It’s that time of year when colleges are about to turn loose their latest pride of hellions. I should know: I’m among them. Just like every class before us, we’re ready to set the globe ablaze. We’ve got dreams, we’ve got drive, and if we’ve played our cards right, we’ve got at least one internship under our belts. All of our lives have been building to this moment– the hangar doors are almost open, and we’re finally going to be able to spread our wings and fly after nearly two decades of studies. Most older adults we talk to tell us that we’ll be great, that we’ve got what it takes and that they’re proud of us.
Amidst the hustle and bustle and praise, there are a few of us who scramble to put on some kind of armor — any kind of armor — because we’ve glimpsed the harsh truth of what our would-be employers think of us. The thing is, we’ve gone to school for the majority of our existence. We’re not stupid and we’re not oblivious. We have seen things like this:
This parody video reflects an attitude I’ve seen countless people hold towards my age group. I’ve met people who think that most humans under the age of thirty-five are like the millennials above. To some extent, this happens with every new generation: their focus isn’t quite the same as their parents’ was and they get slammed for it. Case in point: Joel Stein’s article, The Me, Me, Me Generation, that talked about how self-centered we Gen Y kids are. He claims we have a huge spike in Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (This rebuttal to the article, by Elspeth Reeve for The Wire, is fabulous.)
It’s not all Milennials, though: that term applies to anyone born from 1980-2000. The issue here seems to me to lie with the children of the last half, from 1990-2000. After all, we 90’s brats have a sort of telepathic link with our smartphones, while those before us merely befriended theirs, and those after us have them surgically grafted to their hands.
Smartphones are a big part of the issue with how older generations see us new twenty-somethings: it seems like we have more eye contact with screens than we do with actual eyes. We were the first group to grow up immersed in computers. Hell, look at Ferris Bueller. That right there is a great illustration of how much attitude towards technology has changed in the past thirty years or so alone.
Ferris gets a computer and is pissed that he didn’t get a car. I have a good number of friends who never bothered to get their drivers’ license. They might have or be old enough to have a bachelor’s, but they can’t legally drive. My little sister and a good number of her friends were more, “Eh,” on the car front and way, WAY more excited about getting a laptop. Or a new phone. What used to be a coming-of-age rite and a huge step towards freedom is now seen as a formality or (in the case of kids who grow up in compact cities) useless.
Of course, I am in San Francisco and Ferris needed to drive to Chicago. But in general, there’s just not the same excitement about getting out on the open road: even AAA says so. In their study, they found that under half (44%) of teenaged Americans get their driver’s license within a year of turning sixteen and that only 54% of them get it by age eighteen. Compare that to just twenty years ago, when, “…two-thirds of teens were licensed by the time they turned 18.”
One of the major reasons as to why kids wait was listed as, “[I] just didn’t get around to it.”
It’s hard for parents who come from the post-war boom and teen culture of the 1950’s to fathom. Both my sister and I displayed a sort of apathy towards getting our license that drove our mother and father insane. Why, why, WHY would anyone NOT want to spread their wings and get away?
We already had. We had the internet. We could hang out online, which seems a poor stand-in for human contact to our parents. Maybe it is. But we don’t see it as a stand-in: we see it as human contact. They see us as missing out on so much that life has to offer.
For the life of me, I will never understand why my mother ever forgets her phone (or worse, willingly LEAVES IT BEHIND) when she doesn’t know if anything bad is going to happen. To me it seems like asking for disaster that could have been avoided. My sister could be dying and my mom would never know because she left her phone at home.
She grew up with, “Be back by six and try not to die, okay?” There’s a sort of dependence in my generation that others never had to have or deal with. It’s great that she trusts us. It’s less great that the forces of nature and the universe are included in that “us.”
That video on millennials in the workplace? It’s just another miscommunication. There’s even another one just like it in millennial-form:
Both of these pass the buck. Both of these don’t aim for a mutual understanding. Sure, they try for “understanding,” but that’s like saying that “I’m-sorry-you-misinterpreted” statements are actual apologies. I’m not sure if there’s a way to really make peace with the next generation or the one before us, or if they want an understanding. Through all the frustration, there’s a certain delight in the tradition of smearing those beneath you. Even if all age groups strove for tolerance and unification, would it be enough to overcome the bitterness of one group losing the world and the other gaining it? Is this pattern a time honored tradition we just can’t give up?
I feel if any group can break the cycle and reach across the age gap to try and make good, it’s mine. Then again, isn’t that how every group feels?