In Defense of Millennials

How quickly we forget history.

Lately there has been a rash of articles and videos accusing millennials of being selfish, entitled, narcissistic, lazy and having little to no attention span.

They are right, and also completely wrong.

That’s because millennials are all those things — selfish, lazy and entitled, but those character traits have nothing to do with their generation, they are simply what people do in their twenties.

Let’s roll the clock back a few years and talk about another generation of lazy, entitled kids.

The Me Generation

For those of us who aren’t old enough to remember, the “Me Generation” was a term coined by writer Tom Wolfe in the 1970s. Wolfe depicts this new generation as having created a “culture of narcissism”1.

The “me generation” was defined by things like new age spirituality, self-help programs, conversations about human potential and “finding yourself”.

This generation also exhibited one quality, which has been present in every generation since the dawn of civilization. They did things differently, and they marched to the beat of their own drum.

In his article titled “The Inward Generation” journalist William Safire had this to say about the “me generation” of the 1970s.

This inclination to “do your own thing,” as Emerson called it more than a century ago in his essay on self reliance, is not necessarily ennobling. It can also be selfish and lazy, corroding young teeth with transcendental caries, refusing to pay for the new freedom with the coin of self‐discipline.2

Does that sound familiar?

But maybe the 70s were a particularly rebellious time in American history. Let’s go to 1990 and an article from Time Magazine about the new “twentysomething generation”.

They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial.3

And let’s not forget what Hesiod said about the “frivolous youth of today”.

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.4

Oh, and Hesiod was a Greek poet who wrote that in 700 BCE.

It Takes One to Know One

After seeing all these examples of people trying to pin the problems of today on each new generation, one might wonder where the problem actually lies. Do we need to curtail new technology so kids can “grow up like we did”? Are we failing as parents and can’t pass our values on to our kids?

Maybe the answer is really simple — we are narcissists too.

When we point at the younger generation and call them selfish, entitled and lazy we’re pointing four fingers back at ourselves. We’re selfish because we want people to do things the way we did, we’re entitled because we don’t want to take responsibility for the fact that the world is changing and we’re lazy because we refuse to get on board with that change.

We blame technology but we forget that technology has been around forever.

I don’t need to cite articles to make the point that every invention — whether it was the car, the radio, the television, the walkman, the computer, the internet or the smart phone has caused a disruption in how we live, and for some that has been an unwelcome disruption.

Even now, we’re living in an age of relative antiquity, compared to what will be possible in twenty years, or fifty years.

Someday our generation — the lazy, entitled, selfish generation that we are, will undoubtedly look upon the new generation, those kids born in 2010, or 2020 and say to ourselves that magic phrase that’s been passed down from generation to generation.

“Can you believe it? Kids these days…”


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Footnotes

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_generation
  2. “The Inward Generation” March 6, 1975
    http://www.nytimes.com/1975/03/06/archives/the-inward-generation-essay.html
  3. “Living: Proceeding With Caution” July 16, 1990
    http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,970634,00.html
  4. http://thinkexist.com/quotes/hesiod