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Defining a generation of millennials

Illustration by Adriana Macias Photo credit: Adriana Macias

Everyone in this generation are millennials. But who are we, and what defines our generation? We are categorized as the generation reaching young adulthood in the early 2000s. This description tells us little about our cultural identity, possibly because our generation is so difficult to define.

Culturally, what defines us from generations before us? We did not grow up in a time of hard social conflict like the baby boomers— defined by protests leading to the Vietnam War. Or Generation X, where mass, racial incarcerations of the “war on drugs” led to skepticism about the selective punishment that pervaded our legal system. It is likely that we are defined by the cultural change of advancing technology, especially in communication. These appear to lack the political activism and conflict of past generations but still signify the most rapid change in human history.

Has the birth of social media created a definitive cultural identity that is fully engaged politically and socially? Sadly, I think this is not the case. While people are electronically connected more than ever, it seems to me that our generation is more transient and physically withdrawn. We express ourselves to our “friends” but are not politically active in ways that change authority to express and support our strong egalitarian values. Generations before us used spectacles of protest and peaceful assembly while our opinions are easily lost in news feeds. Transient social movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Ferguson riots are examples of our generation’s inability to constructively organize against the issues of injustice.

Is acceptance what defines us? With a growing gap between the haves and the have nots, we should hope not. Until our generation finds a common issue, there is little to define us besides the happenstance of 9/11, the explosive birth of social media, and our increasing electronic relationships. Communication has become easier and the amount of access to information unthinkable. So why are we disengaged and consumed with ourselves when we have the information needed to make a society that reflects our strong community values?

These attitudes have lead to another description of our generation— the “me” generation. In our generation, self-realization and self-fulfillment are far more important aspirations than social responsibility. Today young Americans are open-minded, confident and entitled, but also unreliable. This generation is busy pursuing what makes them happy, but not what makes society happy. Social responsibility that inspired previous generations is lost to us in our self-involvement.

This makes “Generation Me” a fitting description for some. We no longer have the social limitations that constrained people in the past and we can seek out what we want in life. We are free to choose self or social fulfillment— but can we have one without the other? Cultural values are so important to us simply because we are free from constraining social responsibility, but this can also create the opportunities to fulfill social and cultural responsibilities.

I think our generation can be defined by our freedom of choice and that we are the “Free Generation.” I implore you to use your education and freedom to engage in the dual responsibilities of self and society.

Whitney Urmann can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_news on Twitter.

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Whitney Urmann
Whitney Urmann, Content Managing Editor

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