Lena Dunham once said, “I think I am the voice of my [the millennial] generation,” but most of the time, I wonder about what that voice sounds like. Who exactly are we? Categorically, the term millennial represents the people who were born from the 1980s-2000s, so those of us in our teens and 20-somethings.
Other names used to define our generation: Generation Y, Digital Natives, Generation Me, Echo Boomers, The Dumbest Generation, and more.
But there’s something that 40 year-old ‘experts’ just don’t get; Millennials. No, they might understand us as humans but they do not understand us as Millennials. After all, they did not grow up with things like MSN messenger, that “You’ve got mail!” sound we heard as kids when logging on to AOL, or the feeling we got when pranking strangers on Yahoo! Chatrooms. Their high school experience never mingled with myspace, where those angled shots from above were really cool and there, rested on a pixelated page laid a visual representation of our entire identity. A collage of all of our favorite products like Starbucks, or chi straighteners, or iPods could be shared with our classmates. We could broadcast our favorite bands, like Panic! at the Disco, or Bright Eyes, or display our top 8 friends, a representation of our social currency.
These people writing about our generation can only watch from afar, and make certain observations, but they cannot define Millennials because they know nothing about being a Millennial. At this point in time, recent history can be dissected into two categories: Pre-Internet and Post-Internet. Whether you grew up in the Millennial generation with this technology or not, you were intrinsically changed by it because, when your childhood exists in the wake of a paradigm shift in cultural consciousness, you feel it. In the 4th grade, I remember discovering Britney Spears on a web page in the classroom. The screen was pink, and I was amazed; for my birthday that year I requested Baby One More Time, which would later be the inspiration of many choreographed dances with my friends at daycare. I loved the internet from the beginning. I was amazed by it. Playing games with people from all over the world was a concept not lost on my 10 year old brain, although I knew perfectly well that I did not understand it.
But these prototypical interactions could in no way extend foresight to the future of cyberculture. In the span of a year, 2006 to 2007, the world experienced the iPhone and Facebook became available to anyone with an e-mail address. In my opinion, the world was a rock waiting between two fingers of a sling shot until this point, in which the rock was hurled out into the air. Millennials hardly felt the velocity of this change. We were primed for that hurl. But the rest of the world remained in a state of inertia; Years of a particular worldview were challenged and demolished in an instant, and for a lot of people, confusion and resentment was the only thing left.
The media, millennial ‘experts’, teachers, and parents have yet to run out of criticisms about our cyborg qualities, complaining about how we sleep with our phones under our pillows, how we have such short attention spans, or the atrocities of our narcissistic nature. This is a one-dimensional understanding of what and who Millennials are. Yes, our phones are important to us, but they don’t define us. Yes, most of us get bored pretty easily, but that doesn’t define us. Yes, we may sometimes come off as incredibly narcissistic, but that’s only because we are trying to gain a better understanding of ourselves. Because, while we may be better at adapting to new technologies, we are not fortune-tellers. We do not see what is in store for us, or what the world will look like tomorrow. Our identities are transient, since our physical identities are merging rapidly with that of the cyber world.
Be kind to us, because kindness is good, and we respond to that. Accept our peculiarities, because we aren’t going anywhere. And please, stop advertising to us so much, because we just aren’t interested in “shiny things” as much as you think.