The angriest generation? Why Millennials blame society for ruining their lives
- Millennials vs Boomers – an ongoing blame game
- The harsh economic landscape is shaping the Millennials’ grim outlook
- Millennials admit they aren’t saintly online either
- Or maybe it’s technologies that are damaging Millennials’ brain?
- The flipside of Millennials’ ethos
Millennials vs Boomers – an ongoing blame game
The most polarising meme of the year is undoubtedly “OK, Boomer”, coined by Millennials as a two-word dismissal of Baby Boomers that sums up the current generational debate. But the truncated saying has much more to it than meets the ear: it’s not about age or renouncing authorities. It’s not just the way of saying the post-war generation is bitterly out of touch with current reality, but a way of saying, “The rut we’re finding ourselves in is all your fault”.
Millennials — the generation born between 1981 and 1996 — have long been the target of Boomers’ criticism for complaining too much, taking too many vacation days, eating too many avocado toasts and generally being unable to claim responsibility for their own lives. In turn, Millennials blame the generation of Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1965, for practically everything wrong with society these days — their economic, political and environmental choices that created the bleak prospects we’re currently facing. Together with their younger Gen Z brothers and sisters (born between 1997 and 2012), they hate Boomers with a ferocity never seen before. They believe Boomers left them with the legacy of global warming, the worst-ever housing market, swelling education costs, and economic instability. The New York Times wrote that the “OK, Boomer” meme “marks the end of friendly generational relations”. The article talks about a teenage designer who’s sold $10,000 worth of sweatshirts with the “OK BOOMER” slogan ending with the line “Have a terrible day.”
If you think this is as un-civil as it gets, it does get worse. Millennials hate Boomers so much, they came up with a “Boomer-remover” moniker for COVID-19, celebrating its tendency to affect and kill older people. Enough said, right?
The harsh economic landscape is shaping the Millennials’ grim outlook
Experts, however, suggest that laying fault with older generations may not be a sign of immaturity but, rather, a genuine inability to cope with the harsh reality Millennials are facing. In America, Millennials (now between 25 and 40) were coming of age in the years of economic decline and are “significantly less financially secure than (their) Baby Boomer parents”. Tom Allison, deputy director of policy and research for Young Invincibles, the foundation that conducted the study, explains “These findings uncover that Millennials have been set back significantly, by not just the Great Recession but by decades-long financial trends, resulting in major generational declines in financial security between Millennials and Baby Boomers when they were the same age.” In particular, the research shows Millennials have amassed only half the net wealth Boomers did at the same age and that today young adult workers earn 20 percent less than their peers in 1989. For many years conventional American wisdom was that children would by definition enjoy a better standard of living than their parents. The pattern broke with the Millennials — and if it’s not the reason to feel anger and resentment, what is? It’s only human to try and find someone to blame for one’s misfortunes, after all.
Millennials admit they aren’t saintly online either
Microsoft recently released the results of its fifth annual Digital Civility report that surveys teens and adults across 30 countries to find out the extent of negative online behaviour and interaction and how the picture has been changing over the years. While the overall view is cautiously optimistic, with the 2020 Civility index improving by three points compared to last year (p. 8), a few online risks, such as scams, hate speech and discrimination, happen to be at a five-year high (p. 25). A whopping 38% of respondents admitted they were involved in an online bullying incident (p. 32). A staggering 43% of Millennials and 42% of Gen Z’s reported they were engaged in online bullying in one way or another (p. 34). However, only 1% admitted they acted as bullies or (also 1%) contributed to online bullying. Millennials still stand out for their technology use: almost 100% use the internet and spend significant time online. Being the first adopters of social media, they tend to overshare, and sometimes this leads to discussing personal and sensitive issues they take close to heart. Dubbed a “Me Generation”, many Millennials are tempted to think the world revolves around them. No wonder online discussions inspired by their narcissistic posts or selfies frequently turn toxic and aggressive. And the culture of self-comparison causes a person to experience dissatisfaction, desperation, and even depression, which, in turn, may express itself as aggression.
Or maybe it’s technologies that are damaging Millennials’ brain?
Neuroscientists currently believe technology can affect the parts of the brain that control the core of a person’s personality. Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that technologies affect a growing brain through changes in the way the prefrontal cortex, cerebellum, and parietal lobe mature. The cortex, situated in the frontal lobe, controls personality, cognition, and social behaviour.
Many Millennials who are either finishing their studies or work are continually looking at screens. Known as digital natives, they were the first to come of age with cable TV, readily-accessible internet and cell phones, and they stand out for their technology use. A report by Qualtrics, shows “42% of millennials haven’t gone more than five hours without checking social media during waking hours while 42% of Boomers can go a week or more without checking their feed” and that “over half <of them> wake up to check <their phones> at least once per night”. They spend more time on social media and watching online movies and videos than Gen Xers and Boomers. With that said, the overuse of technology increases the rate of depression, anxiety and self-harm. It is also known to heighten the desire for instant gratification, and when it comes to social media, it fuels narcissism — and narcissists don’t play well with others, both on- and off-line.
The flipside of Millennials’ ethos
Although Boomers brand Millennials as clueless and entitled brats, psychologists say in reality, they’re “deeply empathetic and interested in making substantive, important changes in the world they’ve grown into”. However, many suffer from anxiety and depression, and seek psychotherapy more often than Gen Xers or members of earlier generations. It may well be because currently, being 25+, they have reached the age when they are about to confront most of life’s big decisions and feel profoundly uncertain about their choices. So before trying to fit them into a particular cliché (narcissistic-lazy-entitled — you name it), perhaps it’s worth asking why they behave the way they do? Perhaps, the economy and the current housing market are why they aren’t ready to move out of their parents’ homes and hit the “adulting” mode? Maybe they aren’t lazy but rather prefer to focus on living overachieving? Perhaps their anger towards the older generations and the current situation they’re finding themselves in isn’t all that unfounded? And maybe their online behaviour — a mix of oversharing, compulsive social media browsing and proneness to online tiffs are to a certain extent shaped by the pervasiveness of technology they were the first generation to grow around? Let’s be honest, most of us have unhealthy relationships with our phones — you’re probably reading this off your smartphone, aren’t you?
A 2010 research analysing the debate concerning the purported increase in narcissistic tendencies in college students over the last 30 years concluded that “every generation is Generation Me, as every generation of younger people are more narcissistic than their elders”. Every older generation has blamed the next one for the lack of respect, recklessness and impatience. So, it’s only natural that Baby Boomers are dragging Millennials for their approach to life, and sooner or later, Millennials will find themselves in their shoes, calling out Gen Z’s for the same — or different? — faults. Few of them real, most of them perceived.