The Millennial Generation is a giant collection of pampered, self-absorbed, fake-glasses-wearing, faux-idealists who think they deserve a gold star every time they muddle through an eight-hour workday and then pedal their vintage bikes to a suitably hip bar, where they stare at their Chinese-made iPhones, make suitably ironic statements about changing the world, plan their startup companies and then Instagram their craft beer.
Which would be fine with me — I'm all for gross generalizations — until I realize something shocking.
I'm a Millennial.
Thirty-two, as it turns out, is right on the oldest edge of the group that the New York Times has labeled “Generation Why Bother.” That was way nicer than CBS's “60 Minutes,” which clucked that Millennials are “employees who want to roll into work with their iPods and flip-flops around noon but still be CEO by Friday.”
But I don't use my iPod, Mr. Morley Safer. Flip-flops hurt my feet. I started working at 8:49 a.m. today, thank you very much. And if I were CEO by Friday, the Omaha World-Herald would be in big, big trouble. (Maybe next Tuesday, instead.)
So what's with the hate?
“The truth is, the record shows this generation has done pretty incredible things,” says the voice on the other end of the phone, which belongs to a man named David Burstein.
“We were the driving force in a presidential election. Think of the companies we've created. None of this speaks to a generation that is lazy or apathetic or disengaged. It speaks to exactly the opposite.”
Burstein is an author, a filmmaker and a public speaker who started his own get-out-the-vote nonprofit and co-founded a film festival in his spare time. I should also probably mention that he is 23.
This particularly prolific Millennial has spent large parts of the past five years meeting and speaking with his fellow Millennials as he travels the country completing one project or another.
Today, he's coming Omaha, where he'll speak at a 5:30 p.m. event at Kaneko, 1111 Jones St. The talk, sponsored by the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is free and open to the public.
What he's found on his travels is that the Millennials are different from previous generations of Americans, but not in the stereotypical ways that have seeped into our (and probably Morley Safer's) subconscious.
Take technology. Millennials are the last generation who grew up in the darkness before the dawn of the Internet Age. They learned how to check out actual library books from actual libraries. They learned how to have actual friends before Facebook.
But they are also the first generation to dive into social networks. They are the early adopters of iPhones, iPads, Twitter and the aforementioned Instagram. (That's a photo-sharing social network, in case you don't regularly snap photos of your craft beer.)
So Millennials straddle the Old World and the New in a way that those older than we are, and younger, never will.
“It's a great combination. We can navigate both worlds,” Burstein says.
The Arab Spring, when young Egyptians used a mix of Twitter and old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground activism to topple a regime, is a perfect example of how this straddling of worlds can work in the Millennials' favor. Another example closer to home: the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, with its groundswell of online support that translated into real fundraising and very real votes.
And of course there are the new 21st century titans. Facebook is run by 28-year-old Mark Zuckerberg and his posse of Millennials. Google, Twitter and countless Silicon Valley startups are manned by young adults who might know Allison Williams — she's “Marnie” on the made-for-Millennials HBO series “Girls” — better than they know her dad, Brian Williams, who anchors the NBC Nightly News.
Young adults, many of them pushed to the edges of the American economy by the Great Recession, are trying to elbow their way back in by starting their own businesses. The news isn't that half of all Millennials say they want to be entrepreneurs. The news is that 15 percent of Millennials actually have started their own business, according to Pew research.
That's three times more young adults starting businesses than in 1993, Burstein says.
I ask Burstein where he got the audacity to start writing a book at the age of 19. He laughs and admits that it was quite the Millennial thing to do. I laugh and think that at 19 I was perfecting the art of using a TV remote control while I lay upside-down on my apartment couch.
Which gets me thinking. I was born in 1980, which is a year often used as the dividing line between Millennials and their older brothers and sisters, commonly known as Generation X.
Generation Xers spent years being derided as cynical slackers who wore stretched-out cardigan sweaters, failed to comb their hair, listened to Nirvana's “Nevermind” and watched cartoons while eating Fruity Pebbles and drifting aimlessly through the dark and unfeeling world.
I like cardigan sweaters and Nirvana. I like drifting.
But honestly, after talking to Burstein, I'd rather play for the Millennials. Is that OK, guys? I promise I won't do anything uncool, like use a land-line telephone.
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