“The Disconnected Millennial” and other myths I’m tired of

Another day, another trend piece analyzing my generation and our supposed shortcomings. This one’s from the National Review, based on a Pew study, and calls us the “disconnected generation.”

Someday, I will learn how to not read things that frustrate me, but until that day comes, I’m just going to respond to some of these supposedly dire warning signs about the current batch of 20-somethings.

From the top:

Today the Millennials, write the Pew analysts, are “relatively unattached to organized politics and religion,” and significantly more unattached than the age cohorts — Generation Xers, Baby Boomers, the Silent Generation — that came before.

This article doesn’t make it clear if they’re talking about Millennials compared to present day Gen Xers and Boomers or relative to Gen Xers and Boomers when they were this age, which is an issue in and of itself.

I think it’s fair to say a lot of people my age have an overarching distrust of institutions, including major political parties and organized religion.

You can see that as evidence of our disconnection if you want to (though at least some polling suggests we volunteer more and are more likely to be involved in local politics than the general population), but I’d ask you: if your formative years included the Catholic Church’s child molestation cover-up, the collapse of the entire global financial system (followed by an incredibly anemic recovery), increasingly dire predictions about imminent environmental collapse and a bunch of religious leaders saying that your LGBT friends (or you, yourself, because of your orientation or gender identity) didn’t belong in their house of worship, would you really grow up with a ton of faith in religions and political institutions?

(Maybe you would, and more power to you. But I think a lot of Millennials can be forgiven for seeking community elsewhere.)

The fact that we don’t connect with the institutions older folks wish we would doesn’t mean we’re not connected, though. And no, I’m not talking about our propensity for sharing selfies on social media. Here are some communities I feel connected to, in lieu of a political party (which I’m not allowed to be part of anyway) or church, and in addition to my friends:

  • The other volunteers at the free medical clinic I work at every week
  • The community of journalists I’ve met in the course of my work, who are spread all over the country but often give me advice or help
  • My college’s alumni and other community members (faculty, current students) here in town
  • My coworkers
  • My roller derby teammates

I’ve got friends who have friends through board game or Magic groups, friends who hang out with people twice their age because they’re all in a band together, friends who engage in activist work and find community there, and friends who spend every free minute climbing and backpacking and spend time with a community who does the same.

Some of these activities might seem less serious or life-defining than a religious or political affiliation, but I think humans are every bit as capable of finding serious meaning and purpose in life from pushing themselves through physical challenges or working as a team to create beautiful music.

At any rate, calling us “disconnected” based only on our involvement in organized political parties and religious groups is specious. Onward!

Millennials aren’t entirely rejecting parenthood, but 47 percent of births to Millennial women are outside marriage. Even so, about 60 percent of Millennials, like their elders, say that having more children raised by a single parent is bad for society.

…not being married is not the same thing as being a single parent, y’all. For example, I have a boyfriend. We live together for a number of reasons, including the fact that we both earn no money and rent is cheaper when you share it. If I were to have a baby right now (not planning to, but for the sake of argument), I would not be a single parent, though I would remain unmarried.

They note that we’re also marrying and having kids later. Which I’m pretty sure is a) a trend that’s been happening for a while now and b) also explainable by the fact that none of us earn enough money to do things like buy a house or start saving for college for our kids.

Only 19 percent say that, generally speaking, most people can be trusted, compared with 31 to 40 percent among older generations.

That doesn’t look great (really, older people, only 40%?), but I think you have to give us some credit for all the circumstances we grew up in suggesting that people aren’t trustworthy (again, financial apocalypse). Based on the Pew analysis, they attribute this in part to increasing racial diversity. I’d imagine they mean “people are racist” but I’d also suggest that people of color who have experienced things like racial profiling and police brutality are probably not inclined to just trust random strangers on good faith as a matter of safety and survival.

To the extent this is just general distrust, it’s concerning (though again, you have to correct for age; maybe we get more trusting as we get older). But if this is an issue, I think it’s likely indicative of larger social problems that aren’t just about Millennials and our “disconnection,” like the feeling that the U.S. as a whole has become increasingly polarized and partisan. Let’s talk about the whole issue, and not just my generation’s symptoms.

So whom do Millennials trust? Their friends, those they are connected to in digital social networks. Some 81 percent of Millennials are on Facebook, with a median 250 friend count, and 55 percent have shared a selfie.

I feel like there’s this conflation of “people you trust” with “people you spend time with voluntarily.” Plus an implied dichotomy between online and “real life” that’s less and less relevant. Yes, I talk to my friends online. I also call them (online, because it’s free and video chats are great), drive long distances to visit them, and still interact with other humans who live in the town I’m in (friends, acquaintances, people I’ve selected as peers and people I’ve met through circumstance).

Facebook is a tool that allows people to stay in touch with casual friends they might otherwise lose contact with. I know people like to talk about it being a revolutionary game-changer, but in terms of maintaining distance friendships, it seems like a pretty linear path from snail mail to phones to email to social media/IM/other more instant and shortform tools. And when you strip the mystique of Facebook from this is, it reads like, “Young people are more likely to trust their self-selected friends than random strangers.” Which seems like a statement that can safely be applied to most generations across time and space.

And for pete’s sake, people, can you stop writing about selfies?

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