To malign the generation which succeeds yours is a habit as old as time itself. In modern discourse, I am frequently reminded of a quote by Socrates (469–399 B.C.) that wouldn’t look out of place in a 2019 Daily Mail comment section:
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room.”
My birth date in November 1995 places me right on the cusp of several things.
First and foremost, and as an avid print magazine consumer growing up, it was a subject of immense distress that my date of birth made it nigh-impossible to figure out what my star sign was – depending on the magazine I read, it was either Scorpio or Sagittarius.
The millennial generation’s fascination with all things astrology has helped to settle this for me; according to horoscope app co-star, I’m a Scorpio with a rising sun in Capricorn and moon in Scorpio (don’t ask me…).
This brings us back to the topic of generation.
A generation is defined as “all of the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively”. Born in 1995, I am the last of the Millennials (1981 – 1995), on the cusp of breaking into Generation Z (1996 – 2012).
As a result, I have much in common with members of Gen Z – perhaps more than I do with my elder Millennial peers, who are heading into their forties just as I begin to haplessly stumble through my twenties (admittedly, I’m probably one of the less youthful-spirited people my age, so maybe we’re more alike than I think).
Millennials get a lot of bad press. With our supposedly reckless ways, we’re credited with ‘killing’ everything from marriage to doorbells (why ring the doorbell when you can text “I’m here”?). Doorbell manufacturers everywhere are quivering.
Much of the bad press Millennials receive is misdirected; it seems to me that many don’t realise how old we Millennials are getting. Indeed, I’ve spoken to people (aged, at a guess, ~35 themselves) who tell me such ridiculous things as that they don’t want to work with a millennial and they’d rather someone in their 30s (by definition, a Millennial). A friend of mine recently left a job where her boss (herself but a year too old to be a Millennial) constantly slated Millennials, unbeknownst to her that even her senior management (30-odd year olds – this was a startup) were themselves part of this dreaded category.
I hear firsthand what a nightmare it is to hire interns these days as Millennials are so entitled, flaky and [insert adjective] without realising that most interns in 2019 fall decidedly into the Gen Z category. Regardless of whether these individuals are [insert adjective], it is funny how frequently Gen Z and Millennials are mixed up in popular discourse, given that it is this very discourse that insists on stamping people with particular characteristics. Perhaps if companies and their constituent people focused more on the suitability of an employee and less on the imagined characteristics of entire generations, they’d build more successful businesses.
The vilification we get is, ironically, not too different from that borne by our predecessors. Ask my dad and he’ll tell you that his generation suffered the same – although I must say that Generation X seems to me to have gotten by pretty lightly by comparison. Sandwiched between the (in)famous Baby Boomers and we heinous Millennials, what chance did they have?
Millennials vs. Boomers: The showdown of a generation?
A particularly interesting trend I’ve noted of late is that which pits the Millennials against the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964). Perhaps as a result of the vilification we receive for eating avocado toast and moaning about our inability to buy houses, pushback has come in the form of, fairly or not, slating ‘Boomers’ for their own misdoings. It’s easy to see where the tension arises; Boomers (at least in the UK) were lucky enough to have been born in a golden era, narrowly missing two devastating world wars and enjoying the benefits of a strong social welfare system and economic boom that succeeded them.
Able to buy a home at the age of 20 and retire at (or even before) 60 with a comfortable pension, the archetypal older Boomer can now supposedly be found enjoying cruise trips, living in Lanzarote despite voting for Brexit, sharing weird scam posts to Facebook, and commenting on Daily Mail articles. Additional tension comes from the fact that those who wield the most power in societal institutions today tend to be younger Boomers (think Donald Trump), most of them of the pale, male and stale variety so adored by woke Millennials.
While I love the memes and relish being part of ‘A group where we all pretend to be boomers‘ on Facebook, I fundamentally disagree with the politics of division that pit us against each other – creating an imaginary enemy of an entire generation is not the solution to injustice, whether you are team M or team B.
Who’s next in the generation games?
All the above being said, Gen Z-ers terrify me – in a sense, I don’t fear them, I fear for them. I was lucky that the insipid spread of social media hit when I was 13 years old, not 5. Forgive me if I sound ignorant, but I can’t think of a period in history (with the exception of periods of war and revolution) where a few short years has made such a profound difference to the social circumstances kids grow up in.
As a former teenage girl (who retains various teenage girl characteristics), I see this particularly strongly in the image stakes. Beauty standards were ridiculous even before Instagram, Facebook, TikTok et al. emerged to shove them down our throats 24/7; now the frequency with which we are presented images of implied perfection has increased exponentially. Where in the past it was a rogue billboard or magazine editorial, today it is ubiquitous across all social media platforms and girls do their own photoshopping. We are truly the stars of our own reality shows, and the pressure to compete in the imaginary stakes is high. Being an insecure, hormonal teenager in this era must be unbearable – I would hazard a guess that this is among the reasons that mental health issues are so prevalent.
Kids born from 2013 onwards are apparently called Generation Alpha (I’ve never heard of this either). Watching my much younger half-sisters grow up is illuminating and quite honestly a bit scary. Their lives have been endlessly documented from the moment they were born.
This is both a blessing and a curse. As a child growing up in the nineties, we had a handful of home videos (by which I mean VCR videos) of myself and my brothers which we watched on repeat, including an infamous attempted drowning scene which always drew much applause. By contrast, Olivia and Rachel have grown up constantly seeing themselves in playback, every cute moment documented from several angles. Where the only images I saw of myself were those my mum had bothered to develop and frame (read: not many), my sisters see their own faces everywhere, on the small screens which have come to comprise an extension of our very selves in 2019.
I really do wonder how it will impact them, but I suppose that they have never known anything different.
Being of a certain generation is a matter of being in a given place at a given time, a shared struggle and upside with a cohort of (sometimes) similar individuals. No generation is fundamentally bad, but we are all shaped by the circumstances in which we grow up. Wrongly maligning Millennials for the death of the doorbell or blaming Baby Boomers for Brexit just serves to distract from bigger structural issues.
Investing too much in the narrative of a dichotomy between generations is ridiculous – without meaning to sound overly philosophical, we are all just human beings who are looking to live the best lives we can. The belief that the accident of your birth in a certain era gives you superiority over others born after or even before is bizarre and regressive. One’s energy would be better focused on attempting to understand and accommodate in a manner that is beneficial to all.
I hope that you enjoyed the memes.