THE BLOG

The Real 'Me Generation'

05/09/2013 08:23 pm ET | Updated Jul 09, 2013
Time

I'm trying to decide if Joel Stein views millennials as an entire generation of Cher Horowitz's transported into the 21st century.

That's as much as I can tell from his latest piece in Time, titled "The Me Generation," and displayed on the magazine's cover as "The Me Me Me Generation." It made the rounds on social media Thursday, with plenty of mockery on Twitter. Matthew Segal, co-founder of the millennial advocacy group Our Time, called the piece "Lousy!" in a tweet. "Trying to beat up on 'kids these days' using Boomer 'experts' for quotes," Segal said.

Allow me to sum up Stein's definition of a millennial: a narcissist who emails the CEO of the company they work for, is reality-TV ready, sends 88 texts a day while using their parents' credit card and feels "entitled" to everything because our parents pampered us with participation trophies.

"The Me Generation" was written by a Gen-Xer, who admits he got to the final casting round of Real World: London," who boasts about having more than 5,000 Facebook friends, writing in a magazine best known by millennials as one they grab in a doctor's office waiting room. How thorough is his reporting? ("I had data!" he boasts in the piece.) In this story about millennials, only two people under 30 are quoted and 20 who are age 32 or older. Somehow, Stein felt Kim Kardashian, 32, could represent our generation well.

Perhaps the worst of the story isn't even in the text, but rather in the video accompanying the article online. In it, Stein attempts to "live like a millennial" for a day. According to Stein, living like a millennial includes checking your cell phone the second you wake up, wearing a rock band's t-shirt, sexting, using shorthand in all online conversations and trying to send 30-50 texts in a day. It's hard to imagine how Stein could've been more degrading to our generation in four minutes.

Now allow me, a 25-year-old, to explain how a millennial actually lives: We wake up and look at our phone not because we're checking for missed messages or social media notifications, it's because of our alarm clock app. Sexting? Please, I don't have time for that. I get online and start work no later than 8 a.m. Most of my communication through the day then comes via social media, email or Gchat, and I often only end up texting one or two people in a 24 hour period. Texting for texting's sake is not on my radar either, unless it's to say "hi" to my family 1,000 miles away in Iowa. And I rarely wear a t-shirt outside of the gym.

I grew up with AOL chat rooms, internet forums and LiveJournal. MySpace came along in high school, and Facebook appeared as I started college. I'm guilty of taking many "selfies" during my youth for these sites, but I honestly haven't done one in at least a year. It seems most of these behaviors in Stein's video are not what an actual millennial does, rather, it's what a student in high school or college living in the year 2013 does on their day off.

Stein's piece sways between disconnect and getting a description of millennials correct. For instance, he cites products I've never heard of before, like FitBit and PlaceMe. He repeatedly references MTV, although most of my peers recognize the channel as one with more reality TV programming than Bravo, not one that speaks to our generation. Though he rightly notes millennials are self-confident, the largest and most diverse generation, and the most supportive of LGBT rights.

Every generation has its quirks, its slang, its flaws, but it seems too often Gen-Xers in primarily old media outlets cast the behavior of teenagers in the millennial generation as representative of everyone in the age group, whether they're 14 or 29. The New York Times, in particular, makes a regular habit of trolling millennials and hipsters by citing Lena Dunham and Taylor Swift to prove their hypothesis, as if those young, rich and famous women represent an entire generation. Girls is not a "weather vane" for 20-somethings, and Swift's "22" is more of an anthem for a 17-year-old than anyone in their 20s.

In Time, Stein forgets to note that millennials are more committed to volunteerism than other age groups, and the percentage of young people who believe helping those in need is at its highest level since 1970. We're more educated than any other generation. The youth vote comprised a higher proportion of the electorate in 2012 than they had in at least four cycles.

The Time article reminds me of the stories I see about companies barking at millennials through ill-advised marketing. Companies like Campbell's and McDonald's are shocked to learned we don't really like sodium-rich food, but an ad blitz will apparently fix that. Similarly, Republicans think messaging is how they'll convince us to support a party whose positions on issues like student loans, global warming and gay rights couldn't be further away.

Hotel brands and car companies try to convince us in marketing campaigns they created products with our generation in mind, failing to realize maybe we decided we don't need those because we're thrifty and would prefer to stay with friends if we can, or make new ones by couch surfing or catching a ride. Research shows millennials care more about experiences than owning material items.

Growing up in the worst recession since the Great Depression, how could anyone expect us not to come out nearly as thrifty as our grandparents? With that in mind, we're taking over with these handicaps: higher worker productivity and lower wages, a decaying planet, crumbling infrastructure, a large national debt, a poor healthcare system, that we're graduating from college with massive student debt, and the list continues.

Yes, millennials will be the generation to "save us all," as Time's cover suggests. But only because we're picking up a mess that was left to us.