwing their bowls of butternut squash soup on the floor? If so, you can probably make the assertion that most kids just don’t like butternut squash soup. (Which is astonishing, really. Butternut squash soup is delicious.)

Of course this seems like a silly piece of knowledge to have.

But hopefully you can see the advantage of macroscopic data and its application to the world. This same benefit extends to our culture’s continued obsession with generations.

While the idea of organizing people into generations may sometimes be condescending and overgeneralizing, there are still definitive trends marked by people of different ages that represent the societal and cultural influences contemporary to that generation’s period of upbringing.

For example, understanding generational trends allows us to make statements like, “Millennials are more likely to have a smartphone than Gen Xers or Baby Boomers.”

Notice I did not say, “All millennials care about are their damn smartphones.” Some of them might. Some of them might not. I don’t have any data to support that statement so I can’t rightly make it.

But I can say that millennials are more likely to have a smartphone than people from previous generations, because as of 2014, 85.6% of millennials had smartphones, compared to 80.7% of Gen Xers and 69.5% of Baby Boomers. 5Perez, Sarah. (2014, September 5). Millennials Are The Largest Group Of Smartphone Owners, And Adoption Is Still Growing. Tech Crunch.

Stereotypes: Pejorative Generalities or Statistical Assets?

You know how stereotyping someone based on race or nationality is often wrong and misguided? Well the same thing can be said of stereotyping someone based on when they were born. You can’t rightly make a statement about an entire group of people and expect it to apply to each and every person within that group.

Groups are made up of individuals, and while groups may consist of people that share a set of common traits, each person within the group is inherently different from the rest.

When we speak about large groups of people, we can only speak in probabilistic statements that are supported by actual data. Otherwise we are making groundless stereotypes.

Even though the word stereotype has developed a negative connotation in this new age of PC culture we have adopted, stereotypes based upon data are actually helpful. They allow us to process information more quickly and better understand macroscopic trends.

It is when we begin to make stereotypes based on insular opinions and experiences that we begin to encounter trouble.

You can’t take a handful of experiences you had with a few representatives of a group to extrapolate any sort of trend that you can then apply to the whole group.

Little Timmy throwing his soup on the floor is not indicative of any generalization one can make about other childrens’ inclinations to do the same. The same goes for a handful of millennials on smartphones.

Another problem with stereotypes is that they are often made by people outside of the group that the stereotype is addressing. This is because stereotypes are used by outsiders of a group to help them define the group they are trying to make sense of.

Millennials didn’t get a say in the creation of their representative stereotype. It was instead created by Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

But this phenomenon works both ways. In the same fashion, Baby Boomers didn’t get a say in the way in which their stereotype evolved as Millennials came of age and attempted to understand the generation of their parents.

It is for these reasons that stereotypes often develop a certain condescension or prejudice.

As humans, we often don’t understand the intentions of people who act differently than we do. If we did, we would probably adopt the same habits and behaviors as everyone else.

This ignorance we possess causes us to attach negative connotations to things that contrast with our personal worldview.

What we need to realize is that there are no universal maxims that exist to tell us whether one person’s actions are inherently better than anyone else’s, especially in terms of the way people do things within groups.

Instead, there are degrees with which different modes of action work for different people in different circumstances, and this series of posts will highlight the degrees that define the actions and choices of millennials.

What this series of posts will not do is attempt to defend the incessant derogatory remarks towards millennials that paint them as incapable, unreliable children. I’ll dispel with these attacks right now.

First, I will cede the point that yes, there are quite a few young people who do not understand the definition of hard work or the importance of interpersonal relationships.

But at the same time, there are just as many people of older generations that have these problems as well. The problems might not be the same for the older generations, or the older generations might not view them as problems at all, so it is really just a matter of perspective.

But ultimately, the problem isn’t millennials. The problem is youth. Young people. In another 10 or 20 years, older folks will be bitching about whatever stupid name we’ll make for the next generation of people.

Why?

Because it’s human nature. Because we all possess an inherent fear of growing old. Of losing our youth. Of becoming obsolete. Of being replaced. Of being unwanted. Or worse, unneeded.

We fear the fact that with every day we somehow convince ourselves to get out of bed and face the world, we are taking one more step away from the cradle and another one closer to the grave.

I don’t think millennials are needy or whiny or self-absorbed in the same way I don’t think Boomers are stubborn or ignorant or technologically deficient.

I think some people who are millennials are needy or whiny or self-absorbed (because stereotypes don’t come out of a vacuum), but as a generation of people, I think we’re just kids.

We all are, really. Millennials and Gen Xers and Boomers alike.

We’re all just trying to make it through this absurd life, day by day, doing the best we can to keep our shit together as we sit on the fulcrum of the seesaw of life, balancing existential dread with eternal bliss like our lives depend on it.

old man looking out at lake

None of us have any fucking clue what we’re doing. We just pretend we do because it’s easier than admitting how ignorant we are. And that’s where the disputation comes from.

I think young people will forever be at odds with old people. We can do our best to mitigate this discord, and we can begin to do so by understanding how the stereotypes we believe have formed within our minds. But I ultimately think this contention is just a fact of life that we have to deal with.

Being aware of this contention should allow us to get past our inherent differences and look at some of the actual data I mentioned earlier.

Because whether we like it or not, millennials are going to change the world. In my next post in the series, I’ll tackle the first item on their agenda: Marriage. 6As if we have an agenda. That’s giving us way too much credit. I can barely decide where to go to eat dinner let alone how my generation is going ...continue

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Even though his newest film Split seems to actually be getting positive reviews. I’ll let you know what I think if I ever see it.
2. I’m assuming if you’re reading this that you’re a millennial. I can’t imagine that my progressive thinking and sarcastic wit attracts many people that are too much older than I am. But if you’re not a millennial, I apologize for the generalization and appreciate your interest in this post. Hopefully you learned something new about us “crazy kids.”
3. Bill O’Reilly’s opinion on just about anything should be able to be presented without comment because he’s Bill O’Reilly, but I would like to note that Simon Sinek’s recent talks on millennials do a fairly good job of framing the problems with our generation through a generational lens, instead of one in which blame and disparaging comments are frequently used. Sinek, however, fails to highlight the nuances of the generation, which I hope to achieve in these posts.
4. Adam Conover explains it best here.
5. Perez, Sarah. (2014, September 5). Millennials Are The Largest Group Of Smartphone Owners, And Adoption Is Still Growing. Tech Crunch.
6. As if we have an agenda. That’s giving us way too much credit. I can barely decide where to go to eat dinner let alone how my generation is going to shape the future. Give me a break.

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