Nosing through Twitter back in January 2018, I stumbled upon a heated argument between a prominent Millennial and a fellow-author in his early fifties. The Millennial had tweeted her frustration after being outbid on a flat by a buy-to-let landlord. The author had little sympathy.
Two hundred comments later, the discussion had descended into a battle of the generations—Millennials versus Generation X-ers. The Generation X-ers were being accused of screwing up the planet, orchestrating Brexit, and generally acting like selfish dicks. They hit back by accusing the Millennials of being self-obsessed, cosseted, and lacking the backbone to dictate their own future.
As a Generation X-er with a Millennial son still living at home, I could see both sides of the argument but the shear vitriol took me aback. The generational divide had become a chasm with Millennials being maligned more than any previous generation.
There have always been generational divides but they’re typically limited to cultural differences such as music and fashion. I don’t understand my son’s obsession with the rap artist Skepta any more than my parents understood my obsession with New Order.
There’s also the usual political differences but the idealistic youth will always kick back against the establishment irrespective of the era. Socialism, for example, seems like a great idea when you’re young and broke but after thirty years of hard work you’re perhaps less keen to redistribute whatever wealth you’ve accumulated.
However, there is one significant difference between my generation and that of my son’s – and we created it. We gave our children the Internet, a tool of unimaginable influence. And we gave it to them before we’d even written the instruction manual.
My son is twenty-one and he can’t remember life without the Internet. And thinking back, I let both my kids frolic in the online playground without adequate supervision. We warned them about the perils of drugs, of alcohol and tobacco; all the while piping another peril into our home and actively encouraging our kids to use it. Yes, we warned them about the obvious dangers—groomers, scam artists and the like—but we didn’t warn of the potential harm to their mental health.
It’s no defence, but we simply didn’t recognise that potential.
In my day (© my dad), sometimes your friends had more than you and sometimes they didn’t. I might have endured pangs of envy when my best friend turned up one day riding a brand new Raleigh Burner but I soon got over it. Compare that to my son’s social media feeds he recently showed me. In amongst the thousands of selfies, I found a plethora of posts from his ‘friends’ taunting of a life better than his: better phones, better cars, better clothes, and better holidays. Better everything.
I thought about my friend’s Raleigh Burner and questioned if my pangs of envy would have passed so easily if I’d endured a constant barrage of reminders that I didn’t own the best bike on the block. What if every kid had turned up at my doorstep to show off a bike better than mine … on the hour, day after day? That is precisely what my son experiences on social media every single day.
Everyone’s online life appears amazing because that’s what they want their friends to believe. They’ll happily post photos of their shiny new car but never a copy of the crippling finance agreement. It’s a world where you only see the reward—rarely the effort or sacrifice. That is unhealthy.
With their self-esteem being constantly eroded, is it any wonder depression is at epidemic levels amongst the young? If Millennials are self-obsessed and materialistic, it’s because we didn’t foresee the threat. We didn’t even realise there was a threat.
However, this is a two-sided argument – and Millennials are not blameless.
Online, you can choose whose opinions you want to hear and you can block those you disagree with. It’s an echo chamber where the same opinions reverberate back and forth with such intensity you can’t help but believe them to be true.
When I was growing up in the seventies and eighties, there was very little in the form of entertainment in the home. I had no choice but to go out and explore the world. At least once a week I’d cycle to my Gran’s house, and we’d have a cup of tea and a natter. We had a proper conversation, and I learnt about the life of a woman who’d experienced a World War and rationing. It gave me a sense of perspective from an early age.
Nowadays, my kids communicate with their grandparents primarily through Facebook. They’d never think to pick up the phone or pop round and see them. That saddens me.
Unfortunately, their lack of social interaction isn’t limited to grandparents. Peer groups are smaller with my kids having a fraction of the friends I did at their age. And because most of that interaction is virtual, they aren’t meeting new people.
I spent half my adolescence flitting from one friend’s house to another. In each of those homes I’d inevitably end up chatting to parents or older siblings. By the age of eighteen, I’d had countless conversations with bus drivers, accountants, mechanics, metallurgists, antique dealers, and all manner of different people. As a guest, I had no choice but to listen to their views on the world whether I agreed with them or not. In hindsight, it was a blessing.
The discussion around Millennials shows little sign of abating and every day I see a new video or meme about the generational conflict. There are many theories how we got here but there’s no denying it’s an engaging subject and one which prompted me to write a time-travel novel based on a simple premise: how would a Millennial navigate the era in which his parents lived?
Whichever side of the argument you come down on, it won’t end until my generation are cold in the ground and life pre-Internet is cast from living memory. Many Millennials are now parents themselves and perhaps they’re teaching their kids what we failed to teach ours—the Internet is far from a true reflection of the real world. At very least, I really hope those kids hate their parents’ taste in music. Some things should never change.
About the author:
Keith A Pearson is a bestselling author from Hampshire. You can learn more about his work and writing career at www.keithapearson.co.uk, purchase his newest book Tuned Out, or browse his other novels on Amazon.