Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Talkin' 'bout my generation

A segment on 60 Minutes was one topic of debate on campus today, and it was just linked through Groupwise. I await their responses. As far as I'm concerned, it's just another entry in the ongoing tradition of hand-wringing and proclaiming that this generation is the worst ever. It's titled, simply, "Millennials."

Where on earth do I even begin with this? The first clip is about how self-centered they are, how lazy, how bright and multitasking many are, but also how difficult and unwilling to compromise in the workplace they are, how "absolutely incorrigible." After all, "they come first." They must be spoken to "a little bit like a therapist on television," buffered from any harsh words. Yes, the overuse of "they" is deliberate on my part.

Next clip? Partying in the workplace, parades through the office, nap rooms, motivational seminars, and happy hours complete with godawful and tacky karaoke. A couple 20-somethings talk about what we as a generation want. "We're not going to settle," and it's not bad to have four jobs per year on a resume [in what industry?!]. "We definitely put lifestyle and friends above work," they say [speak for yourselves, dudes]. Next up, a woman tells a cadre of young workers about how they need to wear underwear, and wear it under their clothing, and by the way, talking about their sex lives in the workplace is off-topic. Her tone is rather like what one would use to address elementary students, bubbling with enthusiasm and softening any mild criticism she has.

It gets worse, blaming Mr. Rogers for the "narcissistic" kids in the workplace, how parents then used that to say how kids are special without having expectations of achievement. It's a "coddling virus," complete with examples of the "I deserve an A because I paid for it" mentality, and how sometimes kids'll bring in mommy to settle a grad dispute, and some even bring their parents to job interviews, and the companies are fine with that; nay, they welcome it! Goodness, but we're going to hell in a handbasket.

I'd go on, but I'd start frothing at the mouth if I did. What I want to know is how hard they had to search for all this. How mainstream is the tendency? Some of the behavior they describe is appalling--yet these people still land what appear to be cushy jobs. How? And if it's that appalling, if they're that "incorrigible," how do they keep their jobs? I hate to point fingers here, but if parents and companies are willing to put up with such histrionics, they deserve every bit of the entitlement attitude they get. And it won't get any better. And then they can continue to lament the decline of the American youth. Seems pretty self-serving.

They have a grain of truth to their pronouncements. Sure, my students can be whiny. Sure they seem startled to learn that their grades actually reflect the fact that they didn't complete two essays and are even more startled to learn that my "do-over" policy is stringent. Sure they're lazy, and sure they'd love it if I brought in all sorts of fancy gimmicky stuff to counteract the tedium of actually taking classes. I don't, and most of them learn to deal with that.

They learn. They do. Eventually, and I'll bet it often comes before the age of 26 (the age designated as the onset of adulthood in the clips). And they learn not from coddling, but from taking a few knocks. Some drop out of school and come back a couple years wiser and ready to make a go of it. Sometimes the glare of an impending F wakes them up. They stand no long-term benefit from countless do-overs and exemptions and words of encouragement when what they really need is the straightforward truth. The workforce, at least the one I'm acquainted with, does not function like the one on 60 Minutes.

I sound like an old curmudgeon there, don't I? Well, I've been told I'm really a 40-something at heart. The truth is, though, I belong to this generation of narcissists and folks who expect to both waltz into the boardroom in ratty jeans and set the stakes for employment. My mommy and daddy told me I was special, oh so special, just like a snowflake, and I would do great things no matter how little effort I put in. *snort* Yeah. That was why they hounded me about grades and were--not so much angry, god, it was worse--disappointed when I didn't, and they let me know it, not always in soothing, therapeutic tones. When I got to college, I never would have dreamed of asking them to intervene in a grade matter. I also went to my job interviews alone. Maybe it's different in the corporate world, but I've never expected to be buddies with my boss or department chair or dean; all I ask for is a decent working relationship and the knowledge that they'd have my back in a plagiarism case. Leave that touchy-feely New Age-y crap for support groups.

I was raised in a pretty solid middle class, Middle American childhood, born in the '80s, raised in the '90s, just like those folks they're talking about in that news magazine segment. But that generation, at least the one they described, seems alien to me. If that's the future, it's ugly, and maybe just a bit unrealistic and alarmist.

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