Michael Kulick, courtesy of mobilize.org
Much attention has been paid to Joel Stein’s Time Magazine cover story, “The Me Me Me Generation” along with the cover photo of a young girl taking the infamous ‘selfie.’ So much so that its become an Internet meme overnight and received more attention than the actual article titled “The New Greatest Generation: Why Millennials will save us all.” Stein a celebrated columnist for Time begins his article with some of the emerging research on Millennials in regards to narcissism and empathy, and as a whole we Millennials could be better. Being told since our youth that everyone is special, and that just participating is as important as winning has made us apt to thinking just doing the minimum will get us rewards.
We are a generation of checking-in everywhere, taking incessant photos of our food, and texting or chatting nearly every minute. Older generations may perceive us as narcissistic, lazy, free loaders, and unconnected, but this is no different than when the baby boomers called the Generation X a lost, grungy, unmotivated generation, or when the Silent Generation looked at the Baby Boomers as ‘dirty hippies.’ The cycle of degrading the upcoming generation is as American as the way in which we feel we need to sort generations into clean groups with labels, the problem is that we are generalizing and oversimplifying.
Defining Millennials has been done by non-Millennials as has every generation tried to prioritize the generation below it. Yes we are the first generation to go from dial-up tortoise Internet speeds to having mini-computers in our pockets. We reminisce to the ‘days of old’ when we had MySpace pages and Xanga accounts, just as I’m sure the current young people in Middle and High School will reminisce over Facebook and Twitter. We are the last generation who will remember America pre-9/11. The generation who deeply mistrusts the government, big banks, and military for the quagmire of the Middle East, the Great Recession, and the ever mounting next financial bubble that is student debt.
Given these circumstances it only makes sense we’d aim to take solace in the technology and distractions that the 21st century has offered. We are the generation who created Facebook and made it the most popular website on the planet. We are the generation that has put the traditional model of entertainment, news, music, and knowledge sharing on its head. Music executives and news publishers, traditionally held in high regard and raking in obscene profits, are scrambling to connect with Millennials while companies like Soundcloud and Bandcamp (started by Millennials) are allowing for musicians to make money directly off their craft straight to fans. Magazines and newspapers (Time for example) are creating pay walls or online subscriptions fees, which only detour the audience who came of age with Napster. Millennials are a different type of consumer, user, and creators and just like every generation previous we’re creating the world, as we want to see it.
Unemployment is a huge problem for Millennials, not least of which because we’re inheriting the worst economy in decades. In the US we don’t have it as bad as our European counterparts hovering around 8-9% unemployment compared to 20% in Spain, 16% in Greece, and even 12% for Great Britain. But we also recognize that most of our friends are moving back home with their parents after graduation, or deferring going to four year Universities and taking Community College classes to avoid mounting debt from student loans. These situations stacked onto a generation might crush and demoralize all of us, but Millennials don’t see it that way. We create tech start-ups to take, edit, and share our photos easily.
We hand screen print posters for events because it’s more authentic and the craftsmanship is superior. We are starting gardens, farms, and taking our own consumption into regard when we shop. The information age was supposed to democratize the world, and it still may, but what it has given us is the ability to be both creators and consumers. Etsy accounts spring up everyday with skilled wares from all over the world that people can buy instantly. The Square app has already revolutionized the credit card industry and will continue to do so. These are all areas where Millennials given their tenacity, skill, and some dumb luck have been able to thrive and bring other emerging Millennials along for the ride.
For all of our narcissistic photos and status updates we are also much more calculated in our important decisions such as marriage and child bearing. Millennials care about each other too. When someone has a terrible lose or tragedy it is common to see their social media walls and mentions with messages of support and honesty. We are a vastly connected generation, more so than any generation previous, and this will be the reason why Millennials will save the world. Because we don’t just look at one problem and aim to fix it, we look at whole scenarios, consequences, and similar situations abroad, in other states, or even in our neighboring communities to find out how to best address situations.
Lastly, we are some of the most civically engaged with Teach for America teachers, City Year, AmeriCorps, and the many thousand more nonprofit community engagement groups around the country. Will we continue to text and chat and take photos of our food? Yep. Will we have to face some of the most difficult times for the economy and the world? Sure. Are you hopeful we can address these concerns just like every generation previous? No, we’re more hopeful than previous generations and we will do it.
Michael Kulick is a graduate from Michigan State University with a Bachelors Degree in Professional Writing. A passionate Detroit supporter he has worked with environmental and energy nonprofits, on community art projects, and on numerous web sites and publications. Currently seeking to return to Detroit to further his community engagement Michael hopes to kick-start the dialogues around social justice, specifically in regards to education and food equity. You can follow Michael on Twitter @South_PawMike or visit his website http://michaelkulick.net to learn more.