It’s a truism that each generation rebels against the last, and is defined by its difference to the generation it follows.
We kick out against our parents, but the Millennials, or those born between 1980 and 2000, are kicking out against a generation who did it best.
The Baby Boomers can really lay claim to kicking out against the morally conservative society in which they were raised – and even then, what they revolted against was a society shaken up by their own parents.
“The young people of the 1920s were as controversial to their older contemporaries as their counterparts in the 1960s and 1970s,” Edward Tenner noted in the Atlantic.
The kids of the Jazz Age threw off the shackles of World War One, welcomed progress and smashed preconceived social conventions by “writhing against each other” in clubs and shortening hemlines.
When the Boomers came along, they took the next step, seeking greater social change and sparking a political, sexual and social revolution.
Responding to an age ripened for change, this generation seized on music, drugs and activism, manning the barricades of social revolution in the streets, classrooms and at home, fighting courageously for what they believed was right (or at least what the momentum of the moment called for).
True warriors of the Zeitgeist – or maybe generators of it?
The Boomers then spawned a generation bequeathed with opportunity—a generation now rebelling against the truly rebellious by disconnecting from the public sphere and connecting to the pursuit of furthering oneself. Our parents had the party, something the Millennials learnt from and didn’t bother trying on for size – unless it’s a binge drinking, backyard, social-media driven, open house party.
We’re good at those.
I am one of them. I was idealistic, perhaps, when I arrived at university in the mid-noughties with the image of student life lifted from the memories of my parents, the news clips of a not-so-distant past, and a promised land of adulthood, partying (I wasn’t let down there), debate, learning and sex.
I was ready. I had chosen a side on social issues. My politics were sorted.
I did find a collection of brilliant people during my time at university, but the social, political, and sexual fire was out. The experimenting had been done by those who came before us and as a result, we were warned to keep on the straight and narrow. We were, and remain, determined high achievers, self-indulgent and expect to live easy (we just won’t be able to afford to buy a house).
Time magazine reported findings from the National Institute of Health that revealed “… for people in their 20s, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is three times as high than the generation that’s 65 or older”. Society, with the aid of a habitual reliance on technology, is gearing more towards “me, me, me”. We are fascinated with how our friends are doing – based on their status updates.
Millennials expect to be promoted, but remain one status update, one video upload (self inflicted or otherwise), or one unthinking “tweet” from blacklisting ourselves from future employment opportunities.
We Millennials are the product of a society that, in general terms, has had it too easy for too long (at least in the west). The need for change lingers on just a few issues, for example: equal marriage, gender pay equality and Indigenous life expectancy, and it appears the tide is turning on all of these issues. The mark of the Millennials on driving these remaining changes is limited, but the thought is there, as is the occasional bleeding-heart status update.
That Millennialist attitude was evident in an attempted call to arms of the world’s youth in the Kony 2012 campaign. The heartstrings of an online, globalised youth were pulled by Invisible Children’s video personalising Joseph Kony’s atrocities in the jungles of Uganda. Momentarily, the world’s “youth” were galvanised, railing their hatred against a man YouTube said was bad by taking to their own Facebook walls to interpret how it made them feel. “Cover the Night”— a move beyond the realms of mouse-click-activism—was a step too far for most. Hopefully, we thought, those with real power will do something about it.
If their democratic rights are taken away, suddenly the fight so often derided as missing in the Millennials can come to the fore. The Arab Spring has been described by Princeton University’s Michael Hoffman as “… a youth rebellion driven by grievances about unemployment and dissatisfaction with existing regimes”. It remains an evolving revolution and it is the Millennials of these non-democratic societies who are responding to repression, standing up and driving change.
The real test is yet to come for the smartphone addicted Millennials who are living in the comfort of democracies. It is a fight that is, in many ways, already upon us – the battle to halt climate change. Society’s inability to react fast enough to global warming is already producing great young talent, such as the determined individuals running the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. However, despite there being almost universal agreement from Generations Y and Z that climate change is human induced, unfortunately, for now the fight is really being taken up by just a few.
How we Millenials will react remains to be seen, but if we don’t drive change on reducing carbon emissions, you can be sure the coming generations will turn on their predecessors for leaving them with a far more inhospitable planet.