The millennials, digital natives, iGeneraton, trophy kids. These are terms that I have heard people call my generation. They then say something like, “They all have he attention span of a fruit fly and are incredibly selfish,” or, “Their sense of entitlement is greater then anyone else’s before.” These people try to understand us; they try to relate their experiences and mindsets to ours but continually fail because we are different. We think differently, we behave differently. We even speak differently. From the very beginning of our lives, the entire world stage has been vastly different. We never lived in a world without AIDS or MTV or, most importantly I believe, the Internet. Some of us were alive before it was “the great equalizer,” but none of us can truly remember a time when a computer did little more then word processing, or when mail really was spelled without an “e.” In our minds, the culture wars were a breeding ground of new ideas. We were able to embrace new and different cultures, and then modify our own to include them. We are often not racist, homophobic, or ethnocentric. John Mayer said, “one day our generation is gonna rule the population,” and when that day does come, everything will be different because we are different.
We are the most educated generation in America. To my older siblings, college was an option; to me and all my friends, college was seen as the 13th grade. It was less an option and more of a natural progression of our lives. Nowhere near everyone made it out, but the mindset of constant learning was bred into us when we were young…way back in the 90’s. We were the first generation to be taught political correctness in school. This, however, did not make us politically correct. In fact, we laugh at our differences, yet view everyone more or less the same. It did instill in us the ability to think more broadly: We understand that in this country our differences do not separate us, but in reality provide us with a commonality. I remember my 4th grade teacher asking, “Isn’t it silly to hate someone because of how much melatonin they have in their skin?” That made perfect sense to me, and maybe not everyone heard it put that way, but the idea resonated throughout the classrooms of the ’90s. As we got older, even the way we were taught was different. A research paper does not begin in a library card catalog, but rather at Google. Our learned multicultural lenses were further focused by the international digital revolution. The mystic faraway lands in the stories our grandparents read to our parents are literally a few keystrokes away on Google earth.
The Internet is by far the biggest cultural equalizer to have ever been invented. Anyone anywhere can know anything at any time. This why I call the Internet the great equalizer. On the Internet, everyone and anyone is someone and no one at the same time. Our ideas and self-expressions no longer had to be printed and distributed or broadcast over the air we could express ourselves instantly to everyone everywhere. We were raised to believe this sense of self-expression was paramount to existence. The completely media saturated environment that we were born into is no longer a one-way message. We no longer just absorb – we participate. Even our leisure time is not comprised of a one-way message. We will watch TV and movies and listen to music; and then we will play video games, download whole commercial-free television shows and movies; create something completely new, or just a little bit new, and post it for the world to see. And our taste in music has an extremely broad scope. In the decade most of us were born (the ’80s!), it was likely that most people friends listened to the same music that their friends did. However, we don’t. It has been my experience that we like all types of not only on a personal level, but also on a friendship level. My friends listen to everything from Lil Wayne to the Beatles and everything in between; we don’t need to like the same kinds of music in order to be friends with each other. Again this is because of the time we grew up in and the technology at our disposal. Napster may be responsible for the complete overhaul of the music industry. It is now trying to come up with ways to change that will suit our new form of consumption, but what they don’t get is that we were Napster; we were and are p2p and the torrent. It was not a change of market viability, but rather of ways of thought. We see copyright differently, we see ownership differently, and we see media differently. David Kusek wrote a book called The Future of Music. In it, he explains how the future of music will be like water or cable. We will be able to access all of our music and content for a monthly cost. We will share, give, and be encompassed by our music.
We are the early adapters, the youtubers, the Facebook friends and the pioneers of the digital age. Our level of instant gratification and perceived entitlement, our short attention spans and ability to change our mind in the blink of an eye are cultural constructions of the world we grew up in. You may not understand us, you may not like us, you may even fear for the future because of us, but remember: You made us! We are different, we think differently, we do things differently, and we will be ready when it’s our turn to “rule the population.”
– Greg Swindasz