In Defense of Gen Y: Dispelling the Millenial Myth

Posted: February 23, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

My name is David Teicher and I am a proud “Millenial.”

I’m writing this post in response to a HARO query that called for experts to discuss the Classic Millenial Sense of Entitlement.

I have a sneaking suspicion this writer will be inundated with of responses galore from sociologists and other “experts” who may assert to understand this so-called sense of entitlement. But as a Gen Yer, I feel an obligation to defend my generation, and myself, and to shed some light what is nothing more than rampant and ageist stereotyping.

I responded to the query, but I would be remiss if I didn’t make my thoughts public, here.

First of all, this idea that we’re discussing, what many refer to as a typical millennial sense of self-entitlement, is no more a quality of my generation than it is or was of any other – it is just sporting a shiny new label. For decades, if not centuries, a defining facet of this nation’s culture has been the “American Dream.” Over the years, people from every corner of the globe have flocked to this country to pursue their dreams. Why? Because, in America – anything is possible. This concept has been ingrained in our culture – it pervades all media from TV to cinema to literature and journalism. It is part of our heritage and our educational system has been pushing it, teaching us to embrace it, before we could even read. What you see as entitlement, we see as our right to the great American dream. Why are we any less “entitled” to pursue it than those of other generations?

Furthermore, this concept, already saturating everything our minds consume, is augmented, or exacerbated, depending on your point of view, by two primary forces: The Internet, and the Self-Esteem Movement of the 90’s.

Growing up in the 90’s, there was one message to which I was subjected to more than any other – in my home, in school, at my friends houses, events, and in pop culture. Namely, anything is possible – don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do or can’t be, don’t let anything prevent you from, at the very least, attempting to reach your goals, whatever they might be. Needless to say, it was a message I was happy to hear, even if it meant disillusionment down the line.

This is yet another iteration of the same “American Dream” mentality. Parents, teachers, and the whole of my antecedent generation absorbed it over the course of their collective life and spit it out in the form of the self-esteem movement. Psychologists paved the way by telling parents, “if you tell your children that anything is possible, they will be better people, and all the more likely to achieve great things.” Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely accurate, but considering the appeal of such a quick and easy methodology, one that was spoon-fed to parents for raising successful children, what parent wouldn’t be eager to act accordingly?

In that respect, I – we – can’t be held responsibly for an attitude that is not only instilled in fundamental structure of our national heritage, albeit under a different label, but one heavily amplified by a psychological movement that shifted the previous generation’s parenting paradigm. But again, I don’t think that this sense of entitlement is something that a) is inherent only to Gen Y-ers, and B) requires any apologies or excuses.

Lastly, we have the Internet. People have talked, written, and waxed philosophic ad nauseum about its powers as “The Great Equalizer.” But these conversations have mainly focused around raising international levels of education and the subsequent impact it would have on global economics and cultural evolution. Farmers in rural regions of 3rd world countries can potentially access the same information as the elite classes of a first world country. But the Internet also shifts the educational paradigm as it applies to generational gaps in knowledge. Our parents (and for that matter, anyone born prior to the advent of the Internet) had a fairly limited amount of informational resources to tap. There were libraries stocked with books and encyclopedias, newspapers and magazines (and these things still exist, to the surprise of many), as well as TV and movies, for whatever educational value they offer. All the data found in those media were then fed, and consequently perceived, through the contextual lenses of either parents or teachers. That was how they learned – via limited sources and even more limited context. Obviously, all that has changed. The sheer volume of information on essentially any topic one might be interested in has opened doors to subject matter and degrees of depth never before possible. An evolution in quantity, if not quality, of the information we consume, and the perspectives and viewpoints of the sources from which that information flows.

At this point, the same information is available to all, regardless of age. In fact, one might argue that this plethora of data is not only more easily consumed by younger individuals, but it’s absorption takes place without the aforementioned contextual filters. And as such, this then negates the cultural pretense that age and wisdom are somehow innately tethered. Even experiential factors are mitigated as the Internet can wholly convey those, as well, as it provides vicarious learning experiences to all.

In short, I don’t feel entitled to anything other than the opportunity to pursue my passions and goals, an entitlement rooted in the inception of American dogma and no more indicative of my generation than any other. The difference lies in the pretentious notions of the self-esteem movement that practically force fed an attitudinal achievement system down the throats of my peers and myself at the hands of parents and teachers who were acting at the behest of “experts” and the cultural zeitgeist. Add to this the limitless potential and infinite wisdom offered by the whole of the Internet, and you’ve a generation of EMPOWERED, not entitled individuals. We are making the most out of the tools available to us; we are aiming to achieve our life’s goals. To do any less would simply be foolish.

So, my question is, from where did this notion arise – that we, millenials, somehow feel more entitled (to what, I still don’t know) than other generations. Further, what ramifications and impact does this stereotype have on our lives?

While I have no evidence (though I feel like this is related to the Social Psychological Phenomenon known as Fundamental Attribution Bias), I would venture to guess that the “entitled” label is a product of jealousy, coupled with an attempt by those who did not grow up with the internet under the direction of the self-esteem movement, to explain the behavior of Gen Y.

Older folks see us as rapidly progressing (and thus threatening), and overly arrogant – and they think – “where do these kids get off acting like they know everything?” Well, the answer is simple – we don’t know everything, but we know where to find it and it’s called the intewebs. Not to mention the fact that you spent years cultivating and reinforcing that arrogance, except back then you called it self-confidence.

Today’s youth is growing up with more resources and tools available to them than ever before. The rapid and exponential rate of technological development our society is experiencing will only continue on its asymptotic course. My kids will have more access to cooler things than I grew up with, as will their own progeny, and so on and so forth. It’s quite understandable why this would invite jealousy. But if we don’t quash this ageist stigma now, it will only grow in parallel to those cultural advances made possible by such astounding technological progression.

Moreover, while I can’t say definitively, from whence this stereotype was borne, I can tell you how it’s affected the lives of those to whom it’s applied. Two words: Labeling Bias. Wikipedia it, I dare you. In short, everything we say or do is seen through the lens of “Self-Entitlement.” As a result, all that we work toward and have accomplished is devalued. That which we are legitimately entitled to as a result of arduous efforts and investments gets brushed off. Any expertise we might develop is diminished in the eyes of others. It’s not just frustrating; it’s downright infuriating.

And with that I conclude my rant/venting and invite you all to chime in.

So I pose those questions to you, now. Do you perceive a Millenial sense of self-entitlement? What is it that you see? If you’re of my generational ilk (a Gen Y Cohort, if you will), have you felt the affects of this stereotype? If so, how?

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Comments
  1. Erin says:

    I think that right here…

    I would venture to guess that the “entitled” label is a product of jealousy, coupled with an attempt by those who did not grow up with the internet under the direction of the self-esteem movement, to explain the behavior of Gen Y.

    Older folks see us as rapidly progressing (and thus threatening), and overly arrogant – and they think – “where do these kids get off acting like they know everything?” Well, the answer is simple – we don’t know everything, but we know where to find it and it’s called the intewebs. Not to mention the fact that you spent years cultivating and reinforcing that arrogance, except back then you called it self-confidence.

    …you nailed it.

  2. Wow. You definitely know how to wax poetic Mr. Aerocles:

    “We don’t know everything, but we know where to find it and it’s called the interwebs. Not to mention the fact that you spent years cultivating and reinforcing that arrogance, except back then you called it self-confidence.”

    While I agree with most of this post, I think you have undervalued the role of resources in creating this “entitlement” phenomenon. The Millenials described in this post, like myself, had access to the internet a young age, and had parents and teachers who encouraged self esteem and personal growth. This is not true for many millenials. 40% of homes today in the United States still do not have broadband. My friends doing Teach for Amercia paint pcitures of schools where there are no copiers, let alone computers with internet access in the entire school.

    Just as my access to information, good schools, and parents who encouraged self esteem defines who I am today, there are plenty of other millenials whose lack of access to these very same resources makes them feel helpless, shit out of luck and left out.

    This is not to say that your analysis is not correct, I really do feel like you’ve attacked this issue of entitlement right on, I just feel like issues of race, gender, and class are interwoven deeply into this formation of entitlement. In the same way that we are defined by our “generation” I would argue that we are defined by our class, race and gender. I know this goes against the fundamental belief in the Amercian dream that you so eloquently describe at the beginning of the post, but this fantasy of the American dream, or the internet as the great equalizer, is what creates the very inequality that we so adamantly deny exists. We can’t have a great equalizer when the fundamental basis for our society is rooted in capitalism.

    Maybe this is just my sociology major talking, but I think we can’t describe whole generations or generational trends without taking larger social factors, beyond psychology, into account.

    Thanks so much for the post, I apologize for the lengthy response.

  3. sashahalima says:

    LOVE this post David. Excellent as always!

  4. […] baby boomers are confused by it, and we Gen Ys (or cuspers, as I am) spend our lives trying to justify it, break it down or separate ourselves from […]

  5. A Campbell says:

    David, I found this piece while searching for different viewpoints on the “entitlement” label. You’ve done an incredibly eloquent job of ‘ranting,’ and I hope you don’t mind me linking to you in my post! Thanks!

  6. […] In Defense of Gen Y: Dispelling the Millennial Myth, on the blog Legends of Aerocles […]

  7. Benji Bobknob says:

    You’re a fool dude. You’re using a limited amount of eloquence to defend an argument that has no merit. I can’t believe that you’re so self conceited that you’d defend your own sense of self entitlement by saying that other people are jealous of you.

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