In Praise of Millennials

I was joking yesterday that someone should coin a phrase for the guilt that parents feel when their children spend too much time on technology (anyone?). Yes, as Morrissey croons, the news does contrive to frighten us so we shouldn’t be surprised that we are currently being barraged with articles about our stressed and depressed millennials. After all, the more stressed we are, the more we buy apparently. I, for one, definitely followed that white rabbit down the cyber-panic hole for a good distance. So far in fact that I wrote and gave presentations on the effects of dopamine and the power of the reptilian brain to drive addictive behaviour in teens, 14-year-old girls in particular. But then two things happened, I read an excellent Economist article and the Parkland school teens rose up. I realised then that the world has irrevocably shifted and yes, there are important issues that do need to be addressed about usage (while I applaud the German sanctions on Facebook I think that legislators should go further than trying to enforce appropriate social norms on the internet; I actually think that algorithms should be developed to encourage social consciousness, morality and ethics use) BUT there are also many things to be celebrated.

Okay but firstly, we have to pet the sweaty things and recognise the online demons, the social media, war-gaming juggernauts etc., not to mention the explicit and implicit (i.e. pressure from ‘friends’ to conform to their version of the world) bullying which can be insidious and/or brutal and so very unnecessary. Personally, I feel sorry for both camps, yes, the victim of course, but what of the bully who has grown up in an environment where behaviour like that is common currency. Empower the victims but they are both victims so I also think we should tell to the bully’s parents ‘Your child is not powerful, your child has a problem’. But hey, bullying was endemic where I grew up so I am hoping that maybe the internet can bring things into the open and it can be more systematically addressed. We’ll see.

And okay yes, there is Facebook in particular which has been, to all accounts, rigorously and cunningly designed to not only make you feel miserable and worthless so that you buy things but also trick you into voting the way that someone you have never met a thousand miles away wants you to. It’s bad, I get it. But we all learned to deal with snake-oil salesmen and I have a lot of faith that this generation will develop its own coping mechanisms. Obviously we should do what we can to try to protect them (hopefully in an open, communicative and not judgmental way not in a crazy lock-them-up sort of way) but it is very likely that they are going to see and read things that we would rather they didn’t. Let’s try to remember we did dumb things as well (amazing how many parents have developed blind spots about this time in their own lives.. and if you didn’t do dumb things then I think that is a shame really, mainly because generally it’s a lot of fun) and people said and did meant things to us too, so the odds are that they will survive and, fingers crossed, thrive.

But let’s get to the meat of it. I think that Millennials suffer mainly because they are nicer, mainly because they are more aware of the bad things that are happening in the world than we were and because they haven’t been deadened by the machine, they still care. It has been said that they don’t have the deep, daily human interaction that we had but maybe that is good. Maybe that means that they haven’t given into the inevitability of these things in the way that we did, simply because we thought that we couldn’t change anything big with our little voices, that our value was on the Great Hamster Wheel of Work. They actually want to make a difference and believe that they can. Which is great, because they can.

Yes, we might rail at the backlash against authority that may have led to Brexit and the Donald but we definitely trusted authority too much and the climate and the vulnerable paid the price for good people standing by while evil ones prospered. What they also have is a much broader understanding of the human experience and I believe that the world needs that now. The world needs bigger and more connected voices and maybe this sensitive, passionate, careful generation is just what it needs.