It's like the ending of a classic Scooby Doo episode, but instead of "those meddling kids" we hear "those [insert adjective here] millennials."
It plays over and over in the airwaves of society. Millennials are entitled, lazy, spoiled, clueless. They'll never make it in the workforce. If they would only do things the way [insert generation here] did.
When I decided to write about millennials and society, I knew it would be a rocky subject, but I also knew it would be an important one.
At a marketing conference last spring I, along with two students and two professors, sat in a room filled with marketing college educators and listened to them gab about how millennials were too much of this and not enough of that. That's when I started to wonder... are we really that different?
According to Dr. Geoff Harkness, resident sociology expert at Morningside College, millennials are different just like Generation X was different from the Baby Boomers. He doesn't see the differences as a glaring signs that millennials are meant to rock the world off its axis.
He sees that technology plays a role in how millennials not only view the world, but also themselves. The Internet gives us free reign to be whoever we want, whenever we want. There are no boundaries or, if they are there, the opacity is turned down. Technology has changed the way we communicate, and that's caused larger corporations to take notice of the millennial generation. They see an opportunity. Harkness says his biggest reservation is that these companies capitalizing on the technological revolution only see a financial opportunity.
Marketer and Morningside professor, Dr. Marilyn Eastman says that companies are absolutely taking advantage of the millennials. They are, in the marketing world, a unique breed. They don't just purchase something because the ad looks pretty. They deeply value the opinions of others.
Technology allows people to ask whether they should buy the red shoes or the black ones and get responses almost instantly. This has changed the face of marketing.
"Marketers understand they have to involve and engage millennials in the brand through various modalities," says Eastman.
This means staying active on social media and asking for opinions and receiving feedback. High-engagement brands like cell phones or computers have an easier time with this because the product integrates well into the social-verse. Millennials are more apt to post about the latest iPhone that was just delivered to their door. They might even share information on their favorite apps. Honestly, how many requests to play FarmVille have you received in the past couple of years? Players aren't afraid to let you know they need a dozen eggs and, odds are, someone will swoop in and save the day.
On the other side of the coin, low-engagement brands like tissues and detergents are having a hard time reaching the mysterious generation. People aren't going to post that they had a great detergent experience or that their tissue really held up. Those brands are having to figure out a different way to reach the millennials, but until they figure out how the generation ticks, that's going to be a challenge.
Being a millennial myself, I expected to hear every person I interviewed talk about how different we are than them and other generations. Surprisingly, that's not what I heard at all. The number one answer I received was, "We don't know."
The truth is, no one has really figured us out yet. We haven't even figured ourselves out. We live in a society that changes every day and we know that if we don't change with it, we'll get left behind.
Developmental psychologist, Dr. Jessica Pleuss echoes the sentiment that the millennials are different in an unknown way. Technology almost requires them to look at the world differently, but whether or not that's significant, as Pless says, the jury is still out.
One thing she knows for certain is that technology poses exciting innovations but also scary backlash. Millennials have the world at their fingertips. Every bombing and shooting appears as a blip on their screen. They click on it and have all of the information available. They know about almost immediately after it happens. Social media demands timelines, and Pleuss suggests that this affects millennials more than other generations.
"It's not that bad things didn't happen before," she says. "We just didn't always know about them."
For millennials and anyone who lives in today's society, it's hard to escape them. When asked if this would become a trend, Pleuss said she hoped we would learn from the millennials. The Internet came on the scene twenty years ago and we're still figuring it out. Millennials were kind of the test run. They got the brunt of the good, bad, and ugly. Hopefully the next generation gets an experience without all the kinks that we worked out.
What else do we hear about millennials? Oh, that's right. We're too lazy to ever make it in the workforce.
Pleuss shook her head at that assumption. "I think you'll do just fine," she said. "I think the workforce will change with you... you're a high-achieving group." We just don't do things the same way as generations before us. We find new ways to think, create, communicate, and live. That's part of living in the middle of, as Dr. Harkness calls it, the technological revolution.
We were born in the boom and now we're living in the explosion.
Does that affect us positively or negatively? We don't know.
Does that make us incredibly different from our older-generations? We don't know.
Is any of this significant? We don't know.
Millennials may be different based on the world we live in. It's innovations are remarkable and we are in the wake of it trying to make sense of every piece. That makes us dramatically different than those before us.
One day we'll know more about what that means.