Millennial Falcons.

“Gen X” are the people born between 1965 and 1980.  “Millennials”—often thought of as “Gen Z”[1]–are the 75 million Americans born between 1980 and 2000.[2]  They out-number the famous “Baby Boomers.”[3]  Stereotypes regarding “Millennials” abound: they have a sense of entitlement; they are self-indulgent; they are work-shy[4]; and they are rule-breakers.  Their presence and interests demand a response.[5]  Colleges and businesses are obsessed with the market power of this “demographic.”

Farhad Manjoo[6] begs to differ.  First, “Macroscale demographic trends rarely govern most individuals’ life and work decisions.”  That means that any “generation” is actually just a big collection to individuals.  You can’t really tell anything about the particular individual in front of you from their birth year or “cohort.”

Second, generational succession is always accompanied by a sense of unease among the older generation and a sense of suppressed ridicule of their elders by the younger generation.  The “Greatest Generation” undoubtedly had grave reservations about the “Baby Boomers.”  That unpleasant truth gets lost in the narrow focus on the right-now.

Still, there are common (if not universal) characteristics of “Millennials”: they are socially liberal (they get married later after cohabitating, they are more than OK with marriage equality, white people claim to know black people (and may even do so in a work-related context); they are 420-neutral-to-friendly; they are post-Snowden and post-“Searchlight” suspicious of institutions.  Even so, Republican “Millennials” are more socially conservative than are Democratic “Millennials.”

All this makes sense on a certain level.  However, as the critics of “macrodemographic” thinking say, the categories are just containers for many individuals or sub-categories.  For example, none of this explores the beliefs of the Republican “Millennials.” Similarly, polling data seems to suggest that Donald Trump pulls a certain segment of young people, even while the national media portrays his voters as—well, those tattooed guys with grey pony-tails on Harley-Davidsons that you see on Sunday drives in the far suburbs.

One particularly fascinating figure here is Victor Lazlo Bock[7], the head of human resources at Google.  The company runs all sorts of empirical data on its employees, who range in age from sweaty recent college graduates to geezers bored with retirement.  Bock claims that there isn’t any significant difference in personality types across the generations, just between personality types across the generations.  “Every single human being wants the same thing…” says Bock.  “We want to be treated with respect, we want to have a sense of meaning and agency and impact, and we want our boss to leave us alone so we can get our work done.”  How do we accomplish this in a small college?

[1] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqQ8Y9Sjp7o

[2] Farhad Manjoo, “Companies In Pursuit Of a Mythical Millennial,” NYT, 26 May 2016.

[3] On the other hand, the “Boomers” have a lot more money.

[4] Or what the Nazis would have called “asocials.”  See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBn3FVWkuWM

[5] “And so say all of us.”

[6] I know, sounds like an ISIS recruiter or that kid played by Dev Patel in “Marigold Hotel.”  In reality, he’s a media correspondent for the New York Times.

[7] HA!  Is joke.  His name is Lazlo Bock.  Paul Henreid played the Resistance leader “Victor Lazlo” in “Casablanca” (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1942).

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