As someone at the very top of the gen-y age bracket, I think I have a unique perspective on the trials and tribulations of this generation. Although, I have been told, mainly in workplace settings, that I have the work ethic and principals of a Baby Boomer or even someone from the Silent Generation, I think this is merely experience and wisdom that I have been able to lend to fellow members of my generation. I’ve been through the trenches, and I can honestly say, I’ve seen it all.
One thing that I have noticed throughout this generation and have been guilty of myself at times are what I call the Seven Deadly Sins for Gen-Y. I would not be surprised though if you find that these are present in other generations, but I have found that they are present to the point of immersion in this one. They are, in no particular order: helplessness, digitization, entitlement, shallowness, attention span, failure to take responsibility, and shortcuts.
Helplessness takes many forms. It is evident in the amount of parental participation this generation requires for daily survival. You may have seen the articles showing the high number of parents who contact potential employers on their children’s behalf and those who have to be forcibly removed from their child’s college, interview or work experience.
Up to this point, it has been seen as the parent’s being at fault in not raising more responsible children or not letting their foundling fly from the nest, being referred to as helicopter parents. But, as these children grow to be “of age” – 18, 21, 25 or even 30, it becomes the fault of the adult-child. They lean on their parents to provide for them. The term boomerang generation was even used to describe these Gen-Yers who returned to live with their parents after college or divorce. This phenomenon is all too common. We could blame it on the economy and jobless rates, but, really, it is a lack of motivation characterized by helplessness on the part of these adult-children.
There is one area though that this generation has claimed as their own – the digital arena. With facebook, twitter, okcupid, tumblr, and so many other websites that tie members of this generation together in an awkward web of relationship and community, this generation was brought up to seek their intellectual knowledge, friendships, life partners, political information, news, shopping, entertainment and all other aspects of their lives through a computer screen. Now, that the computer screen is small and portable, accompanying him or her ever second of the day, it is entirely possible to go throughout a day without every physically coming into contact with anyone and still be socially, intellectually and even sexually satisfied. It has made them more social awkward, which may be a part of the reason they seek the reassurance and support of their parents to get them through IRL.
Despite this general helplessness, the connections and knowledge gained through the internet, especially through mediums that allow anonymity, this generation has come across something unique – a defined sense of entitlement. Partially though the constant praise and “participatory award” that have become so popular to coddle this generation, each and every one of them believes that they are special and deserve greatness. They have distorted what was once seen as the American Dream to become something so degraded that it is simply distilled down to – I want this, so give it to me. In this generation that is so fraught with capitalistic blowback, such as the need to buy a new iPhone every 6 months just because it is better than the last and has switched from VHS to DVD and now Blu-ray, we have been trained to view the world as constantly moving up – bigger, better, greater.
However, the vast majority seem to think that by standing still, they are still able to move up and higher. There is no sense of having to work for anything, it should just be given. This has become an enormous problem in the workforce. Part of it is from the laziness instilled in knowledge via Wikipedia. Members of this generation so easily acquired information, that they think it actually makes them intelligent. But, there is in reality a huge divide between being able to parrot back words and being able to understand and the ability to use the concepts within a real-life framework. It is the difference between repeating a new word, being able to define it and actually using it in a sentence. This generation, as a whole, is word-repeaters only.
Before you start screaming, “I have depth!” let me explain. The shallowness is an off shoot of the other characteristics. For Gen Yers, identity can be broken down into an online profile and picture. People are judged not only on the contents, but the way it is presented. Let’s take profile pictures as an example. Very few people actually look like their profile pictures in real life, as I can attest to from my long bought of online dating that turned into more a sport than building a relationship. But, if your profile picture is at a good angle and makes you look a hundred times more attractive than you actually are, your self-worth and self-esteem is attached to the picture of yourself, not the real you. The compliments you get and flirtation you receive are based on this lie, but it is directly tied to how you feel about yourself.
On the other side, we judge others of our generation on these photos – if there is a mountain in the background, we judge this person to be adventurous and risk-taking; pets in the picture, they are an animal lover and generally kind, significant other in the picture means they are attached and looking to be seen as a couple rather than as an individual; and, if the picture is taken by themselves in a bathroom mirror with cleavage hanging out, well – they’re probably easy and desperate. These snap judgments have become engrained in our psyche. Just take a look at profiles on okcupid. People spend very little time actually looking at the profile before deciding that they are a good or bad fit for them. I remember averaging about 5 seconds on each profile. This lack of depth can be seen in many aspects of the Gen Y life from purchasing items online to choosing which YouTube video to watch to finding a new place to live on the many websites available.
That quick flash of decision is driven by the lack of attention span. In the age of ADD, ADHD, 30 second commercials and drive through food, it is the perspective of Gen Yers that each day is full of increments that are to be divvied out in small segments. Movies have morphed into television shows which have now become YouTube videos. With hundreds of tabs, many windows open and multiple devices calling to us on various screens, this generation has not mastered multi-tasking, but has collided with multi-tasking head on.
This can be seen by so many companies now giving in to the fight against facebook and other internet playgrounds during the workday. Gen Yers have been wired to move quickly and keep all the balls in the air. Possibly this is a result of the years growing up where life was planned by extracurricular activities, having to shift from ballet to soccer to yoga to karate to piano lessons in a constant spinning wheel of calendar appointments. So, while this is definitely a deadly sin, I doubt that this can truly be pinned entirely on the faults of this generation, but more as an effect of evolving parenting, media and educational systems. And, while we can focus on multiple things, we are neither efficient or effective in doing so.
Failure to Take Responsibility
Of all these faults, I have to admit that this was my hardest one to over come, but once someone actually pointed it out, I could correct it. I was quite frankly horrified at the idea of an admission of guilt, but in the end, it made me realize I was an adult more than anything else.
When a Gen Yer makes a mistake, the first instinct is to say, “It wasn’t me.” We push the responsibility to anything from computer error to lack of instructions to just someone who is conveniently nearby. In a world where we are all supposed to be special and unique little snowflakes, we are convinced that we can do no wrong. When there is always a safety net of parental praise or defense, it is hard to walk the tight rope of life without it. But, finally admitting, especially in a work environment, that something was indeed our fault and come up with a real solution to fix it, is truly a strength. Gen X has the cliché my bad. As stupid as it was at the time, this is possibly something that should have been carried though this generation as well.
At this seventh and final flaw, we have come to short cuts. Gen Y is notorious for taking and abusing short cuts. Part of it is trying to cut down the activity to be managed in our truncated attention span and part of it is making snap judgments without truly thinking the process though. Also, it is that we are so at home with technology that we forget that Wikipedia or google maps aren’t always the best answer. We are helpless because we are so used to others completing tasks for us and making us unaware of the true arduousness of life. And, yet, we are entitled to the end result and the adulation that will go with it. As a generation, the Yers are forever trying to make their lives easier without really putting in the work.
It is truly the culmination of all the other sins of our generation put together. We just want the easy way out. Unfortunately, there is no easy way.