Tonawanda News

March 9, 2014

DUVALL: A view of Millennials

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The Pew Research Center this week released a fascinating study about, well, me.

Or my generation, at least. Millennials, defined by Pew as adults ages 18 to 33 (I’m toward the upper end at 31), might eventually come to be known as the “selfie” generation. 

Pew notes I should explain to older readers what that means. More than half (55 percent) of Millennials said they have posted a selfie (a picture taken, usually with a cellphone camera, of one’s self) to a social media site. That’s about the same percentage of Baby Boomers who know what the term selfie means.

There are a lot of disparaging things to be said about my generation. Coming of age in the Facebook era — when I was in college the social media site du jour was MySpace, though a year or so later it seemed everyone joined Facebook the same week — we’re stereotyped as incredibly self-absorbed.

That can be true. We share the minutia of our lives in acute detail. Our immediate reaction to anything and everything (Twitter), what we had for lunch (food pic), where we are (Foursquare or a Facebook check-in), what we’re watching on television (GetGlue), the weather outside (Instagram) ... and on and on.

All that information does come at a cost. We spend most of our time online sifting through the garbage and insignificant mentions to find the handful of things that really matter to us. And the more time we spend sharing and liking, the less time we spend actually living.

I’m certain some of that contributes to Pew’s most interesting finding: Only 28 percent of Millennials are married. While 69 percent of those who aren’t say they would like to be married someday, the percentage of those who are is far smaller than older generations when they were our age.

Still, I think it’s a stretch to say the increased number of insignificant relationships we form on social media equate to a decrease in the meaningful ones. I’m single but I don’t think I have fewer close friends than my parents or grandparents did at my age. If anything, I have more.

Another interesting point: My generation has largely entered into adulthood under worse socioeconomic conditions than predecessors. The Generation Xers entered into a booming 90s economy that ensured decent paying jobs for nearly everyone. There wasn’t a global war on terrorism and our nation wasn’t bathed in debt.

I was a sophomore in college when 9/11 happened. I lived in Washington under Orange Alert. And when I graduated, I entered a workforce the bottom of which would fall out four years later. Many friends I know have seen promising careers stall — or be snuffed out completely — due to the Great Recession. We are equally the most educated and the most debt-loaded generation in American history thanks largely to the high cost of a college education.

And so it shouldn’t come as a great shock we’re more in favor of an activist government that works to help people get a leg up — because we need it.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign for our nation’s future as my generation ascends to leadership in America is our kindness. Millennials, Pew says, are far moire diverse and accepting of others than the generations before us. We are more likely to enter into mixed-race relationships. We are more likely to have friends of different races, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations. We support same-sex marriage at higher rates than other generations and believe in government programs aimed at helping minorities advance their station in life.

So call us self-absorbed. Call us the selfie generation, the Facebook generation, a time-sucking, lazy group of kids who want everything for free.

That’s fine. It’s probably what your parents’ generation thought of you, too.

The view from the inside is far different than what others might think.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.