In praise of Millenials

It just came to me why and how kids-these-days are the way they are.

avocado toast

Leave aside the economic questions for a moment. Those are huge, and they do form one of the main reasons why they are in the fix they’re in – no doubt about that.

But there’s a deeper reason why their sense of their place in the world is utterly different from my generation’s sense of this.

Most of them were born or came of age in the 90s, right when email and electronic banking really started to take off. Right when MySpace and Facebook and mobile phones began to change the way we communicate.

This is a generation that, through economics, grew up with the understanding that housing prices and recession meant that they might never own their own home…but also that they might not need one.

They don’t need a “real” address: even their bills and shopping requirements don’t generally need a fixed abode.  They need a phone number and an email account: most of their transactions are digital. Amazon will send eBooks directly to your phone or eReader without much more than that. Paypal doesn’t really care where you live.

You can apply for ten jobs over your phone in less time than it took your mom to drive downtown to fill out one lonely application in 1980.

If a millennial is broke and couch-surfing, it doesn’t alter how they receive their meager paychecks – it goes directly to their bank account. They can pay their phone bill on line. They can check in at McDonalds, and swipe their debit card for their meal.

They have grown up with friends all over the world, communicating with them in real time, no matter where the sender or recipient might be at any moment.

They don’t have the stability of a physical, longterm address, and the way things are going, most of them feel they probably won’t ever have that stability: the best they can do is return to their parents’ home, and that isn’t even true for a pretty high percentage of them.

But they don’t *need* that kind of rootedness.

They’re completely comfortable with getting everything by email or Messenger. It’s the way it’s always been for them: money is literally an imaginary construct, because they rarely need to see it in tangible form. It’s just numbers and card-swipes for them. And “friends” are no longer defined simply by “I went to kindergarten with him/her” – their friends are literally everywhere.

It’s been that way for their entire lives.

Pundits are really quick to blame these people for not buying cars or houses, and to deride the young owners of “iPhones”, but who’s the true culprit here?

It was my generation that facilitated the rush to digital/online everything. We invented a lot of it, and we jumped on those bandwagons while those millenials were still in diapers.

To complain now that it’s out of control, and “those kids” don’t value the things we did – aren’t buying big ticket items in the numbers *we* need in order to maintain our retirement investments at the level we would like or to avoid poverty – well, it sure as hell isn’t their fault.

And that new valuation of experience over possessions? That replacement of rootedness with a love of simple things like decent coffee and avocado toast shared with friends? That ability to have some of those friends still in constant reach via those iPhones? That understanding that the millenials in Ecuador and Ethiopia and England are just like them, when you get right down to it?

It makes me feel pretty hopeful, to be honest.

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