Millennials get blamed for “killing” everything from traditional retail stores to the latest accusation from Bloomberg, that they are killing American cheese. This type of thinking is minimalistic and completely ignores the fact that change is one of the few constants in this world. Almost every generation has seen younger generations as a threat to their status quo and worried about the potential implications for the future. People have been trying to explain the effect millenials are having in the marketplace, but there is a surprising lack of focus on the underlying causes.
My generation has been a part of the new information age and the monumental rise of technology since we were children. I went from reading magazines in the library to using the library computers for fantasy baseball and emailing friends; from passing notes back and forth with friends at school to logging on AIM or Yahoo Messenger to speak with friends online. We lived through a giant leap in technology and were able to experience everything as it came. At the same time, there were more women in the workforce than ever before and the definition of family unit was constantly evolving with parents spending less time with their children. The divorce rate rose to almost 50 percent and the ideal relationship also underwent an evolution. Hollywood portrayed this dilemma in many ways, with movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, Stepmom and The Parent Trap that became coming of age films for my generation.
A study of teenagers in the United States asked “Are you a very important person?” In 1950, 12 percent said yes. Fifty five years later, in 2005, 80 percent said yes. This suggests a monumental change in the way children have been raised and definitely contributes to the trope of the “Me” generation. We have been raised with the ideal that you can accomplish anything if you just work hard and make it happen. The ideal that shuns realism and instead puts rhetoric above experience.
Combine these changes in home life and societal expectations with all of the technological advances, you have a generation that was forced to adapt to profound changes at the drop of a hat. As we matured and became full-fledged adults, we struggled to reconcile the realities of the world with the idealistic values we were taught. Similar to realizing that Santa Claus wasn’t real, we had to face the harsh reality that the idealistic world we were educated for did not exist. Also, the educational ideal became a four year college degree for everyone. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, our workforce underwent a sizable shift as service industry jobs exploded and became the first jobs for a lot of us. The only problem was that they were not just the first jobs, but the only jobs available as we were coming out of high school and college. Many friends of mine were facing tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt when the only jobs available didn’t even require a high school diploma and paid around minimum wage.
We have been forced to adapt and are doing the best we can, so as illusions fall apart around us we must constantly update our expectations to the world as it is. There is a crisis of direction for many of us, but don’t worry because we will find our way through it in the end. Let’s continue to “kill” whatever industries, problems and challenges that stand in our way and conflict with our understanding. Let’s create a better world with updated and realistic expectations for our children.