The Millennial Myth: Are We Drawing Artificial Lines in the Sand?
Is there a buzzword so deliciously buzztastic as “millennial”? AdAge used the term across 16 articles in the month of June alone. AdWeek included it a staggering 47 times! And, you would be hard pressed to find an ad agency pitch that didn’t include “millennial” engagement as a campaign cornerstone. Even AARP is sponsoring millennial-focused panels. Everyone wants in on it.
I am just as guilty of using the “M” word. Not because I want to, I just feel obligated to. It legitimizes the conversation and becomes a linguistic bat signal to other marketing and communications professionals: he said millennial, that means he is going to talk about something new and progressive, let’s go read it.
Okay, So What Exactly is a Millennial?
From Wikipedia: “there are no precise dates for when the generation starts and ends; most researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to around 2000.”
And herein lies the problem. The notion that a child of the early 80s and the child of the year 2000 are anything alike is bonkers.
I am a child of the 80s. I was the first kid to turn in a computer printed report in my class because my father, a government employee, was one of the first to have a computer in our suburban Tucson neighborhood. The old computers we had in the school library were run on command line prompts. Beepers were the popular mobile tech. When I went online at home I tied up our phone line, so internet was rationed like potatoes in a famine.
I was in high school watching September 11th unfold on a tube television during first period. I had to call my mother on a landline to ask her if she saw what was going on. I got a Motorola Razr the next year and it wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I got my first smartphone: the Google G1.
A child born in the year 2000 doesn’t remember pre-9/11 USA. They don’t understand having a social life without broadcasting it online (their social lives ARE lived online). They don’t know what it’s like not being able to get in touch with someone anywhere, anytime. They aren’t familiar with not having instant information at your fingertips. We are nothing alike.
And, Are We Drawing Artificial Lines in the Sand?
The idea of a monolithic generational divide between millennials and all preceding generations seems equally bonkers.
My father is 30 years older than me yet has a similar relationship to technology as I do. I chose to get into tech as a career path only because he stoked the flames of a passion in me that he initially sparked. We both see technology as an augmentation to the human experience and fully embrace it. We both have been impacted by significant changes in the world as we know it over our lifetimes. And we both stand in awe of how our reality today is starting to exceed the science fiction we imagined as children.
What about the political divide across generations? Yes, I am more liberal than my father. But he is more liberal than his father was. And give me a break, the baby boomers were leading a progressive revolution while doing drugs and screwing like rabbits. This dynamic is cyclical through every generation. It’s all happened before and will happen again.
Millennial Myth: Busted
When we have a conversation about millennials we are really talking about staying relevant in a world shaped by technology. The way we consume content, communicate with one another and make purchasing decisions are all fundamentally changing.
Where the myth lies is in the notion that this change has anything to do with generational boundaries. It only sometimes appears that way because young people don’t have as much to adapt to. For them it’s not change, it’s just reality. But it ultimately becomes everyone’s reality, even if we’re just arriving there at different speeds.
Consider that my father and I view the world through a far more similar lense than someone just 10 years younger does with me. And they, in many ways, view the world more similar to me than someone 5 years younger than them. There is no generational divide, only exponentially different comfort levels with these new paradigms.
Stop Using the “M” Word!
When I went to college 10 years ago, all my professors told me that demographics were now all but irrelevant. “It’s all about behavior and lifestyle attributes,” they said. As technology became more sophisticated, conversations around consumer behaviors were supposed to become far more nuanced.
Yet here we are a decade later acting like some incredible game changing thing is occurring to people under the age of 33. It seems like we’re regressing.
I think it’s time to put the “M” word to rest and instead talk about an adoption continuum. People are going to range from enthusiastic to skeptical of new ways of thinking, regardless of age or any other surface-level demographic. Navigating this constant evolution always has and always will be a challenge: how do you embrace the new while not abandoning established thinking too quickly? No superficial generational segmentation is going to ease this challenge nor prevent the inevitability of change.