The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

The Millennials March Forth

Posted by | March 4, 2018 | Filed under: Opinion

Research assistant (and Millennial) Michelle Furbeck actually gives a fyke

Last month, I spent some time interviewing high school seniors for admission to my alma mater. I do the interviews each winter because I like young people. I like to find out what they’re interested in, where they want to go, how they’re feeling about the world. Admittedly, I probably use them as a mirror in which to catch a glimpse of my own aging self.

The Millennials are, for the most part, those born between 1981 and 2004. They are a large, active, and much-maligned generation. In my experience, they’re quite impressive: driven, curious, hopeful, and talented.

A majority of the students I met can write computer code, either JavaScript or more advanced languages. They taught themselves these skills from YouTube and Reddit. I shouldn’t have been surprised by this: Millennials have grown up on the internet. The tools used to shape it must be like what the hammer and plow were to the teenagers of 1918. Certainly, people should still learn how to use hammers — and there has been much decrying the decline of shop classes in high school — but let’s face it: tomorrow’s labor force will have to work as much in cyberspace as in IRL (“in real life”).

Besides, there are plenty of “how to hammer” lessons on YouTube.

Millennials are changing the way we eat, the way we shop, the way we marry, the way we museum, the way we turn nouns into verbs. As the largest generation in America, just beginning to fully come of voting age, Millennials are already reshaping politics for the coming decades. They are the best-educated generation in America, though they have had to pay dearly for that with student loans.

Unfortunately, Millennials’ faith in institutions such as government, law enforcement, the media, academia, corporate America, and even truth itself, is not strong. They will still need to work with and within those systems to take on the challenges such as climate change, a nuclear North Korea, Neo-Nazis, sexual harassment, the opioid epidemic, and gun violence. Will they be up to the task?

The impressive organized response by the survivors of the Floria school shooting has the media in a tizzy. Where did these thoughtful, savvy young activists come from? One astute reporter observed last week: “We wouldn't be so shocked at the Parkland teenagers if we didn't spend so much time depicting young people as these uniquely one-dimensional, selfish, and vapid caricatures they never were.”

In truth, it has been the habit of every older generation to complain and fret about the next generation. As I depart the marketing world’s coveted 18-to-39 demographic, I’ve already heard myself saying things like “I don’t understand today’s music” and “no gets cares about things like they used to.” Soon I’ll be shaking my fist at teenagers and grumbling about laziness, just as my ancestors did before me. My sons, born in 2007 and 2010, are part of the next As-Yet-Unnamed generation. I’m sure they’ll be just as capable as, and just as disparaged by, the Millennials.

And really, aren’t “the kids these days” a product of us? Whatever faults lie in the Millennials, those faults lie in our selves. If the latest generation to hit the labor market isn’t prepared, who didn’t prepare them? I work at the Wells Reserve, on a site that has been a productive place for at least 350 years. I like to believe that survival and even thriving are inevitable, when we learn from the past and embrace the future. The students I’ve met, and the studies I’ve read, and even my 25-year-old sister, continually point out the hopefulness and willingness of the rising generation.

So let’s spend less energy whining about Gen Y and more time helping them inherit the earth. For better or for worse, the Millennials will write the next chapter of the human story. I wish we had handed them an even better world, but I’m delighted that they’re taking over.

 

Nik Charov is president of Laudholm Trust, the nonprofit partner of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine. His monthly column, “Between Two Worlds,” ventures forth from the intersection of art and science, past and present, Gen X and Gen Y. More at wellsreserve.org/twoworlds.

The above was published in the Biddeford-Saco Journal Tribune's Sunday edition, 3/4/2018, and The Beacon's 3/7/2018 issue.

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