Firstly, I appreciate that an article on ‘what’s wrong with millennials’ is piling on. I also feel compelled to tell you that technically I am one, though I resent that characterization and find it misleading. Apparently, millennials are those who became adults in the new millennium, roughly speaking. More technically, most people whose job it is to decide these things tend to agree that it is anyone born between ‘81 and ‘96.
While generations are often given a rough window of 15-20 years, they are supposed to be determined sociologically for the most part. This is where I find my quibble. The difference between those born in the early 80’s and those in the mid 90’s couldn’t be less alike. For argument’s sake, I have been offering a different definition of the generation to those whom I force to listen to my ideas. If when you went to school, and you went to the library to do your first proper research paper, if you looked up information on the internet, you are a millennial. If you had to figure out ‘pheasant’ wasn’t listed under ‘f’ in the encyclopedia, you are something else.
Anyway, as for pilers on. There have been countless articles on what exactly is the core problem of millennials. Some suggest that they/we have had quite a lot handed to us, that we haven’t had to fight for very much. Another top criticism would be that we lack accountability. In fact, it seems as if millennials resent the idea that we should have to take accountability for our actions at all. There is a pop-psychology reason for every stupid thing they/we do. This has led to children’s soccer games that don’t keep score, for instance. Or even the urban legend of the leagues that play without an actual soccer ball so everyone can imagine they won.
Coming closer to the real issue, some would tell you the problem is “armchair activism”. We have memorized our scripts to critique and tear down other ideas that we find offensive and we have thousands of hashtags to identify how we want to position ourselves on many issues. However, we very rarely lumber out of said armchairs to go and get involved, or worse, to write a cheque. One huge correlated issue is just how much of our identity and self-esteem rests on the affirmation we get from social media. Likes are life. I’m sure there are other forms of gratification on other platforms too, but I am not brave enough to expand my horizons past Facebook – which my young cousin assures me is strictly for old people now.
I have a slightly nuanced take. This is obviously just a personal observation, and some of it is sour grapes. I think millennials are commitment-phobic. I almost said that they/we are incapable of it, but that’s not quite true. The truth is, we are totally capable of making and sticking to commitments, we have just found out that our peers don’t strictly require it, so we don’t bother. We resent the idea that we should have to choose what we are going to do in advance of doing it.
This is obviously of paramount frustration to functional members of society – at least I think it’s obvious. We know that you can do this. You have a job, you buy tickets to things, but if a Facebook invite is sent out to 100 people, 15 reply ‘yes’, 35 reply ‘maybe’, and 50 not at all. Well when you show up to the party and there’s only pizza for 15, I hope you realize that you have only starved yourselves. The clear solution is just making the theme of my next party The Hunger Games so people feel less sheepish about the take-out related violence that they have incurred.
Another basketball example unfortunately, is the reason for this post if I’m being honest. After losing to the Avengers last week, to a man, every guy on the team insisted we needed a practice before the next game. I, the reluctant, curmudgeonly dad of the group, tried to gauge when we would do this. A disaster of speculative and total non-responses followed. The answer? A doodle poll. 4 choices, choose all that apply. 4 out of 11 guys responded. Of those 4, we found a common time and date. The location was sent out, one final check for who’s coming… no one.
“It’s Mother’s Day weekend.”
“I’m working tonight.”
“I’m on the fence.”
“I have a ton of stuff to do for tomorrow.”
Perhaps excusing the last one, though I don’t personally, these are all things that you could/should have known ahead of time. This was Mother’s Day weekend when you doodled! The idea that we can push off our other responsibilities (or even checking our work schedule) so long that it leads to unprecedented levels of bailing, is rude. More often what this looks like is you being able to make it, but not wanting to make a firm commitment at all because something better might come up. This is known as the FOMO phenomenon (Fear Of Missing Out for the old people who were wondering): I better not make a solid commitment (if there is such a thing) in case I get a better offer the night of.
Two memories stick out from my childhood. We obviously didn’t have cell phones, so when you made plans, they were in stone. When I was something like 9, I made plans to meet my girlfriend at the park over the bridge. These plans, once made, were sacred and unbreakable. The timing must be exact. It was a 15 minute walk from my house and if anything happened that prevented us from meeting, that was an infuriatingly pointless walk. When I showed up to meet my young love, she wasn’t there. Bad news, something was wrong. There was no fear that she had simply forgotten or changed her mind. Either she had been “taken” and it was Liam Neeson time, or something much worse. I raced home and called her home phone. We each stood in our respective kitchens in earshot of our families. My worst nightmare had come true, she was breaking up with me. Sad, but an understandable reason for missing our unbreakable meeting time.
When I was a teenager and able to travel to the local mall by myself, the Scarborough Town Centre, I made plans to meet with a friend from a different school. I waited and waited. After 30 minutes, I feared the worst: maybe I got the time wrong, maybe I got the meeting place wrong and he was wandering around trying to find me, furious at how inconsiderate I had been. Another hour searching and I had no choice, I went home and called him. Turns out he just wasn’t into the mall that day. Apparently he was a hipster – he was into being a millennial before it was cool. I never agreed to meet him again.
So what’s the point? Is the only issue that this behaviour annoys me, a person who usually ends up planning the group events in my life? Not to be self-serious or pedantic, but I think the issue is a little larger. Not quite an epidemic, but a low-key (did I use that right, young people?) yellow on the scale of threats to Western society – and yes this is largely a Western problem: my ESL group is very courteous in updating their availability for things.
The presenting issue is that they/we have become unable to make long-term commitments. We love hot-button hot takes, but we are over it by the end of the 24-hour news cycle. Then Justin Bieber gets secretly married and that’s our new thing. I fear we will never see a millennial Rosa Parks. She didn’t just sit down on the bus to take a load off. She went to jail, she saw through a long legal challenge in the courts, she headed a boycott, she took an important role in the NAACP, she got on another bus and followed Martin Luther King Jr. around to all the places he was getting sprayed by fire hoses and bitten by dogs. Then she kept doing it for the rest of her life. She got into politics, she lobbied for political prisoners, she never stopped.
She even lived into her 90’s so she could see the broken racist world in which she lived begin to turn. What she didn’t do is “idk, feel cute, might open a specialty latte shop with my parents’ money”. She stayed in front of the literal and proverbial fire hoses her entire life. I think that is a level of long-term commitment that they/we need to aspire to – but I suppose I would settle for making and showing up for an RSVP.
For the record, I do realize that I seemed to have started this blog to get some frustrations off my chest; I can hear it now. The truth is, I’m not as worked up about the world as it appears. If you want something a little more positive, I’m sure it’s coming. If you like this level of cynicism, you are probably already convinced that it’s not.