Photograph: Silvia Sani
It seems millennials can’t even have a cappuccino or a slice of avocado toast on a leisurely Sunday without someone dubbing them entitled, lazy, and wholly responsible for the state of the housing market these days. Four contributors celebrate millennial strengths by telling us why the constant criticism is unreasonable, and by explaining the ways in which millennials are trying to change the world for the better.
Alert to Injustices
We all know the long-running narrative attached to the ‘millennial’ label; the generation is seen as a selfish and narcissistic one whose only social capital is Instagram likes, Buzzfeed personality quizzes, and a complete apathy towards “real” issues. But how true is this for the generation that got the term ‘woke’ added to the Oxford English Dictionary?
To be ‘woke’ is to be aware of and alert to injustices in society, and social media platforms like Tumblr have become spaces for millennials to discuss the issues they see as important. For a portion of my adolescence, Tumblr was my online home, and within it I became informed by and exposed to an existing online youth consciousness. For me, it dissected a range of complex political matters like the post-Brexit reality in Europe, the BLM movement, and whether or not the Kardashian Empire is an example of marketable feminism.
It should also be noted that the 2017 UK General election saw a significant increase in the youth vote – a section of the electorate so often described as politically disengaged and unreliable.
The truth of the matter is that young people do care, and to label millennials as self-entitled and lazy is, well…lazy. Millennials are helping to carve an era of social and cultural awareness, all through collating and sharing Twitter threads, and finding solace in relatable memes.
The ‘ME ME ME’ Generation? NO NO NO
Popular opinion in many magazines and newspapers has it that the millennial generation is one inflicted by vanity. It has been argued that there’s a trend of narcissistic behaviour and a large amount of inherited privilege among millennials; TIME Magazine even titled an article ‘The Me Me Me Generation’. Some of the literature out there in the world claims there’s a heavy emphasis on the individual in the millennial generation – but why is this critiqued so harshly? When it comes to pursuing one’s career, for instance, shouldn’t independence – and a tiny bit of selfishness – be encouraged, especially among young women?
Additionally, with particular reference to our global political climate and interaction in modern politics, millennials will be the ones to lead a movement towards a fairer and more liberal society. The emphasis that many millennials place on equality contradicts the notions of vanity and self-obsession. There’s a great sense of being a global citizen, with the awareness of global issues being the result of the increasing presence of social media and technology. It’s also unfair to call this generation entitled or selfish when they’re the ones most likely to be affected by political outcomes like Brexit, even though much of the Remain vote came from millennials.
Making the Connection
I think the defining feature of being a millennial is the feeling of connectedness to others worldwide. It is our generation that experienced the rise of the Internet and the beginnings of social media. Through these tools, we are able to communicate with people we’ve never met, and educate ourselves on topics that might otherwise be unavailable to us. We have experienced a turbulent, divisive political climate over the last few years, with the recent EU referendum and elections causing more young people to speak up about politics.
Yet we get criticised for simply taking selfies or watching reality television. Millennials are often perceived as being lazy and narcissistic, with social media cited as the primary reason for this. However, this type of thinking completely discounts the action and discussion which social networks like Twitter have been able to foster. Trans rights movements, feminism, and Black Lives Matter are some of the social movements being driven by young people across social media – and they show that, if our generation is able to harness what makes it unique, we can make real change.
Investing in Others
What I like about millennials is that we’re invested in other people’s lives. They affect us. Take a look at Glasgow University’s societies: there is the Sign Language Society, aiming to ‘get the student body involved with the deaf community’, the Oxfam Society, Language4Water, the Climate Action Society, and many more. We feel compelled to help (and are far less insular about who we help than assumed).
Often, we derive meaning from feeling with others and, consequently, through helping others.
We should, however, bear in mind that in order to enact positive change, we need a frank and open conversation with those who don’t share our vision because they may not have shared the circumstances that encouraged this – we need to describe each other’s blind spots.