|Millennial protesting with Occupy Wall Street|
Yesterday, a woman in her sixties remarked to me, "You kids have never seen war."
Choosing to respect her age -- and the fact that it's often useless to argue with people who won't respect your opinion, no matter how you express it -- I shrugged it off. But I was offended. Not so much by her pronouncement (which I believe is patently false: there may not be a military draft, but even the most conservative pundits won't hesitate to call America's various conflicts in the Middle East a war), but her disparaging tone. You kids.
I know that tone, I'm familiar with its connotations. You kids, you've got it easy.
I'm part of the generation that has come to be called the "Millennials" in both academic discourse and the popular media; part of the demographic that came of age with MTV blaring in the living room, under the auspices of the economic boom of the 80's and 90's, beneath the shadow of war and an increasingly authoritarian government after 9/11, listening to dire predictions about economic and ecological collapses. We've been giving the ambivalent blessing of living in interesting times.
In the last year, my generation has come under increasing scrutiny. Books and articles have been written about us, with wildly divergent tones: we've been condemned as "boomerang kids" with Peter Pan syndrome, or lauded as potential saviors. The Atlantic wrote an overwrought piece, full of hand-wringing anxiety, about how we were about to become the next "lost generation."
Much of this worry has to do with the state of the current economy. The announcement that the "Great Recession" officially ended in 2009 seemed bewildering and early to a lot of people my age: we were the ones with college degrees working minimum wage jobs, often with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt. We sat by and watched as our government disregarded its own constitution to spy on citizens, engaged in human rights abuse, tore itself to pieces through bipartisanship, waged wars that ignored civilian causalities and international statutes. We listened to our parents' own worst predictions about us: that we would grow up to be disconnected, disengaged, violent, moral vacuums.
You kids, you've got it easy.
But rather than retiring to drown ourselves in cheap booze and stark prose like a new crop of Hemingways, my generation seems to be doing all right for itself. We've seen war, we're living through a depressed economy (official or not), we have to navigate the culture gap between our generation and the ones before us: generations that are, generally, more conservative, more religious, less tech-savvy, less tolerant. In America, we're the most ethnically diverse generation in history. And in my own experience, we're chattier than our parents and grandparents. We think our opinions and experiences are worth sharing, whether it's on Youtube, Tumbl
r, on cardboard signs carried at protests, in photographs. We may use the phrase "TMI", but we don't usually mean it: we want to know, even if it's gross, even if it's weird, even if it will make us moan for brain bleach.
|My generation seems inclined to differentiate between their jobs and their identities.|
And while the older folks are wringing their hands over a slow economy, we're not overly concerned about money. Again, in my personal experience, my generation seems inclined to differentiate between their jobs and their identities. Yes, unemployment is a discouraging, occasionally depressing experience, but it doesn't reflect our personal worth. What we do, who we are, and how we make money are not as entangled as they once were.
Most of all, we're happy to rely on each other. We're the generation of crowd-sourcing, of info-sharing wikis, of pooled wealth and resources. We don't mind asking for help, especially through websites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. We're a generation of collaborators, and we're greater than the sum of our disparate parts. We have become, despite all the dire predictions leveled at us, a force to be reckoned with: the momentum behind the #Occupy protests and the Arab Spring, with a new focus on practical solutions over ideals.
In the coming year in America, it will be interesting to see how, if at all, politicians attempt to reach out to this new voting bloc. Millennials turned out in droves to vote for Obama in 2008, but have been increasingly alienated by many of his policies and forgotten campaign promises. On the other side of the aisle, however, are the conservative frontrunners Herman Cain and Mitt Romney, neither of whom seem to be able or interested in bridging the generational gap.
Have we seen war? Yes. As the Millennial Generation comes of age, we're inheriting a world that has been at war for most of our lives: fighting over resources, ideas, cultures, and political interests. We didn't start these wars, but whether we like it or not, we will be the ones on the front lines, with the most to lose.