Monday, April 16, 2012

Millennials

I love trying to figure out a person's framework. Not just the "thing" that makes them tick (as if any person could be boiled down to one idea/motive/belief). But the complex mess of personal values, family background, personality, faith affiliation, historical context, projected self-image, etc that melded together in a unique way makes each of us distinct persons.

While I find the interplay of different attributes fascinating, it can be easier to focus on one facet of a person at a time. Recently, Mr. Amazing Dude and myself have been discussing the way the a person's historical context (ie, their generation) affects their perspective on life. Most of us have heard about the "Greatest Generation," Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y. These are names for age categories based on when a person was born (ie, Baby Boomers were born between 1945 to roughly 1965). It's generally accepted that each generation has a cluster of identifiable beliefs and behavior patterns that typifies most people born during that generation.

After considering the generational delineations of several experts, Mr. Amazing Dude and I figured out that we are borderline Gen X and Gen Y (Millennials). Some experts included us with Gen X based on our birth years and others with the Millennials. So we looked at some of the traits of each generation and determined that we were probably Millennials (defined as those born between 1977ish to 1990ish). Ever since this revelation, certain long-term misunderstandings between myself and say, my parents or grandparents or former employers made sense. All this time, I thought the issue was with me--a personality different. That might account for particular aspects of these "conflicts," but I think the friction was less personal and more generational.

So, what are common traits of Millennials? That's hard to answer. Because of the rapid political, social, and technological changes in the last 30+ years, Millennials are a pretty diverse group, probably more so than any previous generation. Generalizations about us can be hard to make. Some generational studies focus on the media use of my generation, but I'm more interested in the commonalities in perspective or life approach that Millennials share with each other (probably because I have the media habits of a Baby Boomer. Yeah, no Facebook for me). So here are a few Millennial traits that I found insightful and well, personally identifiable.

Adaptive and Connected. We've gone from Atari 400s, landlines, and book-mobiles to Wii, iPhones, and E-readers. We've adapted to tons of tech changes in our lifetime (it's hard to remember what life was like before cell phones and the Internet) and we LIKE to stay connected. well, when we want to be connected. Some of us like to be unplugged. A lot. :-) Similarly, we like to adapt/customize our interfaces and personalize them to reflect our interests, image, etc.

Tolerant of gray areas. We do not see the world as black and white. The world is incredibly complex and multi layered. Social and political problems, whether local or global, required careful, nuanced solutions. Same thing for our faith. We're skeptical of quick fixes, trite sayings, and platitudes. We are more comfortable with internal contradictions (cognitive dissonance) than previous generations because we do not see much internal consistency in our world.

Skeptical of authority. While most of us are not cynical, we do question/filter what our parents, employers, political and religious leaders say. Most of us aren't disrespectful in this either (or at least, do not mean to be). Part of this skepticism results from us being rather egalitarian. We respect people, not positions, and thus we don't put a lot of stock in experts. Unless they're humble.  We like understated people who treat people equally. In the mind of a lot of Millennials, hierarchies are arbitrary--especially for female Millennials as women tend to be more egalitarian and less hierarchical than men.

Pragmatic and Idealistic. As inconsistent as it sounds, we are both. :-) While some Millennials do exhibit a stronger preference for one, most of us manifest both outlooks--just at different times. For example, we are realistic enough to accept we will probably face some kind of societal collapse in our lifetime. But we are also optimistic (hopeful) that we will experience good and be able to do good during our lifetime. (It should be noted that the optimism of Christian Millennials might be different than that of their secular cohorts due to their eschatology.)

Self-centered and Altruistic. Another apparent contradiction that is just reflective of observation #2 above. This one is harder for non-Millennials to see, I think. Older generations have dubbed us the "Me Generation" because we've been hovered over by our parents, teachers, coaches, etc and told how special/talented we are from Day 1. Self-esteem was emphasized in our education. This has made us very confident in our abilities, self-perception, etc. But while we can be self-absorbed (I don't think anymore than other generations), we also enjoy being very altruistic. We want to give back and help others in need, but often in ways that aren't highly visible to others. Christian Millennials may not tithe very much to their local church as it is well-funded, but might be very generous toward those they perceive as truly in need: the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the abused, and the addicted. I am really happy to see my generation's surging interest in charitable giving and working for non-profits. If it's a cause that holds our heart, we are going to give our time, money and voice to that cause.

So those are just a few of the observations about Millennials that rang true with me. Over the next couple of posts, I hope to explore what kinds of stories or themes Millennials seek out in fiction and movies. I think we hone in on and are attracted to different themes than previous generations.

And what about you? Are you a Millennial? Do you identify or not with this list? Are there other traits you see? Are you a Gen Xer (born between 1965-1976) or a Baby Boomer who feels more akin with Millennials?

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