Welcome to the reign of “Generation Me.” Now in order to understand our foundations, motivations, and why we take so many damn selfie’s, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane to understand the evolution of the realities of our generation and what the hell it all means.
Let’s start with our grandparents. They lived through a World War, witnessed the downfall as fascism and marveled as their parents work through the Great Depression. The combination of successful political leadership and the paranoia of McCarthyism pressured them to conform, as the values of individualism fell by the wayside in favor on the all-encompassing ethos of patriotism, love of country. Forever dedicated to the collective, they were nicknamed the “silent generation” as they quietly and loyally adapted to the world around them.
Then came our parents, the baby boomers. Coming to age during the great social changes of the late 60’s and early 70’s, this generation lived through a period of sheer and utter chaos. Their faith was tested and shattered by the war in Vietnam, civil strife and political assassination. Simultaneously, they were eyewitnesses to expansions in civil rights and the economic boom of the 90’s. Such confusion made the formation of a cohesive world-view amongst a generation nearly impossible. Instead, Gen-X funneled into a general sense of disillusionment.
Now we fast forward to today. According to recent polls, we are the first generation in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than our two immediate predecessor generations. Our generation has arguably been the hardest hit by the recession, are have grown increasingly skeptical (bordering on cynical) of even the best-laid retirement plans. Only 6% of us expect to receive the kinds of retirement benefits that today’s retirees enjoy, and with good reason.
To quote Ronald Reagan, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Party left me.” The way Millennials see it, our institutions are no longer worthy of our trust, and have left us out to dry.
We have grown up in an era where dirty money spent by the shadowy few dictate our ever-bleak futures. We have watched the toxic vapor seep out of the bodies that are meant to govern us while we sit on mountains of student debt with desolate employment prospects and grossly overpriced diplomas rotting in our hands. It comes as little surprise that we aren’t running to congratulate our elected leaders and salute our respective flags. No, instead, we have become alienated from our society’s major institutions. Turned off by religion and disgusted by politics, we are less trusting, less patriotic and generally a pretty jaded bunch.
Nicknamed “Generation Me,” us Millennials figured it out from an early age that we would be going at this whole life thing alone, with no government or institutions to provide for us or provide a cushion to fall back on.
With verifiably less attachment to group cohesion or classically defined community, we have been consistently taught to put our own needs first. Think about it, we grew up to the matras of “you’re special” and “you can do whatever you want.” These aphorisms emphasized individualism, and have been reflected in the attitudes of a generation who put an insane amount of time and energy into maintaining our “uniqueness.” When left unchecked, individualism has the tendency to lead to blatant self-absorption and narcissism. Generation Me takes turns being both the victims and the perpetrators of aggressive self-promotion of all things mundane via the Internet, from your cat taking a nap to an elevator selfie.
Take, for instance, your facebook newsfeed on mother’s day. Did it or did it not turn into passive aggressive warfare, a battle of who can put the most heart-warming photo collage of them and their mom (who may or may not even be on facebook), singing her praises and asserting that she is, without a doubt, the best mom ever. Just who is this post for?
But individualism isn’t all bad. In fact, it has provided our generation with the opportunity to explore, discover and develop aspects of our lives that our parents and grandparents didn’t even know were possible. For Generation Me, we are on a life-long quest to self-actuate. Straight from psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous pyramid of the hierarchy of needs, self-actualization represents the realization of a person’s full potential. According to Maslow, “What a man can be, he must be.”
Following our generation’s individualistic modus operandi, we work, study, eat, dress, travel and socialize to be the best possible versions of ourselves. Take, for example, our travel patterns. Instead of waiting to cash out on a retirement plan we have no faith in, Millennials have recognized the logic in traveling now. In fact, the Millennials are now the fastest-growing age segment in terms of money spent on long-term travel. The way we see it, better to travel now instead of saving the fun for a future that is far from guaranteed.
Alienated from the institutions which served our parents and grandparents, we recognize that we only have ourselves to rely on. For better or worse, we chose to have the freedom to chose, the opportunity to have options, and to experience the world in a way generations before us never have.