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The Spotlight on Millennials

The Spotlight on Millennials

I’m going to return to looking at the list of patterns to expect for the living generations in the current social era, the Crisis Era in Strauss & Howe terms, picking up where I left off a few months back.

Let’s look at the remaining items on the list of predictions about the Millennial generation – that Millennials will heroically rise to political challenge, that they will develop a sense of generational community, and that they will benefit from a new focus on the young-adult world. For evidence, I will simply consider the kinds of news stories that have been prevalent on social media and the web in the past decade. So let’s start with the last item on the list.

In the Millennial generation’s childhood era, which began way back in the 1980s, children benefited from a new focus on child-rearing. A wave of social change in the direction of increased child protection came in the form of mandatory safety rules, zero tolerance policies, and laws named after child victims (for example, Megan’s Law). I wrote about this on my old blog nearly twenty years ago.

Now that we are in the Millennial young adulthood era, the impetus for social change has shifted to the adult sphere of life. Political change may be stymied by partisanship, but a wave of social movements has risen in response to long-standing problems. These problems were tolerated when they affected previous generations – but no more.

A prominent example which can be thought of as zero tolerance policies reaching the workplace is the Me Too movement and its effects. This took off last year as a viral social media hashtag when a prominent Hollywood producer was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment. Since then, a flood of accusations has led to the downfall of many men in high places. Sexual harassment in the workplace has long been covered up by HR departments and endured by female employees, but in the Millennial era this may not be possible, or desirable, any more.

A less politically charged example is the new concern over reducing concussions to football players in the National Football League. The research into the problem began in the Gen-X era, but it was only ten years ago that the U.S. Congress compelled the NFL to act.  An enormous settlement was agreed upon, which has benefited retired Gen-X players, but only after they sustained the injuries in the first place. For Millennials, a protocol is coming into place to reduce the prevalence of injuries in the first place.

Not that there isn’t a politically charged example connected to the NFL, by which I mean the Black Lives Matter movement. Football players kneeling during the national anthem are in solidarity with this movement, protesting police shootings of unarmed young black men. Though rates of violence have been declining for a generation, police killings still disproportionately affect minorities. In the past this may have been a topic for moralistic commentary in academia and the arts, but today it is the focus of a stubbornly persistent and controversial activist movement.

Another famous movement that seems to have come and gone is Occupy Wall Street, which protested income inequality and the corruption in government and finance that was brought into stark relief by the financial crisis and bailouts in 2008. The protests on the street may have ended, but they continue in the online world. On today’s Internet feeds there are endless posts about the difficulties faced today by Millennials trying to get by in the current economy – the burden of student debt, the impossibility of surviving on minimum wage, the need to delay life events like home buying or marriage until financial stability is achieved.

All of these difficulties were faced by previous generations, but now that Millennials face them there is a greater sense of urgency. Will these problems be addressed by drastic measure while Millennials are still young adults? Will student debt be discharged, and higher education be payed for by taxpayers, like primary and secondary education? Will the minimum wage be raised significantly?

This ties into the first item on the list of what to expect from Millennials – that they will heroically rise to political challenge. There is less evidence of this. Youth voting rates have increased slightly since their nadir in the Gen-X era, but have not come anywhere close to that of the great era of civic participation of the mid-twentieth century. Older generations still have a lock on government, which partisanship has rendered contentious and barely functioning. But time favors the young generation, and they will eventually make their voices heard.

All that is discussed above connects to the remaining item on the list – that Millennials will develop a sense of generational community. Just that fact the their generation’s name – originally coined by Strauss & Howe as part of an academic theory – has become a household word, and that news about them has become so prominent, shows how they are in the forefront of social awareness. Everyone is familiar, for example, with stories about how they are reshaping the economy. With the spotlight shining on them, it is hard to imagine this generation doesn’t have a strong self-awareness. If they can combine that awareness with an enforceable political consensus, they could reshape our society, and truly bring about a Millennial era.

The Millennial Counter Argument

The Millennial Counter Argument

Since the streaming video era began, a new kind of content from the Millennial generation has become prevalent. It consists of episodes of commentary that dissects cultural phenomena, common sense knowledge or received history to get at hidden or unrepresented truth.

A famous example is Adam Ruins Everything, which began as a series on the CollegeHumor web site and then became a television show on truTV. An example you may have seen on Facebook is Racist History. Other examples abound on YouTube, in the form of named channels such as Counter Arguments, CaptainDisillusion, Knowing Better, Loose Canon by Lindsay Ellis (though I think she might have dropped that name), and Hilarious Helmet History from the web site Cracked (which itself fits this description).

With Spock-like logic and more than a little snark, the Millennial creatives who produce this content challenge assumptions and rewrite the narrative of conventional wisdom. Unsentimental and hyperrational, they seek to shine a cold, hard light on reality and reveal stark facts, repudiating the hysterics and oversaturation with meaning that characterize the Boomer outlook.

It’s like they seek to jettison all of the histrionic cultural baggage of the Boomer era, and rebuild a world based on reason and accuracy, in keeping with that Millennial mantra, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Here is a great example of what I mean:

 

What’s with all the ink?

What’s with all the ink?

A conversation with my BFF started with me Stevesplaining (a thing I do) the social history of tattoos.

You see, they were a Pacific islander custom (think Maui from Moana) which Europeans encountered in the Age of Discovery. This is why tattoos are associated with sailors. They then became a custom among Europeans of the lower orders, and were for a long time in the West associated with lack of respectability and the criminal underclass.

Then, in the aftermath of the Sixties at the end of the twentieth century, young people sought to break free of cultural norms. Getting tattooed (and/or pierced) was a rebellious act of individualism practiced by a minority of youth. By the turn of the century it was a fad. And now, it has become a conventional rite of youth passage. Which is why you see almost every young adult with at least some tattoos.

My BFF replied, “Have you even talked with anyone who has tattoos and asked them why they have them?” I had to admit that I really had not. “It’s because they feel like it’s the only way in which they can truly express themselves,” she continued.

“You mean that their personal bodies is the only space over which they have any control?” I’m thinking how the young generation must feel powerless in a world politically and culturally dominated by their elders.

“Yes.”

So that’s two different perspectives on the frequently tattooed Millennial generation. What do you think?

Millennials as Consensus-builders on Social Media

Millennials as Consensus-builders on Social Media

Looking at the GenerationsI recently posted a list of patterns to look for among the living generations in the current social era, based on Strauss & Howe generational theory. I wanted to take a closer look at some of the items on that list in a series of posts, and I’ll start with one under that most talked about of generations – the Millennials.

The item in particular is the second one in the Crisis era box – “look for the Millennial generation to enforce, among peers, a code of good conduct.” You can see this happening in that ubiquitous phenomenon that is defining the times – social media.

The rise of social media is part of the story of the maturation of the Internet, which first came into the public eye at a time when computer networks were the province of a small minority of socially outcast nerds. As adoption grew through the “you’ve got mail” era and into the dawn of today’s tech giants like Amazon and Google, going online became more and more mainstream.

Then, just around the start of the Crisis in 2008, came a new kind of computer that made being online essentially effortless – the smartphone. With it came an explosion of participation on Internet sites designed to promote social networking and interaction. Now, ten years later, what we call social media platforms dominate as a source of information and news.

The term “media” refers to an era’s primary means of mass communication. Adding the qualifier “social” suggests that a socializing role has been added to that of communicating, and perhaps that control of mass communication has been transferred from media elites (who are now mistrusted) to society at large.

The socializing role is evident in the familiar features of promoting posts (“liking” and “sharing”). Popular opinions rise to the top of feeds and are seen by the most viewers. Unpopular opinions are quashed. The consensus is reinforced through the use of signal-boosting hashtags like #metoo.

Another form of enforcement involves calling out bad behavior. A post demonstrates a transgression of social mores, which may, unfortunately for the transgressor, be taken out of context. Then a blast of comments shames the person. In extreme cases, the person may be identified in real life – called “doxxing” – which can be ruinous.

Perhaps the exemplary case in point is the store owner who posts an anti-gay sign, and then finds his or her business boycotted after a picture of the sign goes viral on social media. But how far might the phenomenon go? Blogger John Robb speculates about “weaponized social networks” and imagines their full potenital.

As for the people being in charge of mass communication now, the “democratization of the media” if you will – that has proven fraught with challenges. Social networks are vulnerable to infiltration, and social engineering has swayed elections. Social media sharing makes the dissemination of false information much too easy, and so the term “fake news” has come into the zeitgeist.

There is also the question of whose consensus is being enforced, as there are competing “red-state” and “blue-state” networks, each attempting to persuade us with their values-promoting memes. What values prevail will be evident in time. And though all of the living generations are participating in this social evolution, ultimately it will be the rising Millennial generation that defines what conduct is considered correct.