TIME could not have published its excoriation of my generation at a better time. Right now, teens across the country are theoretically fulfilling their archetypal roles as detailed by Joel Stein's disparaging piece about the "Me, Me, Me Generation," as they exit movie theaters texting about their perceptions of the newest iteration of a perennial classic, coupled with a few pictures of themselves holding their tickets. I, of course, can be counted among this group. I tweeted no less than three times after watching The Great Gatsby trying to verbalize the ineffable elements of the movie that made it so moving.
Perhaps it is for this reason that the only words I could conjure after reading Stein's piece were those related to audiences across the world. Jay Gatsby, saying to an incredulous Nick Carroway, "Can't repeat the past? Why of course you can!" seemed quite pertinent.
Now, I happen to subscribe myself to historian John Lewis Gaddis's argument that the past never repeats itself-- only patterns do. Nonetheless, I found Jay's exhortation to Nick quite relevant to this week's TIME cover story. Here was Stein, a man pillorying the millennial generation (to be fair, up until the last few paragraphs), who had hailed from a generation that received the same treatment (and despised it just as much). Of course, the irony was that I read the article on TIME's new iPad app, designed to connect the brand with younger, more mobile readers.
Humor aside, the words were just as stinging. They are certainly nothing new; as Stein wrote himself, there have been myriad books written about our supposed fallacies. What was perhaps more disheartening was the fact that I could not think of a single friend or acquaintance who might fit Stein's bill. After all, according to Stein, we are "the last large birth grouping that will be easy to generalize about."
Do I have friends who post pictures of themselves on Instagram constantly? Sure! But I should qualify that often the backgrounds are soup kitchens, office buildings, museums or political rallies -- most of them are capturing moments of significant social impact.
Do I have friends who have skipped the chain of command to get a question answered, or propose an idea? Of course! I am one of them. In fact, I often remember the adage that I was taught my Stein's generation when taking a leap of faith-- "the worst thing someone can say is 'no.'"
Do I have friends who use social media religiously? Most definitely. Many of them are people who are using Facebook and Twitter to spread news about their attempts to start non-profit organizations with social justice bents, or sharing what they perceive is an injustice in order to right a wrong.
Does that make us narcissistic, arrogant, entitled and presumptuous? Not in my book. In fact, my experience would prove for a converse generalization. But when someone examines the superficial elements of these practices (ironically, those who accuse us of exhibiting superficiality), it could easily be construed as such.
Does that make us overtly self-centered? According to Stein, it does. However, as Ezra Klein reported, data share a different story. As a generation that has been reared by the first group of married parents who are statistically more likely to divorce than remain together, the fact that one of our biggest priorities is still to "have a successful marriage" inherently undermines Stein's argument.
We are just as passionate, informed and inquiring as our parents. In fact, our ostensible propensity to over-extend ourselves in the digital world often means that we learn of important news stories before our parents. Twitter has become news platforms' choice medium of rapidly disseminating information.
I would argue that our passion is not mitigating. Instead, the forms in which it manifests itself are easily misunderstood by a contingent of people who have yet to grasp the positive impact of our ability to quickly share information. Sure, it is far easier for false rumors to become perceived as truth (see the unfortunate proliferation of false reports that precipitated the accurate identification of the Boston Marathon bombers), but it is also possible for our generation to galvanize meaningful and positive change.
So, are we the 'Me, Me, Me Generation?' In the sense that we use ourselves as vehicles for positive and impactful change, this label might be apt. But, regarding Stein's use of the expression, I think Jay Gatsby would have to shrug and say, "You're wrong, old sport."