Recently, I came across an interesting paradox between two books that I was reading. The first book was about the “Me generation”, or the millennial generation, and how children who were born in the nineties and early two thousands have been raised by an “everyone wins” and “you can make a difference” mentality. The second book, or rather article, discussed how the millennial generation had the lowest self-efficacy of any generation since the Baby Boomers.
How can this be? I thought. I agree with both statements. I think my generation was raised being told that we are all winners, we are all special, and we can all make a difference in the world (just like everyone else). But I’ve also noticed that many people my age simply do not believe that they hold any degree of power or efficacy in the greater scheme of things.
The answers that I found all come back to the same conclusion: the influence of technology. The technology boom marks the millennial generation. What the increase in technology brought was an increased expansion of our knowledge of current events. While some may choose to ignore what is happening in the world, for those who do not, access to breaking news is at our fingertips.
We have email alerts, text alerts, Twitter, Facebook, and a million different blogging domains that tell us what is happening as it is happening. Actual print newspapers have become the slowest form of communication. Well, except for writing letters, which is increasingly outdated as well.
This also means that the generation that uses social networking daily is exposed to twenty different ‘breaking news’ events that happen in our own country and in the world. When you hear about what I like to call the three D’s: debt, destruction, and death, almost daily, it becomes second nature to start to believe that making a difference in the world is near impossible.
Was there ever a generation that didn’t feel overwhelmed by what was happening in the world? I doubt it. It’s natural to feel as if the whole ideal of ‘changing the world’ is a little overzealous.
But the millennial generation’s low self-efficacy is at a new level. Self-efficacy is being warped into apathy. Many believe that politicians do not care about their beliefs, so why bother voting? Why work hard in high school if we can’t afford to go to college? Why go to college if our generation needs a master’s degree to truly attain a career? Seven years of debt for a job that might get outsourced? Why bother, if things continue to get worse?
These are the questions I’ve heard from those around me. I suddenly found myself in a debate in my research skills class last week when a student told me that I was being a little ‘overachieving’ about my topic and paper. They said, “You aren’t an established researcher, so it’s not as if you work is going to actually contribute. It seems like a lot of work for just a grade.”
I wasn’t as upset about the comment as much as the mentality behind the comment. What if everyone thought, “it doesn’t really matter, so why put in that much effort?” But that belief spreads through my generation like wildfire.
The fact is, we’ve yet to come to a situation when what we have to say, or what we do, actually matters and results in change. I think back to a few weeks ago, reading about tuition increases among California universities. Many of my friends from high school protested, but their tuition remains the same. On a larger scale, what came of the Occupy Movement? And let’s put our focus on politics—the issue of higher education, or education at all, rarely makes the front line news. These are the things that our generation gets fired up about, but nothing changes.
So why bother, we ask? We are the ‘tuned in’ generation that is tuning out. Rather than rile ourselves up about our underrepresentation or our lack of ability to do anything in the world, we just give up.
This is why the teenagers and young adults are so obsessed with Facebook and their personal blogs. It’s why we are called the ‘Me Generation’. It’s why our generation is so focused on ourselves.
We don’t feel as if we have any say in the greater scheme of things, but if our status update about getting a free Dr. Pepper at lunch gets five Likes, that is enough.
It’s scary, because instant gratification from social networking makes the goal of making a difference less and less desired. Why bother working at something that is hard to obtain when we can receive just as much praise from our peers for a picture we post.
This is when I think again about the paradox I mentioned earlier. How can we all be raised being told how special and important we were, but than end up feeling so apathetic? And what happens when a generation of apathetic thinkers moves out of their education years and into their career years, and our office buildings are filled with workers that don’t believe they can make a difference?