This isn't new for the much-studied generation — roughly categorized as those born in the 1980s and 1990s — but TIME Magazine's latest cover story, "The ME ME ME Generation" is bringing the spotlight back...once again.
To be fair, it's a pretty fascinating generation to study. And I'm not just saying that because I'm part of the pack. Born in 1986, I was introduced to the Internet in elementary school, where we pioneered this strange new world of screen name identities and chat rooms. I waited for that little yellow man to run across my AOL start-up screen to the music of a dial-up tone. I joined Facebook in 2004 — its very first year — back when it was a simpler version for college students.
I'm old enough to remember life before text messages, yet young enough to never have written a research paper without a search engine.
If you ask us, we'll say that Millennials are tech-savvy by nature — the first generation to have these innate skills from an early age. We'll say that we were at the cusp of Then vs. Now, and we've been seamlessly rolling with the rapid changes throughout our lives.
But if you ask "them", we're lazy, entitled, and shockingly narcissistic. (Actually, I might occasionally tell you the same thing. Not about myself, of course. And totally not about you. You're lovely.)
You can imagine why people — and by people, I mean Millennials — have been pretty defensive about the characterization of our people. This isn't the first time the younger generation has been called the "ME Generation", they say. Narcissism and laziness are characteristics of youth, not an entire generation — they chime in. And while I agree, I also kind of don't.
There is something uniquely narcissistic about today's culture — and I certainly don't think it's contained inside generational bookends. But still, it originated with us. It started with AOL profiles and AIM away messages, where we thought our daily to-dos were interesting enough for our entire buddy list to care. We invented "the selfie" and splashed them on MySpace. A Millennial created Facebook. A Millennial created Tumblr. A Millennial created Instagram.
Technology blurred the lines between private and public, but Millennials were the catalyst.
Another unique characteristic of our generation — a characteristic that everyone focuses on— is this new post-adolescence/pre-adult 20-something decade where we're putting off marriage and motherhood at record-making rates, except it's not always for a high-powered career. Often it's because today's 20-something are living back with their parents, extending the college lifestyle, until we suddenly have a new expectation for young adults. (And it's much lower than we've ever had.)
I don't need a study to tell me this; I have Facebook.
But I can't help but think that there's a conversation that isn't being had: What happens when the "ME ME ME" Generation starts raising the next generation?
As of right now, Millennial parents — those of us spending our 20s taking photos of our kids instead of selfies (OK, fine, maybe along with the selfies) — have a hard time deciding whether we're living traditional or unconventional lives, considering most of our friends aren't posting sonogram updates until they're teetering on 30. We can feel more isolated from our peers than any past generation, given the gaping disconnect in lifestyles.
It's also interesting to enter parenthood with such an overwhelming online culture, bombarding us with judgements and an over-saturation of information. Previous generations have had plenty of unwanted advice, but this generation has our family in one ear, well-meaning strangers in the other, and then the entire world blinding us with information behind a screen. And it's hard to ignore. Facebook and Instagram might feel like novelties to older generations, but it's just an extension of the buddy lists and MySpace pages we grew up with. As parenting chugs on, so will technology.
What affect will all of this have on the next group of kids — the narcissistic blurring of private vs. public, the constant Instagramming, the faces buried in screens?
What about our positive character attributes for parenting?
Can we predict the generational parenting mistakes up ahead — just like our parents were too helicopter-y, and their parents were too slap-happy, and their parents were too emotionally distant?
Are all of these societal issues, rather than generational? And does it make a difference?
One thing's for damn sure: We'll be documenting it all.