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Millennials are killing your future

Published January 17th, 2018

In a recent meeting with a client, I was pleased to see the person I’d be working with on a new project was around my age. I was even more pleased when said person made an offhand remark about the kind of trite insights you’ve probably heard your sales director boss parrot in every pitch meeting. Things like “mobile traffic has now overtaken desktop traffic”, “multiple screens, people use their devices while they’re watching television”, “we design for humans”, etc etc. I used to add this sort of shit to pitch presentations – always on behalf of senior staff much older than myself – and it never really occurred to me at the time that pitching lines like that to an audience of people in their late 20s and 30s is not only redundant but completely hilarious. Like a parent doing an amateur anthropological review on your behaviour then reading it aloud to you in order to earn your respect.

Two things before I go any further: one – for the Gerry Farrells of the world – I’m conscious that the words that follow may unintentionally display some unironic ageism and for that I apologise; and two, I’m fully aware that writing about Millennials in relation to digital and media is completely hack. It’s hack because using the word “Millennial” must somehow get clicks – there’s an obscene number of articles about stupid shit like our reluctance to buy diamonds, our inherent selfishness or our unquenchable appetite for ass. Business Insider has helpfully compiled this handy list of the various things we’re currently killing which includes lots of cool mid-life crisis dad shit like beer, titty bars and motorcycles. Presumably this means we’re also killing any chance of women only slightly older than us becoming our stepmoms.

Cool dad motorcycle
There weren’t as many gif results for “cool dad motorcycle” as I thought there would be

If you ask any generation that preceded it, every generation is unable to understand or appreciate the struggles their progenitors have overcome. For some, this also makes the new generation responsible for many of the world’s problems, despite their lack of influence. You could argue this generational feuding has been exacerbated by digital technology which, along with the homogenisation of local communities by big business, leaves many elderly people in places they no longer recognise with a large barrier to entry for most modern methods of communication. In contrast to our forebears, being the first extremely online generation means there’s a glut of data about our behaviour and buying habits – from your first danger wank to your latest breakup. There’s never been so much resentment and readily available information to fuel such hot takes.

Conveniently, some of the aforementioned articles choose to avoid economic reasons for our apparent reluctance to own homes, diamonds or motorcycles and instead lean heavily on cultural explanations that imply we’re spendthrift or irresponsible, like the now infamous avocado toast argument. The ones that do discuss some aspects of our economic reality do so with flippancy, failing to fully commit to the idea that some of us are saddled with thousands of pounds of student debt and all of us are faced with house prices that have risen 43-fold since our parents were young, a cost of living increase and stagnating wages. Surprisingly, this may be why most of us are lacking the necessary funds to make the kinds of massive purchases those of average income in previous generations – who also weren’t expected to pay for their educations – never had to make. The rest focus on our apparent desire to live fulfilling lives in spite of this fact, fascinated with the idea that we might spend what little money we have travelling the world or doing prescription drugs instead of murdering our spouses or whatever it is middle-aged people do with their time. Despite the older generation’s ability to dish out this non-stop “constructive criticism” full of unfavourable comparisons and selective truths, they didn’t take it particularly well when we returned the favour.

We sometimes think of times of great poverty and economic strife as the conditions that have produced history’s greatest art and culture. Looking at the present moment, this phenomenon may have been pure coincidence. Much of our modern cultural output is cobbled together from recycled material and nostalgia full of cynically deliberate diversity, historically revised for mass market appeal. These works create a soupy mix of ethereal ideas from ancient history, mythology, science fiction and religion to create poorly written and needlessly complex amalgamations of pop culture tropes that lack any coherent message. With the upcoming Spielberg adaptation of Ready Player One – a story about a dystopian future where the only thing left for the poor to do is treasure hunt in a virtual reality constructed entirely from 1980s pop culture references – we’ve reached peak absurdity. What will Millennials have to be nostalgic for when so much of our culture is already hijacked by people dreaming of the decades where they didn’t need boner pills? Will 2030’s top programming be bastardised versions of the half remembered romanticised versions of the 1980s we’re frequently presented with, despite it being a decade many of us never actually experienced?

When discussing nostalgia, it’s also worth thinking about how past generations thought about their future. The tense atmosphere of the Cold War inspired lots of paranoid sensationalist films and TV shows where nuclear bombs were detonated in downtown Sheffield or Mel Gibson fought leather daddies in a post-nuclear wasteland but there was plenty of hope as well. Tomorrow’s World – now revived and recommissioned because of course it is – showcased futuristic tech in ways we’d now find delightfully quaint – or retrospectively sinister – with polite British presenters extolling the benefits of various clunky gewgaws and fancy new software with bright-eyed enthusiasm. Movies like Back to the Future II and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure presented positive visions of advanced and undivided futures where you could hydrate entire pizzas or unite the world with the power of butt rock. Our not-so-distant-future prognosticating equivalent, Black Mirror, is the opposite: a Twilight Zone style anthology of bleak vignettes in which future technology is cast as an oppressive background antagonist, encouraging normal people to commit heinous acts. I suppose it’s hard for our popular culture to reflect a vision of a positive future when no one in power is able to convincingly conjure one and the rich elite are desperately trying to escape the planet.

The excitement surrounding the reintroduction of blue passports by old and misguided morons is endemic of our current political situation. Both Trump’s 80s-style business mogul success brand and the British empire rhetoric surrounding Brexit are artefacts of a past that most certainly will not be repeated, no matter what the majority of middle-aged or elderly people are voting for. Add to that the recent increase in the probability of nuclear war between North Korea and the US and you’d be forgiven for thinking modern day politics is just another ‘80s tribute act, determined to repeat major plot points from everyone’s favourite decade. Growing up, I remember parents being terrified of the internet and what it could do to their children – perhaps rightly so – but as they’ve aged, they seem to be increasingly susceptible to the kinds of shit they spent our childhoods warning us about.

Let’s start off the new year on a bittersweet note: none of this will last forever. Our cultural stagnation and deliberately regressive politics are the last gasp response of a generation of people who were perhaps the first in history to widely adopt self-fulfilment as a philosophy over things like religion or collectivism. The cultural obsessions with what we buy and how we act exist because they created an entire industry to document and analyse trends for the purposes of risk assessment and marketing, which now has access to massive amounts of easily collected and voluntarily surrendered behavioural data. Writing articles about these trends then generates clicks: we click to hate-read or protest, and they click to confirm their existing biases.

The “Millennials are killing…” echo chamber seems like an attempt to deflect blame for the decline of many things they may have once taken for granted: affordable housing, social welfare, retirement at a reasonable age, etc. At this year’s annual Millennial meeting when we all vote on which industries to kill, we should acknowledge that previous generations have taught us at least one valuable lesson: a fixation on the past jeopardises our chances of building a better future.

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Steven Clark

by Steven Clark

Steven is a designer/developer and wannabe intellectual with an obsessive personality and too much spare time. Don’t follow him on Twitter.

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