Millennials & Death By Despair
Disliking generational stereotyping, I avoid discussing people as “Millennials” except in 2009 when awareness of them increased as the cohort's adult entered the workforce and became noticeable to someone at my then age of thirty-nine. Perhaps the “issue” with Millennials started earlier, but no bothersome memories of them exist before that year. The “issue” began one ordinary morning sitting at the computer reading and netsurfing, which led to a blog, “The Next Greatest Generation.”
The name alone says much about the blogger, and reading this masterpiece of web content caused extreme annoyance. The blogger droned on about technologically-advanced Millennials using their digital adeptness to save the world, as though no other generation ever mattered and did nothing to fix the ailing planet. Shifting the browser to a new address and moving on with the day put The Next Greatest Generation in the mind’s rear, briefly.
Around this time, a young friend came by the apartment to borrow fifty dollars, and while I dug through my wallet, a message chimed from my phone. As I answered the text, she gave a cross look and fidgeted uncomfortably, so I asked, “What’s wrong?”
Rolling eyes, she said, “You don’t text correctly.”
Looking at my flip-top phone and then to her new iPhone with a look of confusion, I asked, “I sent the message. What more do I need to do?”
She lifted her phone. “You type like you’re using an old calculator.” She turned her phone horizontally and held it with both hands. “You’re supposed to text like this.” Her thumbs wiggled, feigning text-typing.
Not giving a shit about physical styles of texting induced anger as she scolded me about old people misusing technology. Telling her, “I don’t give a shit,” brought an aggravating response of, “Well, you should because people notice, and it’s a character flaw.”
Shrugging off the conversation, a flawed texting-life continued until another young lady soon visited and held an equally frustrating discussion with my girlfriend. While watching television, I overheard the girl vehemently relating to my girlfriend, “They just don’t know how to use Facebook properly. I hope I never get so old I can’t properly post a message. What does it take to just communicate?”
As it turns out, she referred to her mom’s incorrect posting of an innocuous question like, “How are you?” The digitally incompetent mother unwittingly created a social media atrocity by posting on the timeline rather than in a message or some such stupid thing.
Many more frustrating incidents and age pejoratives came from twenty-something Millennials over the next year, forcing avoidance of Millennials in a desire to not argue or listen to ageist nonsense. Time passed, and with much thinking and reading, a sense of the generational difference developed.
Myths surround the Millennial such as being entitled, lazy, and even some positive myths, like technological proficiency. Viewing a generation this way is no different than screaming, “Ok, Boomer!” For an entitled, lazy generation, many Millennials work crap jobs, have heavy student loans, and struggle with all the same problems of every other generation, as well as dealing with an ever-rapidly changing world. Millennials might also understand the workings of social media and readily use technology, but “use” is a far cry from “technological skill.” Biases aside, the one glaring difference between Millennials and all other generations is their entrenchment in technology.
Millennials experienced something rare to prior generations, which is a massive advancement of technology, striking at about 1993 and inflating the dot com bubble before exploding in the early 2000s. Not since the invention of the automobile has a technology so impacted a single generation so fast. The patent of the telephone in 1876 took until 1904 to link three million phones in the US, whereas Millennials gained access to a globally connected mass-communication technology between 1995 and 1999.
Millennials took ownership of internet technology like the 1950s kids took ownership of Rock and Roll. The way 60s kids took ownership of psychedelics, Millennials took ownership of social media. However, this ownership had an unforeseen dark side because taking ownership of technology (the internet) is not the same as taking ownership of Rock & Roll or LSD. The 50s kid who owns Rock and Roll grows up and still listens to the music after retiring the screaming fan at the concert hall. He takes his music with him, even when the band has long since disbanded, and he watches other generations latch on to newer forms of rock, but that music is still his and never changes. Sure, a kid from the 80s might listen to Katy Perry, I do, but there’s a certain fondness for Rush and Blondie, and even more so, a sense of Katy Perry not belonging to me. This sense of ownership works with music, literature, and art but fails with the internet.
This ownership of technology appeared a blessing but instead cursed Millennials because you can’t own the internet, and even if you think you do, what do you own? The internet is not listening to a Bob Dylan album that embarks you on an inward journey, evoking emotion and dreams. Song art, music, and literature are a living memory, not just for you but also the memory of the artist, forming a connected vision for you both. About the closest technology to that shared living memory is social media, and Facebook’s not the same because social media, the internet, is ultimately an unreliable snapshot in time.
The Katy Perry album never changes, but social media does and not always for the better. There were plenty of social media sites before Facebook and Twitter, and some went extinct, and others cling to life like the mystery of MySpace. Owning the internet likens to owning any other device with parts needing replacement since it is just a tool, not a personification of self. We see ourselves and express ourselves in literature, song, and even drug-induced cathartic moments with friends. You own music because Katy Perry speaks to you in a way that you relate and remember. You own the book because it transfigured some part or maybe you entirely. You own the memory of friends laughing, talking, drinking because that memory made you who you are today. The internet is just a jumble of voices giving a mirage of understanding because it allows you to speak to many and build a social media monument to yourself, but it’s not you, and the more you try to authenticate through it, the more glaring the artificiality.
As a double hex, the internet never forgets the things you want to forget. Like 50s kids calling older people “squares,” Millennials hurled insults of technological ineptness at X’s and Boomers, but instead of sitting in cars on a Friday night, talking about square adults, Millennials posted it online and claimed to be, The Next Greatest Generation, infuriating with this unfounded claim so lacking a sense of history, it boggles the mind as to how someone could acquire such undeserved pride to compare the sacrifice of millions of people fighting to stop fascism with internet skill.
This aggravation and many other overstatements of generational value ceased when the Millennial’s victimization clarified. That kid who posted that blog had no idea how arrogant and insulting his blog was to those who lived through WWII or other wars. The same girl who corrected my incompetent texting came to me five years later asking for help with her website, having no idea how to use WordPress or code in PHP. Struggling to find herself in a career and relationship, she had many issues with depression. The same girl who complained about her mother’s incorrect use of Facebook now no longer has a Facebook account or any social media for having made her depressed.
The once miraculous technology now haunts with an impossibility of fully divorcing it or past transgressions of youth. For the 50s kid, calling seniors “squares” is all but forgotten, but the Millennial’s daily internet life, dealing with trolls, lack of privacy, threats of embarrassments, and other mistakes are right there, or at least the memory even if you erased them. They haunt life in an underlying current of fear that guides messaging, comments, or media posts for not wanting to offend, sound mean, or some other persona concern. The technology haunts you in this way because you don’t own the internet and it doesn’t personify, authenticate, or make you anything but a digital construct.
People from the 1960s or 1970s authenticated and represented themselves with books like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test or listening to "Crosstown Traffic," discussing these elements of culture and events like Vietnam, not passing phones to one another looking at them. While some Millennials similarly tried to find true-self, they did so largely in conjunction with social media, which reduced life’s moments to a series of snapshots, compressing those moments into likes, emoticons, and off-the-cuff comments. Those snapshots say something, but is that really you talking or the online persona? Even if the real “you” speaks, the media machine is not speaking back intrinsically like the song, painting, book, or your best friend. Worse yet, when all life filters through the lens of social media, it becomes a display more like an advertisement than a moment. That’s why the 50s kids own Rock and Roll and not dishwashers.
Social media isn’t art.
Identity Loss & Impact
The internet purpose of 2021 is exactly the same as 2010, and Millennials began feeling the impact of identifying themselves with this technology that failed to evolve and reveal spirit, truth, and beauty, but this is not their fault. As a kid, no one handed me a phone and said, “Have at it!” Someone taught me to use the tool, and life went on using the phone for what the phone is — a phone. Every generation prior is to blame for handing kids the internet and saying, “Go for it!”
Looking back, there is a great appreciation for the lack of technology when growing up. In many instances, a camera built into a portable phone would likely have ruined my life for something stupid I did as a fifteen-year-old. Handing high school kids laptops and smartphones without guidance was the single worst thing for Millennials, fostering a reliance and identity in a misleading technology. Millennials are the second lost generation unable to identify themselves through the technology they own, and this is profoundly impacting them in what is known as death-by-despair,
Between 2007 and 2017, drug-related deaths increased by 108% among adults ages 18 to 34, while alcohol-related deaths increased by 69% and suicides increased by 35%, according to the report, which drew on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. All together, about 36,000 millennials died “deaths of despair” in 2017, with fatal drug overdoses being the biggest driver. ~Ducharme, 2019.
Seeing these startling figures brings easy understanding for why the 2020 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey found,
The inability to balance life and work is often cited as a contributor to poor mental health, as is the inability to be one’s authentic self.
Further finding that,
In terms of workplace-specific issues, among respondents who said they’d like to leave their employers within the next two years, nearly a quarter (23%) of millennials and 15% of Gen Zs gave poor work/life balance as a reason for wanting to depart.
And why can’t they balance life and be themselves? Because many cannot divorce that part of themselves that connects to the job and drives dissatisfaction. Most jobs, along with many necessary services, expect you to have a phone, forcing you to stay connected. Is it any wonder more and more Millennials continue to disconnect from social media?
In theory, turning off the phone sounds like a good idea, but most people need to be available to family and other loved ones. For many Millennials, social media and the internet form a way of life, and quitting social media or limiting the internet feels like giving up a piece of themselves. As Millennials enter their forties, coming ever closer to fifty, many harsh realities of aging further exacerbate the problem. Aging can become a lonely act as people involve themselves exclusively with family, move away, or die. For many people who don’t identify themselves with technology, the internet becomes a connection to the world, but how will loneliness and isolation impact a generation already failed by this technology?
The full impact of technology on Millennials may yet be realized, but hopefully, the worst has passed.
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash