Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Damn Millennials?

On the way into work today, I was listening to Five Thirty Eight's HotTakeDown podcast, where the folks there analyze, assess, and comment on the various hot takes in sports.  Recently, the owner of the Phoenix Suns asserted that one of the players was problematic because he was a millennial and thus could not handle setbacks.  The 538 folks decided, perhaps because they are all millennials, to rip this apart with glee, first suggesting that the owner perhaps needed work on dealing with setbacks.  Indeed.

Anyhow, they proceeded to define a millennial as someone born between 1981 and 1998, based on the various numbers listed at wikipedia and elsewhere.  This shocked me because I had never thought what really counted as a millennial or not.  It means that anyone from 17 to 34 is a millennial.  Yowza. 

I have always found generalizations about generations to be problematic since it means that anyone in a certain time frame shares similar qualities, and that is a generalization too far UNLESS there is some kind of common experience that shapes outlooks.  So, American boomers are boomers because they all grew up in the Vietnam era and then the age of free sex and all that in the 1970s.  And, of course, this was all over-generalized as people reacted to Vietnam, the civil rights movement, shorter hemlines and all the rest in different ways.

As a Gen X-er, I don't think our generation had much in the way of bonding experience that shaped attitudes in the same way.  Reagan?  Really?  AIDS?  Maybe. 

What do millennials share?  What common experience do they have that bonds them?  9/11 and the tense times after that.  Not sure the Iraq war had the same impact.  Of course, what people usually come back to is that this generation was the first that had the internet for most of their life and now have cell phones that they stare at and all that.

But that is weak sauce for generalizing about an entire generation.  Mostly, when folks say those damn millennials, they mean "damn that next generation" because the older folks have always said that about the younger folks.  Again and again.  As a professor, I have been interacting with millennials since 1999 (I guess), and I never found them to be much different  than the students before, except perhaps more stressed since tuition is higher, they have to work more, and the job markets they have faced seem less promising.  Setbacks?  Yeah, they have had a few.

To return to the 538 folks, they ascertained that 97% of the current value of the NBA is created by ... millennials.  It would be closer to 100% if it were not for Dirk Nowitzki's amazing longevity. 

The point, of course, is that it is silly to condemn everyone from 17-34.  Instead, let's just condemn those over 60 for their support of Trump, their voting for stuff that helps them and not the kids, and for all other sins that we lay at the feet of the boomers.


Brad said...

It seems to me the big defining characteristic of millennials is being the first generation to grow up with the internet. Born in 1980 (Gen X, I guess), I was a somewhat early adopter and played around with BBSs and the like, and was one of the few people I knew in high school using the internet to learn things/explore (low socioeconomic status school). Contrast that to even a half decade later: the web wasn't so expansive or saturated with information in 1995, and few who are 30 now remember the bleep and hiss of a modem.

How different is growing up, and being 10, 13, or 16 and having access to pretty much all of human knowledge at your fingertips, including all the things we'd have loved to have answers to but didn't? I don't think the effects of this are highlighted/explored nearly enough.

Erik Bruvold said...

+1 on Brad's comment. There are a variety of ways that this has SEEMED to impact preferences (not sure political ones but consumption patterns). For example, it SEEMS that millennials have difference preferences when it comes to both car ownership (less enthralled) and with design (horsepower out, connectivity in). There also is some data (not as strong because of confounding variables of recession and college debt) that millenials have different preferences in respect to housing (more rental, less ownership) and location (more city, less suburban). There is some really interesting research to be done on how this relates to growing up with the internet/connectivity and how it might impact politics.