Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Millennials In The New Millennium

What About The Real Generational Issues?
By Jennifer Carbonara

An “echo” is defined as a reflection, an imitation, or a mimicking response to what has come before. Labeling the generation born between 1982-1995 with the term therefore, is not particularly offensive: any generation, after all, is going to be a response to the one that precedes it—it’s only natural.

In 2005, CBS aired a 60 Minutes report on the so-called “Echo-Boomers,” “a generation in which rules seem to have replaced rebellion, convention is winning out over individualism, and values are very traditional.” A mere two years later, however, a new 60 Minutes report aired on the “Millennials,” “the narcissistic praise hounds now taking over the office.” From values and people-pleasing to shallow and demanding—what happened to this generation?

Both specials agree that the “Echo-Boomers” or “Millennials” are intelligent, resourceful, technologically competent, and extraordinary influential in politics, business, and the economy. Both specials also agree that this is a generation that grew up believing it was #1, “special”, and worth celebrating. What the two year’s difference between the CBS reports demonstrates, however, are the two competing views on a generation that is simultaneously the hope for our economy and the demise of corporate America .

This difference in perspective reflects the disparate motivations of each special: the 2005 special focused on the way in which “Echo-Boomers” are a target market in advertising because of the amount and their willingness to spend money; the 2007 special focused on the way in which corporate America is responding to “Millennials” in the workplace. Just to clarify: apparently, it is okay to spend money, just not to make it.

No generation is without its faults. Both specials make it clear that the generation who grew up with trophies for participation and what is known as “helicopter parents,” or parents who hover over their children incessantly, will have its shortcomings when it comes to the reality of failure, criticism, and rejection. It is how the faults transform in these specials from quirky anecdotes about children with schedules full of “Mommy and Me” and “Gymboree” to condescending reports about 20-somethings who want to enjoy their professions, or who live with their parents that raises suspicion.

The faults that in 2005 made this generation endearing and even more economically viable suddenly are “[attacking] everything you hold sacred.” Forget the fact that the “Echo-Boomers” special reports that violent crime, tobacco use, and teen pregnancy are at all-time lows--they have tattoos and don’t wear ties!

In fact, “attack,” “take over,” “shove,” “battlefield,” and “epidemic” are just some of the words associated with the emerging “extraterrestrials” explored in the 2007 special. For a generation that needs to be bottle-fed and Mom-Approved, the “Millennials” sure do seem to pose a threat to the status-obsessed Baby Boomers they are replacing. Keep buying those cars and iPods and trucker hats “Echo-Boomers,” just don’t try to get a job or succeed, especially if you have ideas that might bring about change.

The real question to ask about the new generation is not “friend or foe?”—it is not about how to deal with them, nor is it about how to manipulate their values to make money. It is what can this generation do to change the world. Forget changing the three-martini lunch to happy hour or children’s playtime to “play dates.” What about things that matter. After all, our polar ice-caps are melting, American troops are dying in the Middle East, and it seems like the only change CBS wants this generation to make is to nix the yoga classes and get to the office.

Wake up, Baby Boomers: we have real problems.

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