Originally appeared in Forum for the Future’s ‘Green Futures’ publication. Written with Jen Katan for the launch of ‘Collectively’ in October 2014. Collectively is about to become part of Vice Impact and we've come a long way since then, but I still think it's relevant and worth a read!
Image source: Portrait of Maggie Wilson Watching a 3D Movie, after Frank Duveneck’, Mike Licht
So here we are, the millennial generation. Those that had our first snog, beer, or fag as the world quaked in the shadow of the millennium bug.
According to some, we’re self-obsessed and entitled. Narcissists addicted to smartphones, clicktivists with superficial knowledge. We’re lazy, addicted to consumption, with grand, unrealistic life expectations – that make us impossible to manage. We are not the sum of our talents, degrees, or achievements, but of our Facebook ‘likes’ and Instagram feeds. We are ‘Millennials’.
Or so we’re told.
The reality is that we’re a generation in ascendancy. Soon to be the largest workforce in history, we will (eventually) run the world. However, we come with an inherently different set of values than previous generations. HR managers are mystified by our work ethic, big business finds us increasingly hard to sell to, and older generations slam our dependence on technology. So what next?
What do traditional systems do with a generation that often follows its hearts and guts over its wallet? That on one hand, values creativity, experience and culture over possessions, but is also a growing global middle class that demands the new iPhone? The most connected global peer group in human history, that aspires for a better world, yet at the same time is opinionated and rebellious – unwilling to engage with traditional systems and insisting that we ‘Do It Ourselves’.
Some will denounce us and claim these paradoxes demonstrate our inherently fickle nature, or an inability to disengage with our smartphones and connect with the ‘real world’.
Instead, we see a language gap. A tragic lack of coherent dialogue that really represents our generation’s varied beliefs and aspirations. A fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be ‘millennial’. When, in reality, when we reject ‘green’ or traditional politics, we don’t reject the need, simply the baggage that comes with them. It’s not that we are not listening, just that you are not speaking our language.
We will inhabit the future and as such, we need a thriving, viable platform from which to mould it1. We need outlets to voice these needs, to inspire a belief in our ability to shape it, which opens conversation to the mainstream, not just the elite. We must call for greater understanding of who millennials are and really question the forces acting upon, under, or before us.
In 1961, Yayoi Kusama, said of the American art scene:
“Even those ostensibly new schools of thought that arose to oppose the [existing ones] only embraced, in the end, nostalgia for [what had gone before]; they were incapable of moving so much as a single step beyond historical theory…. The truth is that, at the time, there was not even the hint of any renaissance or rising tide that would define the century. Nor was it easy to imagine that we were approaching some sort of critical mass. The only thing certain was that the future was up to us, the younger generation.”
This was the 1960s; arguably the seminal decade of the last century in terms of social change. Our millennial renaissance? It’s almost here. It echoes in the passion of the pub debate, in the drum beat of the intrapreneur movement, and from the entrepreneurs who are paving their own way. We hear it from Scottish political activists, teachers reforming stale teaching methods, and from artists who rail against outdated norms.
Not all of us have grand ambitions to ‘save the world’. But we look forward to our remaining 80 years of life and want them to be the best they can be. This means change. This means dialogues and power dynamics that work for us. It’s time to ditch ‘sustainability’ and ‘green’ and move on. The future really is ours, we must find our voice and claim it.