Thursday, May 13, 2010

the anti-gen Y

I just read this post on Bitch magazine's blog that raises some interesting and serious qualms against the terms Generation Y and Millenials (terms I often use here) and their actual meanings vs. their purported meanings. The author rightly identifies these terms as having little to no sociological or demographic value - as they tend to leave out vast numbers of non-white, non-middle-class 18-26-year-olds; but instead, she recognizes these terms and their associated (near implicit for some) meanings as being entirely contrived for marketing or economic purposes. So what? Well the problem is that these terms are largely unchallenged and undergoing mass appropriation and replication, utilized by one specific, yet powerful group of this generational class - the one with the most access to technology, the one with the most college degrees, the one with the broadest networks of profitable social capital. As it so often seems to be, the term is driven and powered by the exact group that it is representative of, however incomplete that representation may be.
Why do we only ever hear about student debt load and the plight of college grads who are moving back to the safe haven of Mom and Dad's suburban oasis? What about those who never made it to college in the first place? Who don't have the option to lean on their families, because these families are every bit as financially strapped (if not more so) than they are? What about young adults who, by virtue of culture, religion or upbringing, have different values or a different relationship to technology than those which defines the Millennial archetype? 
 These are all valid concerns and I can easily recognize my compliance with the problem as someone with a close familiarity to racial and cultural homogeneity (less somewhat with class). The most troublesome in my eyes is that last question regarding technology. I often read about how the Internet has become a tool to level the playing-field for the modern worker, and its potential to enact a near democratization of job markets, with the idea that age, gender, race, and especially geography no longer act as strong factors for hiring and recruitment, just as long as someone has aptly demonstrated the required skills. Of course, this leaves out one other important category: class. So it seems the tremendous scope of technology/social media and its inherent potential for creating economic opportunities, fostering collaboration and network-building, establishing an online presence and personal brand will be completely futile in terms of democratizing the playing fields if it is not actually accessible or transmutable to the anti-Gen Y - that group of young adults who did not grow up with computers or laptops and may never 'catch up' to its generational counterparts who did, whether because of economic circumstances or other tangential circumstances.
For me, this all points to the need for being explicit in my use of such terms, and resist the urge to fall into the myth of Gen Y homogeneity; while encouraging the promulgation of a more sociologically sound definition that can be made more useful to generational analysis and forecasting.


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