Over the weekend I was on vacation with my family and we got into a discussion about Millennials and the way Millennials use technology/social media, the ways they work, how their brains are different…basically all the normal conversations that are ever had about Millennials.
And like many of the conversations that are had about Millennials, there was some veiled and some outright hostility towards the way people my age are. They use too much technology and can’t engage in a real conversation, they can’t take criticism because they’re too sensitive, they have short attention spans (although some people weren’t sure this was a bad thing), and they’re entitled. My favorite common criticism of Millennials is that because we use technology we don’t have real relationships.
I got a bit angry at these criticisms. I’m overly defensive when the topic of Millennials comes up, and I know it. I assume everyone is anti-Millennial. I’m highly emotional about this topic.
It starts with the fact that I’ve heard nearly every criticism of Millennials that’s out there a hundred times over. I’ve read the think pieces, had friends and family members (including close family members, family friends who are like my extended family, and other folks I respect) vehemently espouse the hatred of “kids these days,” and often been told immediately after these criticisms that I have these “awful” behaviors. Of course never have these people said to me “I would appreciate if you did/didn’t do x when we’re together,” they simply say how much they generically hate a behavior and then say “oh, Olivia, you use technology a lot don’t you?”
I’m really over being continually criticized for something that’s not going to change. I’ve heard the arguments before and I’m pretty happy the way I am thanks very much.
The other problem is that I suspect many of the criticisms don’t come from a place of understanding. Especially when it comes to criticism of social media and the internet, the assertions just don’t hold up with my lived experiences and the ones that I hear my friends and peers talking about. The internet does not make it hard for me to have relationships. The internet makes it much easier for me to have relationships. I currently see my friends multiple times a week, play games (both online and in person), have interesting and deep conversations about media, philosophy, and relationships, and also connect with many of these people over the internet AND use my phone when we’re together.
It’s actually super normal for human beings to drift in their focus during interactions. Lots of people will zone out when they’re hanging out with friends, sometimes for long periods of time, sometimes just periodically for a brief moment. When you’re out in public it’s easy to be distracted by other conversations, by cool things you’re walking past, or just the world. For some unknown reason it is only considered rude to be distracted when it involves your phone or your computer. Which is weird because often I use my phone to continue an interaction, whether by looking up a piece of information we’re discussing, finding a restaurant we can continue our conversation, or by actually, ya know, continuing the conversation after I’ve left the person. Although I sometimes use my phone to manage social anxiety when I’m with people, the alternative would just be sitting there feeling awkward and uncomfortable, not engaged in the conversation anyway. The assumption that without a phone people would be engaged in all interactions is ludicrous.
I also have met some of my close friends online. I wouldn’t know someone who helped me get through serious depression if it weren’t for Facebook. I wouldn’t have met my current boyfriend. I wouldn’t be able to talk to some of the people I like the most, including people who constantly challenge me to be better and more thoughtful. As it is I interact with many of those people on a daily or weekly basis. From the outside the relationships might look shallow, but they are important to me. I feel supported by these people, and I do my best to support them. The relationships have given me more than many of my in person, “real” relationships. Sure, I like a balance, but the constant updates online remind me to get in touch, to see people, to schedule face to face time. For someone who’s a little forgetful, it’s hugely important to having relationships.
Social media is where some of the most interesting information and discussions in my life happen. I have friends who post well researched and provocative pieces all the time, articles and comics that are then discussed on their page. Like many people who blog (which is a big ol’ chunk of the internet), I use space on the internet to work out my thoughts and beliefs, I use it to get feedback from people about my thoughts, and I even use it to get used to criticism. I’ve been sworn at, yelled at, called stupid, and told I should be raped on the internet. I have become a much deeper thinker thanks to the content I’ve found on social media, in the very fashion that is often criticized in Millennials.
And nearly every person my age that I know is deeply committed to doing their best possible work. They might react hard to criticism, but that’s because they’re already their harshest critic. They always try to respond by improving though.
Guess how many of them improve? By using the internet to engage in self care. By looking up new strategies on the internet. By taking care of themselves so that they can handle the criticism ON THE INTERNET.
So yeah, I get pissed off when people call me and my friends entitled, selfish, self-absorbed, shallow, and stupid. We are the people who are using the internet, and we count. It’s not just the people who post pictures of their food or #blessed on social media. It’s also people making the internet a real and important part of their lives, in a way that’s beneficial to them and their relationships. Ignoring those as outliers is just confirmation bias. Saying that Millennials can’t take criticism or don’t engage in real discussions ignores all of this. And saying that short attention spans mean you can’t have a conversation is just blatantly false, as evidenced by the fact that I often engage in serious discussions while my phone is sitting two feet away. Sometimes I even check my phone during those serious discussions. Because I need a mental break.
And none of this is to mention that many of us make our livelihoods on social media and blogging, myself included. The idea that the ways Millennials use technology are shallow completely ignores that we are capable of having honest, meaningful relationships, holding down jobs, and finding out information ALL ON THE INTERNET.
So yeah, I get defensive. Because all these criticisms sound like to me is “you do things different so you’re wrong.” But as someone who isn’t exactly neurotypical, almost none of my life would even be possible without the internet. So get off your privileged high horse and recognize that people with different brains can’t always just do things the way you’d like.
*Once again, my Snake People extension is in effect.