Can I Live? Why We Need to Stop Blaming Millenials

Feb 04, 2016

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Last week I caught up with a friend I hadn't seen in a few years at a bar we both knew was way too hip for us. It had a craft cocktail list and an events calendar filled with indie bands we'd never heard of. Fifteen minutes into our first egg white-frothed lavender gimlet, a group of people in their early twenties fluttered in and crammed themselves around a small table. They laughed, they talked, they even quietly sang along to the music humming overhead. Nothing crazy. But at some point between our first and second round, my friend turned me to, nodded at the group, and rolled her eyes. "Millenials," she said. "So annoying."

I smiled at my friend, and then as casually as possible informed her that, technically, given that a Millenial is defined as anyone who "came of age around the year 2000 and was born between the early 1980s and early 1990s," we are also considered Millenials. If you'd been there to see the look on her face, you would have thought I'd just kicked a kitten. There was no way she was going to self-identify as a Millenial. "If you ever call me that again, friendship over." She was joking (I hope), but it made me wonder: why do Millenials have such a bad rep?

Even Millenials don't like calling themselves Millenials. Take for example this study by Pew Research that found "just 40% of adults ages 18 to 34 consider themselves part of the ‘Millennial generation,' while another 33% - mostly older Millennials - consider themselves part of the next older cohort, Generation X." Guys! You can't just opt out of your generation because you don't like the stigma attached to it. Don't get me wrong, I'm the first to admit that I've had my issues with the label and have had less than stellar opinions regarding young twenty-somethings. But the more I thought and wrote about this current generation and its impact on technology and the digital world, the more my opinion changed.

Yes, I acknowledge that sometimes Millenials can be a pain. They lack any loyalty to their employers, they have unfavorable view of religion and media, and they are single handedly ruining the real estate business because they are more likely to stick around their parents' house than buy a place of their own. But, this generation grew up with digital media and technology. They understand it better than any other group. And they seem to have no problem challenging the status quo-making decisions based on what's right for them, not what's expected of them. Without the Millenial's willingness to shake things up, some of our favorite modern pastimes wouldn't exist.

For starters, you know Facebook, that social media behemoth where we spend our valuable time swiping and liking and commenting? Founded by a Millenial. How about Instagram? Yep, co-founded by two men, one born in 1983, the other born in 1986. Millenials. And then there's Snapchat, whose founders, both under the age of 30, joined the list of Forbes 400 richest Americans back in September 2015. You see what I'm doing right?

It never fails to impress me how much we can learn from embracing change rather than shying away from it. Just look at how different our media habits are now compared to 10 years ago. According to Pew Research, "the percentage of smartphone owners who say they have ever used their phone to watch movies or TV through a paid subscription service like Netflix or Hulu Plus has doubled in recent years - increasing from 15% in 2012 to 33% in 2015." When I read statistics like this, I already know why and how such big changes have occurred: Millenials. 

Beyond changing how we communicate with one another and how we spend our free time, Millenials have forced many industries, digital media included, to reevaluate how they engage with and serve their consumers. First, Millenials who are "on-the-job" are using their own ideas about what they want from brands to reach their own generation. The prefer private conversations between "friends" as opposed to advertisements. And those Millenials who are on the other side of the equation-the consumers-play a major role in this process because they have used the tools they created (social media) to demand a dialogue with these companies, opening a line of communication that wasn't present before. (In the past I've written at length about this process). 

So how do Gen Xers and Baby Boomers get in on this conversation? Start by confronting the negative stereotypes you may have assigned to this generation. As Millenials age, all those "facts" I listed before may change, but they will still be tech-savvy, creative, and ready to challenge assumptions about the way things have always been done. You don't want to get on their bad side! For me, while my friends may continue to push away from the label of "Millenial" I'm going to embrace it. We still have a lot to contribute.