At the end of every year, Lake Superior State University releases a list of “banished words,” or words which have been so overused throughout the preceding 365 days that they have lost all meaning and should never be said again. When I looked at 2012’s list, though, I was disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I hate “fiscal cliff” and “YOLO” as much as the next grumpy old man, but the word I’ve grown to hate over the past year, the one that makes me roll my eyes and make exasperated noises every time another one of my friends discusses an article with it in the headline, escaped the cut—millennials.
But it’s not just the word that I think should be cut out of our dialogue. It’s the vast majority of the repetitive, trite, ridiculous dialogue that the word is constantly associated with, and the overarching, overblown connotations that accompany it.
Over the past year, we’ve seen even our top news outlets—see the New York Times’ ubiquitous January article about the “end of courtship” in an age when the kids would rather sext—hop on the millennial bandwagon. We’ve seen pages upon pages of commentary about the generation epitomized by Girls (which, as nobody seems to catch on, is largely satirical), a generation completely new and different because of social networking and a bad job market and new parenting techniques that coddled our self-esteem by eliminating such atrocities as soccer trophies and grades below 80.
I, for one, find it hard to believe the constant commentary from our news sources accomplishes anything other than pointing out the obvious, and then extrapolating and generalizing until it looks like a piece from The Onion. If you just look out your window at a 20-something or two walking down the sidewalk, you’ll notice that—provided you live in an area with a high enough average income—you’ll see a smartphone or two pretty quickly. They’re probably texting, or Facebooking, or Twittering, or maybe even all at once, and they might be wearing some fancy high-tech gloves that allow them to do so without drying out their hands in the cold weather.
All of these activities, along with different dating rituals, different means of communication, and a somewhat different worldview are characteristic and unique to the generation born in the late ‘90s/early 2000s, are drastically different from what our parents grew up with and how they saw the world back in their day. But do you know what other generation was different from its predecessor? Every single one.
That’s why we have the word “generation” in the first place—to highlight the cultural and behavioral shifts that occur when kids hit the age when they have the means and abilities to live and behave differently from how their parents did. And what’s so ridiculous about the amount of attention that millennials are getting is that the overarching idea seems to be that we’re so incredibly and irreconcilably different from the generations that came before us. This is false. Sure, our parents don’t understand why we choose to Snapchat instead of date. Just like our parents’ parents didn’t understand why their kids wore tie-dye and grew their hair past their ears, and our parents’ parents’ parents didn’t understand why their daughters wanted to wear pants.
This sense that we are the only ones to ever break the norms of our parents because of technological advancements and shifting priorities might be one that is legitimately unique to our generation, probably a symptom of collectively never being told “no” as children. And in many ways, the millennial obsession is a positive-feedback loop—articles are written about what the kids are doing these days, but said kids seem to be the main audience for these articles. Thrilled that The Huffington Post is offering us new insights into our own lives, we share them on Facebook and the Twitter machine with our millennial friends, and, seeing how many page views they generate, the news outlets hire small armies of urban, white 20-somethings to write more articles about the same thing. This self-absorbed generation has reached a peak of self-absorbency (self-saturation?), where we’re obsessed with reading about our own lives, because it makes us feel special, just like we’ve always been told we are.
Twenty years from now, when we’ve been usurped as the topic of our own fascination by our children—provided that the Times was wrong, and we’re capable of settling down long enough to have children—we’ll be just as lost as our parents are about how they use their technology and communicate in what feels like a foreign language. As special as we think we are now, we “millennials” are destined to become the un-hip older crowd that every previous generation has graduated to before us, and maybe by then the term and its surrounding non-hype will have finally died out completely. Until then, at least YOLO is officially done.
You ma’am, are a good writer! Keep on writing good!
Oh shit, I just read another article about millennials