The 'Everyone Is Special' Generation Becomes Apathetic

The millennial, or 'Me' Generation was raised to believe that they are all special and can make a difference, yet they are the most apathetic generation. How did this paradox come about?

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 Well, except for writing letters, which is increasingly outdated as well.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?

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Kevin George March 27, 2012 at 04:48 PM
At the risk of contributing to the problem you have so eloquently described: Nice job Savannah! I can't argue with any of your depressing, yet true statements.
Savannah McCully March 27, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Thanks Kevin. I'm hoping that bringing awareness to this problem may spark some sort of discussion or push towards finding a solution. This is also my 'overachieving' research topic.
Vincent Wallgren, Jr. March 28, 2012 at 06:42 AM
Very perceptive, Savannah. Nice job. America suffers from a literal barrage of misinformation. Lies from the political class, suborned by the so-called 4th Estate, dark secrets at every level of government, massive corruption in our banking practices and monetary policy, our fast fading civil liberties (see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/19/tsa-pats-down-3-year-old-_n_1361843.html), being in a perpetual state of war, etc., etc., etc.. A short excerpt from my coming blog: "We Americans are unique, as well as being the most fortunate heirs of an even more remarkable legacy. In the history of the world, there has never been a country that was formed by it’s people -- from the ground up. No royalty, no aristocracy, no ruling class; just a collection of intellectually astute rebels who fervently believed that every human being’s birthright is equality; and that their future should be based upon a firm set of principles designed to inspire an existence featuring peace, prosperity and individual liberty as the desired state of their present and future humanity. Great and noble ideas; but over the last century, an absolute failure in securing their permanence to the benefit of the people." With young, inspired and engaged people such as yourself, I cannot help but believe that the era of our collective apathy may soon be over.
Kyla March 28, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Awesome article. I do have one thought to add: For a child that has been told they're special for the whole of their life, the transitions to increasingly larger "ponds" take a toll. In elementary and middle school, the "pond" isn't too big, so it's easier to back up the "special" indoctrination with achievements and recognition. In high school, the pond grows significantly, so the stand-out kid from junior high now has to compete with all the other stand-out kids that end up at that high school. The same thing happens in college, then in the workplace. The larger the pond, the less special you look. It can be a crushing realization for some people, which contributes quite a bit to the apathy you mention.
Savannah McCully March 28, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Interesting insight that I agree with. Even if a student isn't a 'stand-out', valedictorian type student throughout school, there is usually at least one person that recognizes their efforts or personality, but this significantly declines at college. Perhaps that is why many college students, who are in the prime age to 'make a difference', often choose to stand on the sidelines.
David B Secor March 29, 2012 at 08:57 AM
When I was 18, in 1965, Bob Dylan planned to stop singing. He felt he had run out of ideas. He quit for a few months, and that brief hiatus brought new and dramatic results - his giant, now iconic song, "Like a Rolling Stone." It became the anthem of my generation. The song is important because it describes what happens when the protective nest of a nice home is either lost, or never existed. It was true then. It's true today. Three times in my life "When you ain't got nothin' you got nothin' to lose . . " applied to me. At each, I grew, got stronger, and learned so much. Parents who can (mine couldn't), usually try their best to insulate their kids from the complex, the difficult, the ugly, the unpredictable, the dangerous. That's natural. Sometimes they're too successful. It can lead to the apathy, ignorance, the detached and careless mindsets you describe. Still, one can only change oneself. Your peers may be stuck where they are forever. Get involved. Volunteer. Join groups whose causes you believe in. Your action and subsequent growth will give you great personal satisfaction. It will attract others and give them the desire, and the courage, to step out of their protective bubbles and really get into this great adventure of life. We each have a ticket on the life train - it's one way, so let's don't spend the whole wonderful journey in the sleeping car. In the song, the girl is on her own. It can be intimidating, but it's also liberating. Trust God and go!
David B Secor March 29, 2012 at 09:23 AM
P.S. If any of your peers believe they are in a jail cell, either in solitary confinement, or sharing a cell with people they distrust, fear, revile or feel are beneath them, and the peers do nothing but cry, complain and despair of their plight - remind them that they put themselves in that imaginary cell. If they still INSIST it is real, just say, "O.K. It's real, but the cell door isn't locked." All they need to do, is wipe away the tears, take a deep breath and man-(or woman-)up. Ask for guidance and courage, push that door open and walk out of that dark dank cell into the light and warmth that is living. If they refuse, due to some crippling fear, or lack of faith, just remind them the door is still not locked, and the decision to remain is their own. And they need not scream for the jailer. They can just look in the mirror, and speak quietly to him.
David B Secor March 29, 2012 at 09:45 AM
Video of "Like a Rolling Stone" above.
James Davis March 30, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Savannah, you have some interesting observations and I agree with some of it. I dont think there was ever a generation in modern society that didnt think they felt overwhelmed by the world. But its more about the world they lived in as much how you are living in it and overall exposure. Technology is absolutely one of the largest aspects of life that have been both positive and negative in society. In perspective and being that you are in school (I presume from your comments about research class) is that there are ALWAYS going to be peers that simply put other priorities first that you may have otherwise discounted as being insignificant to a 'greater good' or prupose. Also you are at an age where you and your peers are trying to figure out where your spot is in the world. Some might blossom and come into their, 5 years after college graduation, others might already know what they want. I know from experience, being in college, that it is only a means to end for many but not all (eg.not everyone knows they want to be a mathematician or Doctor). I have studied abroad and have lived in several countries. It is literally no different there either in student body makeup. Its more of a matter of age and circumstance than exclusive to a particular generation. Technology is merely a tool. Abuse it for fluffy Facebook updates, or use it as a companion to help others, it works both ways.
Batman April 02, 2012 at 10:43 PM
I don't think much of these rock & roll musicians or their meaningless lyrics. Music is for entertainment, not personal, political or spritual guidance. The problems Miss Mc Cully is alluding to are a result of people losing contact with reality. At least two generations have followed the false gospel of these singing, strumming fools. With their minds stuffed with all this intellectual inert filler it's no wonder people can't reason their way out of a paper bag.
Batman April 02, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Oh, but I do volunteer, for Duncan Hunter and Nick Popaditch.
Martha Martin April 07, 2012 at 02:41 AM
I just read this, and as a member of this "Me Generation," I am sad to say that I agree with this article. I'm graduating this year, and I go to an extremely rigorous school, and I couldn't agree more with what you said. I've worked hard these past years to get the grades without ever thinking why I do what I do. Sometime last year, I did start thinking about where all my hard work was going toward and felt exactly as you described the "Me Generation." Those of us that work hard sometimes fall to the masses of the generation without even realizing it. I think it's become our way of life. While I understand what you are saying Desiree because that is ideally what society expects from us, at this point of time, we are not the generation that will make a difference so easily. Technology has not only been the way we communicate, but also our outlet or lazy way of getting our work done. I hope that most of us realize this eventually because it is our sad reality. Thank you for posting this.
Jennifer M November 15, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Hey, Ive come across this post in research for my thesis. I agree with you to a large extent. I have held interviews with millennials about their major concerns with society and whether or not they participate in the positively or negatively in action and I found a lot of answers to support that they feel they have no power to change. However, some of the things that they 'could' attempt to do they do not do. This is loosely based on your observations of course but in respect to the 33% of those interviewed, their major concern was environmentalism and more than half of those individuals do not recycle but say they have the ability to. im in the middle of writing my Thesis, rushing to finish my Thesis rather, I would elaborate more but... As a millennial, I consider myself to be very passionate! and I have always considered myself to be so, even though we are often considered to be apathetic (as reflected in your writing) I completely agree -but not me. right? I realized that I am BEYOND apathetic! I push for social change verbally and in my graphic work... but I do nothing other than 'talk' ...hear me out, What if we simply blinded by the fact that we care so hard about things that we believe we are doing something. That we 'care' ourselves into being passionate and non apathetic. What if we admitted that we are apathetic -what could come of this? sorry, i quickly your post and wanted to share what I'm working on with you. Check it out @ TheHapathyProject.com
David B Secor November 15, 2012 at 09:23 PM
There are no awards for wanting, or intending, or admitting, or admiring, passionately or otherwise. Only for doing. Critics and their judgments, whether positive or negative, are just barking dogs, irrelevant noise.
Things I Learned November 15, 2012 at 09:46 PM
"The great way is quite level, but the people are much enamored of mountain trails."


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