Picture a millennial. His tastes, like his emotional problems, are strangely specific. He likes soft pillows because they calm his anxiety. She also likes curvy fonts for this reason, and baby cacti. You cannot have a real baby because you are too poor. She cannot find a partner because she is too alienated. Maybe he has a fish. She is caught in an oedipal battle with the boomers, her parents, who told her that she would inherit the Earth, but it dried up.
Like the “teenager” that emerged in the United States after the depression, in part as a marketing tool that recognized the purchasing power of adolescents, the “millennial” is largely a work of fiction. Rationally, attribute similar socioeconomic circumstances to the 1.8 billion people born between 1981 and 1996 don’t make sense. Not all millennials cannot afford to have a child, just as not all boomers are smugly retired (in fact, in the UK 1.9 million people people over 65 live in poverty, according to figures from the Department of Work and Pensions).
But to say that a generational stereotype is reductive runs the risk of losing the sense of its attractiveness. The appeal of distinguishing between a “Gen X-er” and a “millennial” is precisely that it is a simplification. Replace the scary work of trying to really understand yourself or those around you with something much easier – it can all be explained in terms of whether you were born in 1979 or 1981.
The appetite for this type of categorization is reminiscent of the thrill of personality tests. Determining whether you are an “introvert” or an “empath” or whether you are a “good good girl” or a “bad good girl” is satisfying because it suggests that who you are can be known and quantified. That all the things he did that felt puzzling or unpredictable at the time actually had an inevitability about them: forever it’s been “hot bad girl”; You were meant to be Explaining your character traits, particularly bad ones, in terms of a generational stereotype offers similar comfort. I devour thoughts of the millennial and compare myself to her: I also enjoy soft furniture and baby plants and taking antidepressants. So maybe you don’t have any control over these things. This helplessness allows me to feel deliciously sorry for myself. I am a victim of the singularly precarious circumstances of my generation. I was born in 1992.
Of course, this general status hides the huge inequalities that exist among millennials. Recent data from the Institute of Fiscal Studies predicts that one in four people born in the 1980s will inherit from their parents a wealth of about £ 300,000 (more than ten times the average annual income of their generation). Peter Kenway of the New Policy Institute tells me that the distribution of assets among millennials will be so uneven that we could enter a “Jane Austen-style marriage market, as millennials without an inheritance try to associate with millennials who want to inherit a home “.
No matter how isolated you are from real difficulties, it is possible to see certain elements of your life in the broad strokes that we use to outline the condition of millennials. As writer Rachel Connolly has pointed out, if you’ve ever paid rent, you can claim it is “Generation Rent,” regardless of what you may inherit; Also, if you’ve ever experienced anxiety, your life is “precarious.” Like the language of a personality test category or a horoscope, these terms are vague enough to invite easy identification, but too vague to be meaningful.
Similarly, the language we use to distinguish between generations is slippery. Millennials were named Generation me by psychologist Jean M Twenge in 2006, but an almost identical term – “My generation” – was coined in 1976 to describe baby boomers. Many of the less attractive quirks of millennials – interest in self-help, obsession with self, tarot, therapy – were originally boom traits. The terrible loneliness, which I understood as the special affliction of millennials, is now attributed to Generation Z, who, according to the New Yorker, are the “loneliest generation”.
The same epithets are recycled, but we have a habit of describing each new generation as if it were the last: the more selfish, the more isolated, the more Depressed. There is something apathy-inducing in this urge to think of your generation, and the generation below you, as doomed. If we’re all going to hell in a handcart, what’s the use of doing something to stop it? Conveniently, it is too late.
Life is difficult because it is practically impossible to know, or be known, by anyone. The default characteristics offer some kind of pattern to explain the inconsistency. Humans have been trying to deal with this problem since at least 400 BC, when Hippocrates divided people’s temperaments according to which “humor” predominated in their bodies: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, blood. The generational stereotype is a relatively modern solution to an old problem; provides a useful scaffold for your personality, allowing you to feel individual but at the same time comforting typical. You are not responsible for the most unpleasant aspects of your character. You are a product of your time.
Cambridge Analytica, has It has been shown, collected the data of millions of people by inviting them to take a personality questionnaire. There is something sad and easily identifiable about this: people give away much of their data in hopes of discovering who they are. The millennial stereotype requires similar compensation, a similar flattening of identity. Why bother trying to change? Instead, buy a soft pillow.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism