New Year offers chance for fewer selfies, more self reflection

by GRACE MEREDITH ’15Staff Writer (gmeredit@fandm.edu)

January is one of my favorite times of year. Like many others, I enjoy the New Year as a time of reflection for not only myself, but on what made the past year unique. This past year was full of headline-making events that make the (slightly neurotic) analyst in me excited. The government shutdown proved to be an incredibly embarrassing incident for the United States, making many Americans more aware of the flaws in our government.

Simultaneously, President  Obama and the NSA dealt with scandal after scandal involving spying, including an American citizen’s personal Internet use to eavesdropping on other world powers.

In pop culture, shows like Breaking Bad, Homeland, and Game of Thrones confirmed that we are indeed living in a Golden Age of Television.

Abroad, the human rights violations in Syria and continuing information leaks from North Korea also called attention to the functionality — or lack-there-of — of IGOs like the United Nations. Pope Francis continued to make headway in revamping the Catholic Church and its image.

The world also lost Nelson Mandela, although the events that occurred at his memorial service got almost as much attention as his actual death. From the fake sign-language interpreter to the now famous selfie between Obama, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt, SNL certainly had plenty of satirical fodder for at least a month.

And there it is again — the trend that just won’t quit. The selfie: it wasn’t just international scandals and political drama that defined 2013, but an increased awareness of our generation, popularly dubbed, “The Millennials.”

“Us?! People are interested in us?! Why?! What did they say? Do they like us? Please tell me they like us!” your 20-something voice may ask. Well, they are certainly intrigued. In movies and TV shows, the older folks are always criticizing the rebellious younger folk — “Selfish, self-centered, lazy!” — but unlike these fictitious people, Time Magazine released statistics that proved all of these things are actually true — and more.

The incidence of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is three times as high for a person in their 20s than it is for someone 65 or older, and 58 percent of college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than 1982, according to the National Institute of Health. Time also reported that 40 percent of Millennials believe they should be promoted every two years, regardless of performance — perhaps it has something to do with everyone getting trophies in Little League, and not the kids who actually did the best.

And, unsurprisingly, we are fame-obsessed. Three times as many middle school girls would rather be a personal assistant to a celebrity than a senator. We have diagnosable arrested development: according to the 2012 Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults, more people aged 18 to 29 live with their parents than a spouse. In terms of a moral compass, ours is pretty ambiguous: the National Study of Youth and Religion found that, when put in a “questionable” situation, 60 percent of Millennials believe they will just be able to “feel” what is right.

We are famous for our narcissism, which is easily explainable by the explosion of reality T.V., social networking, and, more recently, thousands of apps that quantify our self-absorption, like Instagram, FourSquare, and Twitter. Perhaps it is because we are too caught up in the paradoxical puzzle that comes from our narcissism battling the reality that, despite what our parents told us, we really can’t do anything.

“This generation has the highest likelihood of having unmet expectations with respect to their careers and the lowest levels of satisfaction with their careers at the stage that they’re at,” said Sean Lyons, co-editor of Managing the New Workforce: International Perspectives on the Millennial Generation. “It is sort of a crisis of unmet expectations.”

However, we are not entirely a new species of Homo sapiens. We have just adapted to our environment. Unlike every other generation in human history, Millennials have grown up in a world of abundance. And it’s not just food — with the huge emergence of jobs to choose from (no longer farmer or factory worker), there is no reaction of surprise when a 24 year-old is still figuring out his or her career. With expanding life expectancy, the pressure to marry and settle is becoming less and less relevant.

With technology that now allows women to get pregnant in their 40s, having children is much less of a race to beat biological clocks than another hazy life event in the increasingly distant future. So the Millennials — the generation of eternal procrastinators — aren’t necessarily a study in failure but a study in human adaptation in an age of change unprecedented in human history. And guess what? For all of these shortcomings, we are statistically (yes, there are statistics for this) really, really nice.

Our parents’ positivism — which could also be our downfall — may save us, after all. Millenials are more accepting of differences than any other generation before us — less likely to be racist, sexist, or homophobic. And, although we are the breed where a bad grade in high school is no longer our own fault but the teacher’s, our collective realization that our greatest hopes and dreams may not be possible is making us more wary. Although this may sound counter-intuitive, our impulsivity rate is fairly low, demonstrated by record-low credit card debt. We also value experience more than material goods — perhaps our souls do want something more than the latest Apple product. Personally, I know I would go back to a flip-phone in a heartbeat if it meant even a day in another country.

We are idealists. We are optimists. We embrace the system, mostly because we have no real culture and, thus, none to rebel against. We are not religious. We don’t like mean people. We are cool under pressure, don’t express much emotion, and are not all that passionate. But we are also adaptable, educated, accept differences, and have already demonstrated groundbreaking entrepreneurship in hundreds of fields, many of which seem to spring up on a day-to-day basis.

Although not all the data is necessarily favorable, in a true 20-something fashion I will say this: numbers are not everything. What will define us in not the collective “personality” of people our age but how we respond to future challenges. It is clear we have equal potential for creation and destruction. If we do get tired of taking selfies, maybe we can save the world, after all.

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