(Stop) Talkin’ Bout My Generation

From pinkiwinkitinki via Flickr
From pinkiwinkitinki via Flickr

Confession time: I think it would be really great if everyone decided that it was past due time to stop writing about millenials. You’ve worn me down, and I’ve had enough.

Maybe there are readers out there who find these articles useful or enlightening. There must be, otherwise the glut of articles, websites, books, and self-proclaimed generational experts wouldn’t exist, were they not profitable. I, however, am not one of said readers.

There was a time, probably about five years ago, when I didn’t feel this way. I was a newcomer to the post-secondary work environment, and hadn’t heard too much about “generational differences” before. It was a simpler time….

Since then, my acceptance of the millenial craze has slowly but surely eroded into tolerance, then annoyance, distemper, and eventually full-out rejection. I get that we are fascinated by new, seemingly different things. I get that we live and work in multi-generational spaces, and that conflict inevitably arises out of that (as if conflict never arose in a mono-generational workplace!). I also acknowledge that there are some incredibly smart people that I respect saying worthwhile things about this generation. But we’ve gone so over the top that I feel I have to put this out there: We have to stop writing about millenials the way we have been for the last five to ten years. Here’s why.

(Note: I’ll be using the pronouns ‘they,’ ‘them,’ and ‘their’ throughout this post to refer to members of Generation Y, though I should admit that I am technically a member of the millenial age group.)

We’re Othering Them

What’s “othering,” you ask? This site has a nice description, quoted below.

By “othering”, we mean any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as “not one of us”. Rather than always remembering that every person is a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes, priorities, and many other subtle aspects, it’s sometimes easier to dismiss them as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity, than we are.

The last part about being “less human” is often – as is the case in millenial othering – an unintended consequence, as opposed to a conscious one. I doubt any of the writers I’m thinking of have written a piece that intentionally looks down on Generation Y. Similarly to me, many are likely millenials themselves. However, even when we go out of our way to point out differences that are obviously positive, we’re contributing to a societal mindset characterized by differences. And a person can only read so much about being different before they on some level start to feel different.

There’s Nothing New To Write

Here’s what bugs me – Gen Y is made up of, roughly speaking, those born in the 80s and early 90s. Being born in 1980 makes you 33 years old today. If we make a conservative estimate that most 33-year-old members of Gen Y have been in the workforce since graduating from university, say at age 22, that means that Gen Y has been a part of the work force for at least 11 years! So why do I see nothing but article after article popping up about “Gen Y in the workforce” as if it’s some new thing that we’re just having to deal with now? In the internet age, 11 years is an eternity! How are people making a living doing nothing but writing and speaking about this? And those who are consuming the content – where have you been this whole time?

At the very least, shift your attention to Gen Z, the children of Generation X-ers and the oldest millenials. They are about to enter the workforce. Maybe you could focus on them for a few years?

Generational Differences Are Overblown Stereotypes Anyway

You know what there’s more of than differences between generations? Similarities. Being that all generations are comprised of PEOPLE, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Moreover, much of the “evidence” for differences between generations doesn’t hold up to empirical scrutiny, to say the least. Jim Bright, noted for his work on the Chaos Theory of Careers, says it best in this article, as only he can:

When you examine some of the research that is produced in support of these alleged demographic differences, you realise just how flakey a lot of it is. Firstly, there are the studies that compare caterpillars and butterflies. In these studies a bunch of twenty-somethings are interviewed about their attitudes concerning work, the world and everything. Then a bunch of fifty-year-olds are interviewed about the same stuff and their answers compared. Lo and behold, the research shows that older folks are obsessed with money, mortgages, superannuation and job security whereas the younger folks are obsessed with Snoop Dog, freedom, altruism and hair wax. Conclusion – the generations are different. But what we don’t get is a true comparison with those older folk when they were young. If we could turn back time maybe we’d find that the self-focussed [sic], security craving, money obsessed person was actually a Saturday night fever disconista.

The slightly more sophisticated research actually asks the older folks to recall how they were 20 or 30 years before. Of course nobody wants to admit to wearing flares and medallions, and so what the researchers hear is a carefully constructed narrative that serves the purpose of supporting the individual’s identity in the here and now. In other words it is a story about stability, security, industry and diligence. The apparent differences between the stories of the young and old are then presented as evidence of generational difference while conveniently overlooking inconvenient truths such as the very high levels of ownership of that Gen Y icon – the Ipod – amongst Gen Xers and Baby Boomers (apparently including the Pope, George Bush and the Queen).

Right. Apologies for the ranty post. Still, as an early Christmas present to me, can we please stop talking about my generation?

*Cross-posted in Dave’s Diary at the Career Services Insider blog.