By the title, you can probably tell that I don’t believe in the Millennial or Me generation actually being a thing.
Sure, I’ve noticed the seemingly omnipresent sense of entitlement in so many 20-somethings, but the truth is, entitlement is present in 20-somethings of all generations. It’s just more visible now.
At that age, we all think we own the world, and we all think we can shape and mold it into something else. In efforts to sell, marketers label the generations.
Generation labels are nothing more than reflections of valuable perspectives.
How the supposed Me generation’s perspective offends the sensibilities of those who came before is simple. Where we [once] valued owning things, they value owning experiences. What this looks like is, say you offer to give something to a 20-something person. They might literally look at and consider it in a wholly different way than you might. You see a thing that you can consume, but they want to know what the experience of consuming the thing will be before they will even consider taking it on.
In that approach, we have a similar relationship with the concept of time.
Smart marketers have crafted dialogs that make 20-somethings think they are getting exactly what they want, but in reality, they are often getting the precise opposite of what they want.
The whole idea behind experience is that each person shapes their own. The unique experiences give us relatable perspectives, ways to connect and open our minds.
If experiences are marketable items, they are inherently not individual. If that’s so, are they even real? When we have fake experiences, humans seek ways to push connection because pushing is often easier than undoing and relearning.
If I tell you when and where to enjoy yourself, there is really no value in that. It’s why dressing up in costume is less fun on Halloween than it is on a random Tuesday.
Scripted and sold experiences widen the gap even further because one generation can see what the other often cannot. But the perspective difference doesn’t truly matter. It only matters to marketers.
The reason generational perspective differences are offensive is that in order to own things, you have to work hard to attain them. That means we have not only perspective difference, but also reality difference. The reality of how they interact with things you worked your tail off to own is different. When you want to own nothing, the fact of the work done to bring the ‘thing’ into their lives has no intrinsic meaning, thus no value, no appreciation.
Example: When a younger person starts every sentence with ‘I feel like’, my sense of time use gets offended. Hearing ‘I feel like’ (20 times) before we get to the meat, since the reality of the lead-in is inherent (we know they feel like that or they would not be saying it), my time gets wasted. My expectation around time, rendered as efficiency, conflicts with their approach. [The unfortunate result born purely of repetition is, the only thing I remember about whatever they said is, ‘I feel like.’]
However, since I know they value time from a different point of reference, the difference is a point of connection rather than separation.
When we impose expectations that relate to our own generation or person on others, we experience how difference feels inside. That manifests as contempt and labeling. Considered differently, it can be about connection.
Labeling serves no one but marketers seeking to sell whatever it is you want, be it things or experiences. Labeling separates us all. Labeling creates believable myths. It gives marketers an easy path to selling. The more we buy into the myths, the farther it takes us off our individual paths, the life purpose we all seem to seek.
If we can bridge the wide gap between generational expectations, we can get rid of the useless generation labels and work more harmoniously together.
In a way, we can shape and mold the world, “our world,” the immediate people and places that surround us, but that doesn’t define a generation.
The Me generation is nothing more than a reflection of expectation and reality, perpetuated by consumer-marketers on social media channels. If you are a marketer, you exploit this. If you are a humanitarian, you exploit it. Nearly everyone exploits it.
That’s what labels are for. They help exploit people’s desires for control.
Eventually, most of us realize that this giant rock we live on is the controller, and it will probably always be round. We figure out that we can change ourselves and influence those around us. Often, that’s not only a good start but good enough to feel accomplished and happy.
The funny thing is, the common accusation of entitlement leveled on the Millennial generation is in and of itself entitlement. It is one generation claiming to know what is correct for the other. It’s a fairly useless action, just like the Me generation is a useless myth.
We’re stronger together.
Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.
Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.