I have two brothers, one eight and one 10 years older than I am. Having all been born between 1980 and 1995, by definition we’re all millennials. Yet undeniably, we were raised in very different times. My brothers grew up watching movies from a VCR, listening to music from a Walkman and using a landline, dial-up Internet and AOL instant messenger. But during my childhood, those were replaced with DVDs, an iPod, cell phones, Wi-Fi, texting, MySpace and Facebook.
Advancements in technology have created a void in digital communication between the early and late millennials — a distinction that’s unquestionably present but ignored by commentators. My brothers — Millennials 1.0 — have one foot in both worlds, and are a bridge between the millennial generation and its precursor, Generation X.
The media routinely criticizes millennials on our performance in the workforce and our purchasing behavior, not to mention our self-centered nature and resistance to authority. This is unjustified for two reasons. First, there are two populations of our generation, and commentators are slamming us for things we haven’t yet had a chance to respond to. And second, they’re criticizing our generation’s response to problems that their generation created.
A popular critique of millennials is that they’re noncommittal, particularly in the workforce. According to Forbes, millennials change jobs at an average rate of once every 4.4 years.
While this may be true of the early segment of the generation, the criticism is misplaced given the economic upheaval of the past few years. No one knows how the latter half of the generation is going to respond to the job market, so to criticize the millennials that are now graduating from college is blatantly unfair.
Another critique is that in spite of their engagement with consumer culture, millennials are reluctant to make conventional purchases — namely houses and cars. But that hesitance is understandable given the economic experience of the last few years. In fact, the reluctance on the part of many to buy a house, in retrospect, was extremely fortunate given that many people who purchased homes recently are now seriously underwater in their mortgages.
As witnesses to the implosion of the housing market, the latter part of the generation — Millennials 2.0 — will likely hold off on buying a house. Our reluctance to buy homes isn’t a character flaw, especially at a point in our lives in which such purchases aren’t even necessary. It makes a lot of sense. Still, partial blame for the fall of the real estate market and auto industry falls into the hands of the millennial generation as a whole.
Millennials 2.0 aren’t yet a major force in the workplace. We’re not a force financially, and are barely a force socially. The older millennials are now beginning to insert themselves into the larger society economically, socially and politically, and it’s too soon to say how it’s going to work out.
These sweeping generalizations that originated from the early part of the generation are being projected onto a cohort that deserves distinction. While time may show that previously established notions hold true, giving the latter portion of the generation time to forge its own identity is the only way to know.
The same trend can be seen across generations. Take the Baby Boomer generation. The experiences of those in the latter half of the generation — greatly influenced by the hippie culture — differ greatly from the conservative atmosphere of the 1950s and early 60s.
The attempt to pigeonhole a generation is a flawed concept from the start. Changes in society occur so rapidly that unless you atomize a generation to cover several years, sweeping generalities are either inaccurate or applied too soon.
The jury is still out on the millennial generation. Particularly on the second half, which at this point applies to those still in their early to mid-twenties. To label all millennials as narcissistic trophy kids who job-hop, don’t contribute to the economy and are too plugged into technology to appreciate the finer things in life is unjustified based on the lack of track record to base that assessment. I’m not happy about it. And yeah, I’m probably going to tweet about it — but not before posting a selfie to my Instagram.
Sara Morosi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.