Millennials get a pretty bad rap.
We’re accused of being lazy, narcissistic, non-committal clicktivists with short attention spans and a tendency to stay at home leeching off our parents FOR EVER.
While any commentary about generations involves massive, unsubstantiated generalisation (spoilers: this one included!) I find this assessment of myself and my peers offensive and plain wrong. Yes, I know a handful of people in my age group who tick all of those boxes, but hey. There are deadbeats in every generation.
It’s high time we balanced out the endless criticism of millennials with some positive generalisations. So here’s my attempt.
TEN THINGS I LOVE ABOUT MILLENNIALS (Millennial pop culture reference to boot!)
1. We are tech savvy
My generation was the first to grow up with personal computing built into our curriculum from an early age. The first generation to have mobile phones in high school. The first to set up embarrassing email addresses and spend every weekday afternoon instant messaging their friends. In short, the first to have the Internet, one of the most revolutionary technological advancements in modern history.
This lifetime of tech-familiarity has enabled us digital natives to develop two important skills that preceding generations generally lack: cynicism about what we read online and an intuitive ability to find our way around new software and digital devices.
When we were at school, we had to learn about which sources of online information were reliable and which were not. In this era of clickbait, fake news and Dr Google, my generation is best placed to choose which ‘facts’ to laugh at and ignore.
Our brains basically ARE computers; our devices an extension of ourselves. Most of us can pick up a smart phone of a completely different brand and model to our own and work it out in under five minutes. Software tutorials? We don’t need those. If we click around enough, we’ll have it sorted in no time. Or we’ll have Googled the answer and identified a reliable solution before you can say the words “tech support”.
2. We are health conscious
Now I don’t mean to say that we are the first or only generation to care about fitness and healthy eating. But you’d have to agree that we have more access than anyone ever before about what’s happening inside our bodies and what food and exercise can achieve. With activewear-clad yogis and paleo food-porn filling our social media feeds, it has never been so fashionable to have a healthy lifestyle.
What is your average millennial eating of a weekend? Likely an overpriced, gluten free superfood concoction for brunch, accompanied by a hot beverage containing ‘milk’ (or ‘mylk’) from any other source than a cow. I’m not necessarily condoning these as healthier choices (I also think my generation has much to answer for in the area of fad diets) but health is without doubt a foremost factor in our eating decisions. Of all the stereotypes about millennials, the smashed avo toast one is probably the most accurate (although this does NOT signify that we are bad with money).
3. We are innovative
Other generations may not understand just how difficult it is for millennials to get a job in their chosen field. With Baby Boomers refusing to retire, a glut of university graduates digested and spat out by greedy institutions, an impossibly competitive recruitment culture and a rapidly casualising workforce, we have to be creative about making money.
Practically every millennial I know has a side business, or is thinking about developing one. We love our hobbies, we millennials, and are clever at turning them into moneymakers with the help of the cyber marketplace. In addition to our main job (or jobs….) we sell stuff on gumtree, write freelance, sell arts and crafts on Etsy, drive for Uber on the weekends, join skincare pyramid schemes, work as personal trainers, offer life coaching – all manner of entrepreneurial wonders. Why? Because we can. And because we have to.
4. We are adaptable
As well as being innovative, we are adaptable. The insecure private rental market and pipe dream of owning a home mean that we have to move often. So we get used to new environments. In this, we are also helped by our propensity to travel overseas – a lot. Most of us have worked or studied outside of Australia, done a gap year, or taken a few months off work to see the world. We have a lifelong mobility that our predecessors only dreamed of. As a result, we are less afraid of change than other generations. Bring it on.
5. We are socially conscious
Despite our reputation as chronic whingers, narcissistic social media posters, selfie-addicts and shallow clicktivists, I personally think millennials are the most socially aware generation since the Baby Boomers. We were kids or teenagers when 9/11 happened, we’ve seen Australia’s harsh asylum seeker policies develop before our eyes, we have personally witnessed climate change develop from a theory to a reality, and we have more instantaneous access to international news than anyone ever before.
Sure, we tend to be across a lot of issues, rather than dedicating our lives to one, but we are constantly signing online petitions, donating to causes, commenting on news articles and sharing content we are passionate about. We too, want to change the world. And you know what? We probably will.
6. We are inclusive
We Millennials will be the first to tell you that many of our parents and grandparents are racist. Sure, some of them have their reasons – many of our grandparents, for example, watched with baited breath as Japan almost invaded our nation. One thing we certainly have on previous generations is our comfort with difference. Be it ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, sexuality – we are surrounded by diversity, and we love it. We simply don’t understand how our elders can be so bigoted.
Our generation is at the forefront of the marriage equality movement, the new wave of feminism, the disability rights movement. We are the least likely to buy into Islamophobia and anti-migration sentiments. Our children will grow up with the conviction that all people are equally valuable and deserve to be treated as such. What a proud legacy that will be.
7. We are friendly
I am constantly struck by the manner with which millennial salespeople interact with me. They are chatty and informal, we share a laugh, use slang, make pop culture references. The other day I complained to my bank about receiving 18 letters in place of one, and the guy I spoke to described a similar scene from Harry Potter. The same day, I bought something at my local pharmacy, and a girl I’d never met danced crazily to the song that was playing, that we both loved. This would NEVER happen in other age groups.
In the workplace, we are direct yet colloquial, we treat people as friends, and yet remain professional. We are used to expanding our networks through Facebook, so are open to friendship with everyone we meet. We see no need for stuffy language and titles. We see ourselves as equal to our superiors. This can be perceived as cocky, but I think it can take us far.
8. We are connected
This year most of us are celebrating ten years on Facebook. Social media enables us to keep up with friends and family overseas, and keep up to date with the engagements, weddings and babies of our school friends. We can share with our network our passions, our joys and our heartaches. Within moments we can chat, Skype or share photos with anyone, anywhere.
This connection makes us stronger. If you ever studied sociology like me, you will probably be familiar with the concepts of bridging and bonding social capital. While insular communities (producing bonding capital) can be comfortingly tight-knit and loyal, they can also be suffocating. Broad rather than deep connections (producing bridging capital) may be shallower but strengthen unity and connectedness within the wider community. In a time of increasing fear of difference, bridging capital is exactly what we need more of.
9. We are good communicators
Millennials are used to multiple lines of communication. Each mode and context brings its own social rules, and usually its own language. Older generations often miss these nuances, causing us to roll our eyes and have and patronising giggle. We can be blunt and succinct via text, express an array of emotions without words via emojis online, represent our feelings clearly in a pithy meme or well timed photo on Instagram or Snap Chat. We can express our disagreement or solidarity in the click of a button.
Every generation has its lingo, but online platforms for common interest communities have brought on more linguistic diversity than in any previous generations. The captions on dog and cat memes literally have their own complex linguistic structure and consistent vocabulary. Acronyms are so much a part of our lives that we sometimes accidentally say them out loud (or is that just me?) OMG, LOL, embarrassing AF. We have expression down to a fine art. And our language is inclusive in that, if we don’t understand it, we can just ask Google. Or Siri.
10. We are self aware
Some may say TOO self aware. We are constantly sharing our lives and our faces with the world. We definitely see ourselves at the centre. And while this brings definite problems, it also means we are hyper aware of our issues. I would be willing to bet that more of us would be open to counselling and self-help literature than any other generation. We do personality tests and online quizzes, share memes and watch TED talks about our traits, and devour self-help articles.
While you may or may not agree with the strengths I have described, I hope this post goes some way to show that millennials aren’t all bad. In fact, we have a lot to offer. And TBH, anyone that complains about us can only blame themselves; they shaped our world and raised us this way!
And personally, I think they did a pretty good job.
Post script: Some of my readers have questioned whether they fall into the millennial category. Of all generation labels, millennials is perhaps the most vague and contested. However in common usage it generally includes anyone born in the early to mid 80s onward.