And that subject line, you may be thinking, is obviously quite millennial.
My year of birth is 1982. I am right on that cusp of being classified as a millennial, by some standards, as some list the year where the millennial generation starts as 1982 and I have even seen 1984. In my mind, we can just probably call 1980 the start year, since we are thinking generationally. And really, I think I fit with the millennial generation, even though some of my friends tell me I think very much like Gen Xer and even act that way most of the time. Still, I feel like I think and act like a millennial, more often than not, though I do have my Xer stereotypes. And frankly, these “generational codes” are nothing but stereotypes, though let’s ignore that for the purposes of this blog post.
When I first learned of these different generations, it was probably the early 90s and I desperately wanted to be an Xer. These kids were so cool, I thought, with their hip contemporary authors like Douglas Coupland whose books I devoured and cool music like Nirvana and Alice and Chains and their real, paying-the-rent day jobs. I was in junior high. I didn’t like school and honestly didn’t like much of anything unless it was literature or music. I idolized the lives of the generation ahead of me and wanted to be like them, so I often mimicked their attitudes, their dress, and desires.
But I am a millennial, though perhaps not the classic, garden variety, and I have been thinking about this far too much lately. For instance, I ride the bus and rely on public transit like any good, true hipster in Portland, Oregon would, even though I am not living in Portland. And when on the bus, I wonder why there isn’t a place for my coffee cup so that I can send a text without spilling my coffee all over my favorite skirt, which is a thrift store purchase. I see this type of thing as not only inconveniences, but problems that need to be solved.
While the above isn’t the strongest example, it certainly gives a good indication of how we think as millennials. Technology is not only important, but almost everything, to us. Yes, we love our families, our pets, but we also have a space in our stiff little hearts for our hybrid cars, macbook pros, smartphones, ipods and bicycles. So do notice I went from families and animals and then moved back to technology without so much as needing a transition.
When I was reading Carol Bly‘s book on Beyond the Writer’s Workshop: New Ways to Write Creative Nonfiction for my comp exams coming up, I noticed the generational differences and the generation-speak between us. For example, she deeply dislikes our current (book published in 2001) “junk culture” and bemoans that there is nothing interesting within it. That it is deadening. In some respects, she has a point. Think of the Kardashians and the question of, “so, why are they famous again?” But this was also written before “Keeping up with the Kardashians” and really how could you? Still, I think there is a lot of value in our highly visual, highly technological culture. I think our culture is making us not less creative, but more creative and not dumber, but smarter. Yes, we no longer need to remember phone numbers since they are saved in our smartphones. Still, technology makes us learn how to do things better, more efficiently, and effectively. Also, we can get a lot more done in one day than we could before because of technological improvements. A story somewhat related to this, but mostly demonstrates how far we have come in terms of technology, is about how one of my former professors typed up his dissertation on a typewriter. Every time he tells this story of the hours he worked, of how he typed and retyped the whole thing plucking away with only two pointer fingers. I always stare back at him, with my cup of coffee from my Kerig or the local starbucks and ask, how?
So yeah, I am a little spoiled, but aren’t you as well who may or may not be a millennial? You are reading this on a computer, right? Is it a macbook pro? Or are you reading this on an iPad or some other tablet? You got it pretty convenient, too.
One of the differences, though, between myself and the stereotypical, garden-variety millennial is our upbringing. I was not raised in some weirdly comfortable middle class family. I never had any feelings of entitlement, as people claim millennials have. The only thing I really feel entitled to is technology because, really, how else can I function and do what needs to get done? I do not know any difference since I have been online since 1995, and really that is a late start considering some of my peers. I don’t feel the world owes me anything. But I also think these are really negative aspects of being a millennial that are not true for everyone and, perhaps, may be a little overblown, despite our fancy coffee makers and technological gadgets that our parents do not completely understand (even though my mom and dad are pros at their respective iPads).
Millennials, I feel, are good problem solvers. We are efficient. We want change. We want diversity. We don’t accept answers from authority figures just because they are authority figures (think of all the times Mom said “because I said so.”). We want to make our community’s better. We may not be the original hipsters, but we are nonetheless hipsters. I think we are also highly creative individuals because we have to be. We must be creative in order to succeed at all. And this is why I value creativity so highly in my classroom. I think students will need to be able to think creatively, to think outside the box in order to succeed. Today, for example, I instructed them on cover letters. Then I had them imagine they were writing a cover letter to be on an episode of a TV show. I used two TV show examples, Glee (which I admittedly know very little about) and Mad Men (freaking love it), and they could write a cover letter geared toward the specific criteria I listed. One group even wrote a cover letter to be on an episode of the Walking Dead as a zombie, which was cool. While each cover letter had its strong points and flaws, when considering the genre, each cover letter was imaginative and creative. Students seemed to enjoy writing these, even though at first they really struggled to find those brief stories the cover letter needs. But as each group shared their cover letters, students laughed at the humor or found the cover letters engaging and interesting and creative on some level.
Earlier, I also had a couple students present on the topic of how to deal with difficult clients or customers. This is something any professional should know how to handle since you will deal with difficult people from time to time in the professional setting. I deal with difficult students from time to time, for example. And so these students presented on this topic and instead of just relaying to the audience of how someone can work with these situations, they acted out a skit between an airline worker and a unhappy flyer. During the skit, each student stated the viewpoint that individual was coming from and how the other individual should handle it. Overall, I found this not only instructive, but creative. It engaged the class. It had some humor. It wasn’t just a boring old powerpoint. Again, while this isn’t the greatest example ever, it shows creativity and thought.
While the millennial generation has its share of criticisms, such as we are money-obsessed and lazy and entitled it is important to realize the Gen Xers did, too, as did the generation before them. Everyone criticizes the present generation, but the present generation is also there to make the world better, and so I do believe millennials will, despite their stereotypical flaws.