Every May and June, I am barraged by caps and gowns each time I open social media. In the photographs, high school grads who are ready to take their talents to college and newly brandished college alumni who—ready or not—are about to enter to real world wear smiles and are surrounded by family. I was once in one of these pictures, my smile filled with pride and accomplishment while also masking the fear that danced through me—fear of the uncertainty of college and the change it was bringing that would shake up my whole life. Now, as I gaze upon BC’s latest grads, I realize with mounting anxiety that I am halfway there, halfway to the biggest change I have yet to face.
For more than a decade, millennials have been taking off their caps and moving out into the real world. This transition sees a new crop of people discovering the role they will play in shaping society. Gen-Xers and baby boomers worry about the younger millennials and the disasters this overly-sensitive, living-at-home, technology-obsessed generation will wreak upon the society in which they comfortably exist. I’ve heard the concerns in the form of relatives nagging at me to put my phone down and journalists telling me that my generation is not ready for the real world. The conversation is happening, and I would like to pipe in and say that a change in perspective is due.
The field of psychology is constantly digging up the origins of behavioral tendencies and giving them names. These designated principles, theories, biases, errors, etc., aren’t patterns people consciously try to follow, yet they are universally observable and found in nearly every crevice of humanity. A "group bias" is one such term, which presents when people show an affinity for their own group—be it a race, gender, religion, or generation—and condemn others not belonging to it. According to this principle, the reason that Gen-Xers and baby boomers have fears about a millennial society is rooted simply in the fact that they are members of a different group. This causes millennials to look like members of a separate team working toward a different goal, undermining or threatening the current status quo.
In several ways, the complaints directed toward current college students aren't misguided; I witness their basis daily among my peers. Millennials are technology obsessed in a way that no other generation is. Moments of solidarity are occupied by a phone screen; no one is ever really alone with a device offering the Internet and contacts galore; and dating is an art that seems to evade us. But perhaps the biggest complaint is that millennials are a generation that needs coddling and won’t be prepared to handle the harsh reality of the imperfect world we live in.
All this criticism is a different matter when viewed from another angle. The argument can be made that millennials are the first technology-obsessed generation because they are the first that have had the opportunity to be. Born into a world where “normal” is the technology boom we still exist in, there is no avoiding the impact of tech in our daily lives. Millennials should not be judged too harshly for this trait considering it is a circumstance unique to their generation; therefore, it cannot be compared to, say, boomers’ reception of technological advances.
Technology can also contribute to the degradation of dating and increase in sensitivity. Dating is a ritual of communication and as such is directly affected by the new methods of communicating offered by technology. The way of the past isn’t possible when there are such a plethora of ways to communicate with others at high frequencies. Millennials are trying to figure out what is it their children will one day refer to as “traditional dating.” In the same way, social media has acted as a bullhorn to our opinions. Our shouts and murmurs on the internet are being viewed as overly sensitive and undignified. Previous generations very well could have been thinking the same thoughts, even speaking them, but without a proper platform weren’t held as responsible for them. In the world of technology, older generations are failing to see that millennials are more exposed than they ever were.
The oldest millennials are merely 34 years of age, and the voices of those picking them apart range from 35 to 70. The complaints are heard and considered, but at the end of the day, there is no way to know how successful or unsuccessful a world run by millennials will be for another 35 or so years. Therefore, it isn’t logical to prematurely condemn a group on a basis of how they behave, the opinions they voice, and their demographic tendencies as college students.
The goals millennials have in college will not be the goals they have when they are complaining about future generations. At this point in my life, I see a lot of spoiled behavior around me. In college, many people are shrouded in entitlement that is not entirely their own fault. After years of living at home, students move off to college paid at least partially by their parents as they fill their brains with knowledge they are told they should use to change the world, as if they will each have some huge impact on society. In reality, most simply don’t know what existing in a world without school for the first time in nearly two decades will be like.
Millennials are doing things motivated by people, passions, and ideas that may be fleeting. Perhaps the issue isn’t their shortcomings or presence in the workplace, but rather the unwillingness of Gen-Xers and boomers to accept the changing of the tides. The issue is nothing more than an inability for human beings to see the world through the eyes of those around them.
I am the first person to advocate consistency. I greet transitions in my life with clenched eyes, not open arms. But I realize that there are multiple paths to the same goal, just as there are multiple routes to every destination. One route have more sights along the way and another may be faster, but ultimately it’s up to the driver which road to travel down.
Millennials are going to take their own route to what they perceive as a successful society in the same way that Gen-Xers and baby boomers did before them. It’s not fair to prematurely declare the failure of millennials, especially from generations who experienced their own criticisms. Each age bracket rebels in its own way, shifts society to fit its molds, improves on what was created before it, and is bound to make mistakes for the next group to clean up. It’s a cycle that has repeated itself throughout history, and yet humans are always shocked to see it coming again.