Monday, 29 September 2014

Are We Really Generation Wuss?

Bret Easton Ellis has branded millennials as Generation Wuss - branding us as 'over-sensitive' and 'self-obsessed' He blames our parents for over-protecting us and shielding us from the harsh realities of life. He says social media has made us narcissistic and more worried about what other people think of us than any other generation before us.

The 50-year old author says that he does sympathise with Gen Y though - growing up in the wake of 9/11 and economic crisis as well as an ever 'demeaning sexual atmosphere that places a relentless emphasis on good looks (Tinder being the most prevalent example)'.

Some older generations may agree with this analysis and it's not the first time that millennials have been branded as narcissistic. It's practically the defining quality of our generation - but is it fair to make a sweeping generalisation about an entire age group? Could we do the same with baby boomers and Gen X? We've all grown up in different sets of circumstances in an ever changing world - so of course our approach to life will vary - but is it really fair to label millennials as spoilt brats? 

As a generation - we were encouraged to go to university and promised a promising career as a result - but then the economic crisis hit and this promise crumbled. As companies disappeared, the playing field got smaller and the opportunities diminished. Suddenly - university wasn't your one stop shop to a promising and illustrious career - it just made you one of many. 

There is the thought that millennials want something for nothing. They don't want to work for their opportunities and expect them to be handed on a plate - and why this is true for some - especially those who dream of fame and fortune - it has become increasingly hard for our generation to gain opportunities. To get anywhere - particularly in the creative industries - you have to commit to working for free for years to get any opportunity to slide your way into the industry. For some - this isn't viable - particularly those outside cities who have shockingly high train tickets to pay for. 

So I think it's understandable that we've become disheartened and frustrated generation that are 'over-sensitive and desperate'. We imagined adulthood to be freeing but many of us are still living at our parents or living hand to mouth to cope.

Just as Gen X grew up in a changing social presence of increased freedom and new attitudes and the presence of youth culture - Gen Y have grown up around the increasing presence of social media and all that comes with it. We are the digital generation and our lives are lived online. Social media was born and thrived during our most formative years - so is it any wonder it's become such a huge presence in our lives? Has it affected how we view and present ourselves? Yes - but no more than previous generations trying to fit in. Of course there is more criticism of our generation and we can be targeted and abused by people we have never even met - but I would argue that rather than us being crumbling wrecks like Bret describes us - it has made us stronger. We've probably put up with more criticism than any other generation because we've opened our lives to the world.

Living our lives online has made us compare our lives more than any other generation before us - we have the constant sense of never being quite good enough or matching up to our peers. Before - you could largely avoid this unless you bumped into an old friend or compared yourselves to friends but now you have access to all of your university peers and old workmates at the touch of a button. 

Our lives are so different - can you even compare the generations? The majority of our parents were married with children in careers and owning homes within their twenties - but that's becoming increasingly unlikely for our generation who will be lucky to achieve this by their thirties. Some of us may never even own a home.

Isn't every generation of twenty-somethings lost? We're all finding our feet and while every generation will claim they did it better - we're all growing in different times and I don't think it's ever fair to compare or generalise.

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