THE COMFORTS and technologies of today can indeed engender a sense of entitlement and laziness. But at the same time, they can also create new forms of responsibility.
It is human nature to find fault in the next generation. The Baby Boomers were critiqued by their elders for eschewing traditional values, but they in turn critiqued the Gen X-ers for being too carefree, unfocused, even cynical. Although it is fashionable to say “the kids these days”, accompanied with a sigh, the suggestion that the so-called “millennials” are exceptionally different from generations past has little factual basis.
The perceived frivolity of emojis, for instance, can be seen in the context of every generation deploying linguistic playfulness to set itself apart – and adapt to technology. Just as the youth of the 1940s and ’50s inverted words to the annoyance of their ermat (mother) and erpat (father), the youth of today are inventing acronyms and metaphors: I hope they don’t find this essay TL;DR.
Much has also been said about how millennials are addicted to selfies. But self-photography has always been important for Filipinos. In the past, people went to great lengths just to have their self-portraits, even going to studios, and buying albums and photo frames to “display” their pictures – a function now taken over by Facebook and Instagram.
And what of their supposed overdependence on the Internet? This I take as a valid concern (more on this later), but take note that every new technology – from electricity to video games – is perceived thus by those who did not grow up with it. Haven’t parents been railing against TV for the past half-century?
Finally, student civic engagement is derided as naive, as if the “grownups” in 1972 viewed the students of their time any differently. Surely, the young “enlightened ones” and the revolutionaries who came after them were likewise derided for their “juvenile” ideas, but today nobody questions the wisdom of Philippine nationalist Jose Rizal, who incidentally saw the youth as the hope of the nation.
An entire generation defies generalisation: There are many “millennials” who do not have access to the Internet, let alone smartphones. On the other hand, I know old people who are more hooked on Facebook than their grandkids. However, there are significant social and technological changes today that affect most millennials the most.
Social media, for instance, has created a new way of “separate togetherness:” Folks can be together at one dinner table but worlds apart in their smartphones. It has also created a problematic form of validation, through “likes” and “shares”.
The near-universal availability of information from the Internet, moreover, can lead to the complacent idea that everything can be found in Wikipedia, searched in Google, or, as a last resort, crowdsourced through Reddit.
The comforts and technologies of today can indeed engender a sense of entitlement and laziness. But at the same time, they can also create new forms of responsibility. In this age of screenshots and virality, one learns early on to be responsible for what one posts in social media. In an age where teachers can easily check for plagiarism through search engines, one learns that simply relying on a quick Google search for assignments won’t impress anybody. Not anymore. So it always works both ways.
Similarly, while the virtual world may have greatly expanded, the Internet has also allowed for an easier exploration of the real one: Travelling and going outdoors have become much easier. And while it has given rise to trolls and cyberbullies, it has also given voice to fact-checkers, real-life communities and support groups.
The challenge, then, is to maximise the good and mitigate the bad, of the technologies and trends we are faced with today. And, instead of blaming millennials for modernity’s problems, to think of how education can be responsive in a time of information overload and a dearth of critical thinking.
Throughout this piece, I’ve tried to defend millennials from unfair critique, but critique itself is most welcome. As a millennial myself, I think we need to be challenged more, and so by all means keep challenging us.
Someday, we will also realise our mistakes.
By then, perhaps we would have earned the right to lament the “decline” of the next generation.