Millennials Are Social, Capable, And Confident (Really.)

A roundtable discussion with four people in their 20s.

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Millennials Are Social, Capable, And Confident (Really.)
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Millennials Are Social, Capable, And Confident (Really.)

Let's define our term. Millennials are the generation currently between the ages of 18 and 30. They are often mocked for being soft, cosseted, narcissistic smart phone addicts. And worse. And part of the issue is that it's just fun to talk about them that way.

But it doesn't make any sense. It seems especially conterproductive, just in terms of the continued survival of civilization, to so dramatically write off so large a demographic.
And everything contains its own opposite. I think some of us are mad at ourselves for the way we raised the millennials. Maybe too much building of self-esteem and too few hard knocks?
And I think some of us are mad at ourselves because we thought we'd always be cool and always be masters, pardon the expression, of our domain, and now we're the people who don't get it.
Today: four members of the millennial generation set the record straight. You can join the conversation. E-mail or Tweet us @wnprcolin.





I called in today and wasn't lucky enough to get on the air to talk about my generation, which is probably a good thing because it would have been longer than anticipated and callers who eat up time on the radio irritate the heck out of me. This comment would have been condensed had I been on the air, but email lets me explain more.

Anyway, my general comments were to this effect:

I'm 25 and as I write this, I'm listening via live stream with six tabs open in Firefox and three programs running in the background on my laptop. I'm a little over three years out of college and find myself rather underemployed for what I think are good credentials. I went to an elite university (the University of Chicago) and have a degree in Physics, so theoretically with all the rhetoric about STEM careers, I should be in high demand. Turns out that the opposite is true in my case. I was told growing up the old lines about hard work and determination enabling one to do anything and while I still put some stock in that, I'm getting increasingly skeptical. At the risk of sounding pompous, I was the Valedictorian of my small high school in a farm town in Michigan. I felt capable of anything at age 18, but as time progressed my expectations were tempered by the sheer amount of competition in my field for both graduate school and in the job market. No matter how smart and capable you think you are, there are at least 10 just as smart and capable, if not more people than you.

When I look for a more stable job now, I find that nearly every opening requires 3 or more years of experience and technical knowledge of the job that I don't think I would pick up unless I was employed in a similar position. Grad school is tempting because a Masters degree (and in some cases even a Ph.D.) is becoming more prevalent as the minimum education necessary to hold a job. However, acceptance rates into good graduate programs are staggeringly low (extreme example: my girlfriend is a Psychology grad student at Yale and was one of something like two or four students admitted out of 300+ applications), I'm hesitant to devote more of my life and money to it. I was always told by family, teachers, and members of the previous generation to pursue a passion I'm devoted to. I did and now I'm about $50,000 in debt. I feel like I should have been given a slightly less optimistic and realistic bunch of ideals. At some point, we just have to tell kids that the chances of them being an astronaut of an NFL star are essentially nil. Members of my generation have ability, knowledge, and education bursting at the seams, but don't have good ways to use it. High ability, low prospects (i.e. the PhD working as a waiter/waitress). I've more than once expressed the somewhat morbid sentiment that the only reason any social change happens is because the oldest generation dies off. My job prospects are not great at the moment (I'm pursuing two reasonably high-paying part time jobs at the moment in industries I never thought or wanted to go). With a monthly debt payment of about $600/month, I am a long long way from financial independence. I turn 26 on June 13 and will soon be without healthcare, with may prevent me from keeping a job due to some of my medical conditions making things difficult. On the other hand, I'm a white, American, heterosexual male. My back of the envelope calculation tells me that that's about 2-3% of the world's population. I hit the jackpot in terms of being born in the best possible scenario for success. This may sound like a pity party and I may sound like I'm whining to older people who might say, "Try harder, take a lousy job to make ends meet. " To them I say, "What I'm saying is not an excuse; it's an explanation."

Finally, I wonder about the future. I was recently an intern for a suburban high school with fairly standard demographic make up. I'm only 7-10 years older than the students, but in my everyday interactions with them, I found that the "cultural gap" between someone 7-10 years younger than me is greater than the cultural gap between someone 7-10 years older than me. This may be because the older person has experienced the same events that I have, but it's surprising how quickly young culture changes. I found myself telling "When I was your age" stories about the horrors of having to listen to the noise of 56k modem as you connected to AOL and used your family's only phone line. This was only 10-12 years ago, but they can't even begin to comprehend minor things like that. More seriously, I think it's worth noting that today's high school students have spent most of their lives in a post-9/11 world. Many weren't even in kindergarten when it took place and for them it's now a completely historical event taught in school. I worry about the ramifications of a cultural gap that's increasing faster and faster. I consider myself to be very internet savvy and have always been the one to fix the family computer, but the rate at which new services like twitter or GrubHub appear is faster than I can learn how to use them. The kids who are growing up with this are extremely adaptable and learn new technology bewilderingly quickly. The consequences for this in education policy are enormous. The trend I've personally noticed is that education policy makers often view technology as one of the only methods that will reach children with the underlying assumption that it will make them learn more effectively. As a result, teachers are being given iPads and SmartBoards and are expected to be fluent in Google Docs. Putting aside the costs to train educators to use these devices, I don't necessarily believe that the presence of technology in the classroom automatically enhances the quality of learning. While the technology may make some things simpler (Google Docs is a wonderful example of this if you can keep organized), it seems that the presence of technology in a day's lesson plan is almost gimmicky in a way; students get the feeling that their old, out-of touch teachers are trying to be hip to their generation, which further alienates and widens the culture gap. The policy makers in education are so out of touch with the experiences of today's student that I seriously wonder whether students are learning less.

So yeah... without the time constraints of being on the air, that came out much longer than originally intended, but I think expressed at least some of my sentiments accurately. I could probably go on for days about it. Thanks for reading and if you want to contact me for whatever purpose (or to put me in touch with a friend who is looking to employ someone with top-notch advanced math skills) don't hesitate to email me at this address (

Thanks a bunch for the very enjoyable program (and for the record I love M*A*S*H, have phone books, and sometimes miss the sound of an answering machine kicking into gear).


I was listening to your show this evening and wanted to call in, but realized it was pre-recorded. I usually don't have those impulses, but as a millenial myself, your show resonated with me.
You were discussing optimism, and I guess what I would like to contribute to the idea is this:
I think our generation is faced with a plethora of issues affecting our involvement with social culture and politics, but I don't view them in the same way. In terms of politics, I'm horrified at our political system today. My lack of involvement there has to do with the oligarchy on which it is based, and the corruption. I can vote but my pockets don't go nearly deep enough to actually have a say in anything. I admire what one caller spoke about Ron Paul and your comment on authenticity.
In terms of social culture, I think our generation is evolving in interesting ways. We're drawn to the speed and accessibility of smart phones and the internet, but we're also bringing organic farming and communal living back into focus. I am optimistic about our generation's new take on community (no longer the satellite living of a $400,000 house on 2 acres, but of a tiny off-grid house on a 40 acre farm in an intentional community).
My parents are baby-boomers and have recently retired. They are still scratching their heads as to why I'm living my life the way I am which makes me do the same at times. But what they don't realize is that my set of objectives and goals is completely different from theirs. While I value a strong foundation (by way of savings, health insurance, etc), I am unable to attain certain things due to the political and social climate of today, but I also can draw upon resources which weren't available to my parents as well.

Anyhow, thanks for touching on this subject and for doing all you do.

E-mail from Peter

Good convo. I think one thing you have failed to mention is that milennials like myself have been caught in a strange place where our education, in many cases, has not prepared us for the reality of the workforce. I am a graduate of an elite high school and college where I studied liberal arts. I was always told to get high grades and that this would lead to good job opportunities. In an increasingly specialized and global business environment, it pretty tough to be a high achieving generalist (I suppose I must spend $$$ on grad school). I have come to the realization that for people such as myself, merit matters far less than connections. I think this sentiment has helped fuel support for movements like the occupy movement.