Generation Us, Generation Now

“You have an attitude problem.” How many times have you had people say this to you over the course of your life? Well, I suppose we can forgive them for their annoyance, at least for now. Generation Y is finally here in force, and the world is just beginning to feel our effects. It’s just so surprising to me, personally, that everyone else’s response to the changing of the guard, to the inevitable rise of our own superstars to the forefront of business, technology, and art is to respond, “You have an attitude problem.” Well, there is definitely a problem here, but it’s not with OUR attitude. The problem is that we’re moving into a new generation of workers, consumers and voters. Every new generation has been characterized by a distinct shift in values, and by a rebellion against the last generation’s point of view. Cynicism turns into optimism turns into pessimism and finally turns back into cynicism. There is nothing new about this. Apparently Generation X didn’t get the memo, because they are surprised by the attitude of new college graduates just now entering the workforce, specifically that it doesn’t match up so well with theirs. I suppose part of the problem is just how radical an approach Generation Y is taking to this whole “life” thing. Life isn’t about work, and it’s not about play. It’s not about self or achievement, although these are great things, too. Our generation is one obsessed with community. We all have cell phones, we all do the IM and text message thing every chance we get. We blog, hang out on forums, and do anything we can to interact with others like us in real time, usually using some kind of technology so we don’t have to move around in one big pack all the time. Email is just too slow for us now. We want to be connected with our friends, family and coworkers RIGHT NOW. When we have a question, we expect an immediate answer from our teachers and our bosses. And when someone from an older generation doesn’t give it to us immediately, we wonder, “Why weren’t you watching your Messenger or AIM? Is your monitor broken?” Well, I suppose we do have an attitude problem of a sort. We’re one of the most pampered generations to date. Our parents made sure we had everything our little hearts could possibly desire, so when things don’t go our way, we don’t just think it’s annoying, we think it’s down right insulting. “What do you mean you’re out of red pens?!” How many times have you felt the urge to shout something similar over nothing all that important? We want our way, and we want it now. The fact that our way is the best just makes our attitude about it justified. Don’t get me wrong, this sort of confident go-get-it-ness is what makes for extra successful people out in the real world, but we don’t really even value success the same way other generations have. We like success because we get praised for it, because we get more free time and more money from it, and because all of these things help us build stronger connections with the other people around us. Success for us is just a means to an end. Some social scientists have even begun talking about our generation as “exhibiting herd-behavior” or “reverting to a more tribal social system.” Of course, our “tribes” aren’t built around blood relationships anymore; these sorts of things haven’t been for several generations now. But they mean more to us than they would if we had been born, say, ten years sooner. Friends are everything to us. Friends are frequently more important than family, unless by “family” we mean the family we’ve actively built out of our friends. Come on, there was even a TV show about this! This sort of “family building” is what makes our generation one of the most diverse to date. Not only are we more selective in whom we hang out with, but we’re more inclusive of people who are outwardly different from us. It’s not a matter of what you look like or where you come from, but of how you treat me and how I’m willing to treat you. We build our new families out of people we can get along with and who will be there for us when we need them. Our attitude in this generation is all about “us, now.” And if that’s a bad attitude, so be it. The world needs to start getting used to it because we’re already here, and we’re not going anywhere else for quite a while.