The new modern curse word as controversial as religion or political stances: Millennial.
The qualities bestowed on us: lazy, entitled, spoiled could really just be a product of the age we live in and other generations measuring success with a yardstick that has grown a mile long. We are at a time when inflation puts things that could once come easy with hard work; car, house, college, into an unattainable status without crippling debt. It’s not only inflation. If home prices had remained on par with inflation since the 1940’s, we could work hard at our minimum wage job, despite having a college-degree, and afford our $30,000 home. Instead, the median home price is over 6 times the inflation amount. And college? Even in just the last twenty years, has increased over 200%, also more than doubling the inflation cost.
There are some in my generation who have given up trying to achieve the goals of the cultural norm, since this monumental task is admittedly overwhelming, but are dubbed quitters instead of the bold, innovative risk-takers they are, paving their own path in life. We all see it on social media, usually someone we know directly or indirectly; a millennial traveling the world, living minimally and moving at their own pace instead of the runners around them, chasing a forever moving finish line that is just out of reach. One of my classmates from college is an international dog and house sitter. She stays in mansions, dog-sitting for the rich and just moves to a new country for her next “gig.” It takes a very brave person to uproot their lives and travel the world like a dandelion seed, surfing the wind to your next temporary destination. And while I often daydream of living life like that of some of my peers, I am happy to be the tree that I am, rooted firmly to the ground with family and friends to keep my head from floating too high that it might catch the breeze.
But it’s not just the measure of success and the high cost of a standard life that defines my generation- it is our shared experiences.
I remember Y2K. I was ten. My mother was a computer programmer for the county government and had to be at the office in case everything crashed. At the time I didn’t understand what could happen but now I realize the fear of the 911 system going down or worse. Prince’s “Party like it’s 1999” played on repeat on the radio.
I remember floppy disks, Ask Jeeves, and one of my favorite date-night spots even in college was Blockbuster. I remember video games: Donkey Kong, Super Mario, Mortal Kombat and losing my breath having to perform my first IT role at 6 years old, performing CPR on the cartridges to bring my game back to life. Then CD-Roms came and I could play more than solitaire, pinball, and minesweeper on the computer. Minesweeper . . . the most pointless and dull game that is still in existence without yet the vintage appeal of “pong.” Yet still, you could play all this without that pesky AOL dial up internet that would keep the phone lines busy. AOL chat rooms; the origin story of every person that appeared on “To Catch a Predator” and I know because we played on these chat rooms at every middle school slumber party.
But I also remember playing outside and walking through fields to my friends house and being gone hours at twelve years old, without a cell phone or any way for my parents to reach me. As a parent now, that terrifies me. As proof that I wasn’t spoiled, I would brag that I didn’t get my first phone until I could drive a car and that’s how it should be. While it will definitely be a track phone without internet, you best believe I will give my baby a phone the instant he knows how to dial a number and speak. Even as recently as ten years ago when my husband and I started dating, I remember arguing playfully over who an actor was in a movie for hours until we could get on a computer and look it up. Arguments are settled way too easily now by just looking it up in an instant from our phones. I miss the anticipation and sweet taste of satisfaction that lingers after holding your breath for hours until you could finally let out that sigh of relief knowing you were right.
And that first cell phone I did get? A Razr flip phone without data or internet that I bejeweled an orange skull on the back of and I loved it. I must have played hours of “snake” on that phone. Actually, that orange skull on my phone I found while geocaching. This new “game” came about when I was in school, filling the gap between actual Pokemon and Pokemon-Go. Pokemon Go is essentially geocaching but with the added nostalgia of a video game we grew up with and the surprise of when and what you would find. Geocaching, you received latitude and longitude coordinates online and searched that area in person for “treasure” which you never knew what you would find. If you decide to keep the treasure, you have to replace it with something for the next treasure hunters. This was perfect for my generation of kids who grew up playing in the woods exploring who also found their footing on the internet and social media. Even when I played, we used battery powered car GPS, a “Tom Tom” to find our treasure since very few had data on cell phones at the time. It’s amazing how quickly GPS became obsolete with built-in car GPS or cell phones. I actually found ours the other day when I sold my car from college. A time capsule of forgotten technology was shoved carelessly behind the passenger seat: a twelve megapixel camera and our “Tom Tom.” I wonder what generation will look back on these items and see a vintage appeal like my generation did with the record player. Maybe in thirty years I’ll see an angsty teenager sporting a vintage “Jonas Brothers” shirt, taking photos with her grandparent’s small digital camera again instead of the camera phones or DSLRs of today.
All this to say that older generations do not know what it was like to grow up with computers and internet and play Rollercoaster Tycoon or to be cyber bullied or to have your college partying photos out there for the world to see when you are trying to apply for jobs. Alternatively, younger generations do not know remember the pain and joy of dodge ball or life before cell phones, actually knowing how to read a map or at least planning your journey and printing off directions from “MapQuest” before you leave the house. We really did grow up between two worlds; with grass stains on our pants and carpal tunnel in our hands. That’s why so many of us either struggle to fit the mold or completely reject the mold. I just hope whatever shape we collectively form is one future generations will thank us for and might find life a little easier because of our struggle to find ourselves.