A Plague of Millennials
We see them everywhere, lumbering along, heads down, preoccupied with their hand-held devices. The world goes on around them but they are oblivious, eyes locked on the screen. Periodically they take another selfie and send it to whomever they think might care. They are the Millennials, those born roughly between the early 1980s and early 2000s. The general consensus seems to be that they are greedy, self absorbed if not narcissistic, lazy, entitled, and utterly politically correct. Let’s examine these various traits as to their veracity.
From the UK’s Guardian of 9/3/2015: “Millennials see themselves as greedy, self-absorbed, and wasteful, study finds.” It was a Pew Research poll indicating that Millennials have more negative and cynical views of themselves and their generation than previous generations (who can blame them?). 43% saw themselves as greedy, 59% as self-absorbed, and 49% as wasteful.
As for self-absorbed and narcissistic, there’s a wealth of data. They might as well be called the Selfie Generation. I know almost everyone takes selfies, but if only we could compare them by generation. Another Pew Research poll, this from 2014, did just that, asking respondents if they’d taken a selfie and posted it to a social media site. Millennials (here defined as age 18-33) came in at 55%, Generation X at 24%, and baby boomers at 9%. IB Times on 9/22/2015 reported that the average Millennial will take 25,700 selfies in a lifetime. That comes in at about 340 a year. Did you know that last year more people died from dangerous selfie attempts than from shark attacks? You can look it up. I don’t even want to know how many texts and tweets they must do. You must have seen a typical young couple at a tavern or restaurant. Instead of looking into each others’ eyes they both have heads down, screen-locked. They are Millenials in love.
Are they lazy? I never thought so until I saw this item in the Feb. 22, 2016 New York Times. It was about a report by Mintel, a marketing research firm. They found that 40% of Millennials don’t eat cereal for breakfast — because it’s too much work. After coming to, I thought about it for a moment. Having cereal is very labor intensive. You have to open a cabinet and get a bowl, another one to get the cereal (unless you have a tiny kitchen, a good deal of walking may be involved), get a spoon from the flatware drawer, then open the fridge for the milk. If it’s a gallon, that’s pretty heavy. I’m getting winded already, and we haven’t even gotten the mixture together. You still have to lift each spoonful, put it into your mouth, chew, and swallow. And then there’s cleanup. You have to put everything away, and the spoon and bowl at least into the sink. I hope the Millennials have breakfast of some kind, maybe an apple. We know it’s the most important meal. How do you expect to go out into the world for a day full of microaggressions (other people’s ideas) on an empty stomach? Remember what comedian Steven Wright said: “Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now.” And now is what it seems to be all about — instant gratification.
Millennials have a sense of entitlement, or so we’re told. Part of that entitlement is “free stuff,” like health care and college, and I’ll agree with them there. They expect to earn a degree and get a good job, like anyone else. But this is the first generation that grew up under overly protective “helicopter parents,” who praised everything their little darlings did (Millennials love to be praised). Athletic or other usually competitive events had no winners; everybody got a trophy just for participation. No one ever had to learn how to lose gracefully. Spontaneous play gave way to rigidly structured “play dates.” They may like praise, but I’m kind of old fashioned. I think praise should be earned. I’ve worked with a few Millennials, and had a few work for me. They have really terrible work habits. But that’s because no one ever taught them to come to work on time, or at least call if you can’t. Clean up your mess and put things back after whatever job you’ve completed. Fortunately they’re capable of learning.
If we want to see political correctness in its cancer stage, we need only to visit the colleges and universities, formerly institutions of higher learning. Now it seems they’ve become battlefields of microaggressions (other people’s ideas), “safe spaces,” and “trigger warnings.” It isn’t just Millennials who are responsible, of course, but then who are the vast majority of college students? I thought safe spaces referred to the epidemic of sexual assaults on campuses nationwide, but no. People don’t want to be anywhere or see anything that might upset them. Literature departments everywhere issue trigger warnings for class materials; this book may contain adult elements or some kind of situation that may re-traumatize a student with a similar experience. The student can then be allowed to choose another book. Here are some trigger warnings: swearing, rape, abuse (physical, mental, or verbal), pedophilia, self-injurious behavior (anorexia or bulimia), suicide, drug use, needles, needles, snakes, insects, incest, sex, vomit, slimy things, violence, descriptions of medical procedures, racial prejudice, bloodshed, and murder.
Well, that leaves out The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (racial epithets), Moby Dick (violence, bloodshed), all of Shakespeare, in fact pretty much the entire canon of Western Literature. Green Eggs and Ham might be okay, but wait — character exercising negative emotions. How about Goodnight Moon? Because God forbid that our precious little snowflakes encounter points of view that might make them feel uncomfortable. I don’t see how this prepares them for adulthood, which often demands intellectual engagement or debate with people with ideas different from one’s own. There are no safe spaces out in the real world, and you won’t see trigger warnings anywhere, either.
Having said all that, I’ve never been comfortable making broad generalizations about groups of people. It may have worked with Hitler, the KKK, and now Donald Trump, but it never leads to good. I myself have been accused of it, but I maintain that when I say Republicans are an anti-democratic, xenophobic, neo-fascist, sociopathic death cult I don’t mean all of them, of course, just 90%.
But back to the Millennials. “Kids these days!” goes back decades, if not well, millennia. There’s supposedly a quote by Socrates about how children were unruly and rebellious to their elders. We should keep that in mind, and maybe even walk a mile in their shoes. If they’ve been pampered since birth and given everything it’s not their fault. If they’ve come out of high school functionally illiterate, that’s on the cancer of standardized testing, not them. And now most of them have graduated from college with an average student debt of $30,000. There far too few jobs for their specialties, so they have to live their parents’ basement while working their asses off in some low-wage, no benefits service drudgery. It’ll take most or all their lives to even catch up, and I think they’ve figured that out.
I think we should give the Peter Pan generation the benefit of doubt. Where the heck were you when you were in your twenties? I know where I was — nowhere at all. It often takes getting into our thirties or forties before we start working out what’s really important. Some of us are late-bloomers. Let’s remember something else, too. If it hadn’t been for the Millennials getting excited about Obama in 2008, John McCain probably would have blown up the world by now. Thanks, Millennials! Right now they seem pretty excited about Bernie Sanders, so we’ll see if history is about to repeat itself, or if disillusionment over the last eight years has given way to cynicism.
Life is what happens around you while you’re looking at your smartphone.