Why This Millennial Is Unhappy

A while ago, I said I would talk about people and their love of dumping on Millennials. Unfortunately, I saw a bunch of shiny things immediately afterward and forgot all about it. How fortunate, then, that Huffington Post decided to run this piece entitled Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy and remind me that yes, we are still the favorite scapegoat for the current state of the world, and yes, I still have things to say about it.

But before I get into the article proper, here’s a quick primer for people who aren’t hip to the lingo: “Millennials” refers to the generation that is generally believed to consist of young people born between the years 1980 and 2000, following Generation X (1960-1980), the Baby Boomers (1940-1960) and the Greatest Generation (1920-1940). I’m not sure if the trend of naming generations extends before that, and I don’t really think it matters for the purpose of this discussion. It took a while before popular discourse settled on Millenials as the title for us, as even the article in question today uses the more dated “Generation Y”. I’ve also heard the term iGeneration floating around, but I prefer Millennials because it’s less derivative of previous names (like, can you imagine a generation called Baby Boomers’ Babies?) and sounds less like a marketing ploy by Apple.

And according to the media, We Are The Worst.

You’ve all heard the same lines I have, no doubt. We’re entitled. We’re shiftless. We prefer Facebook to face time. We all got trophies for showing up. The dastardly Mr. Rogers told us we were special, and that ruined us. The central problem is that we have too much self-esteem, and as a result we’re a bunch of spoiled brats who expect the world to just give us what we want with nary an ounce of effort on our part.

Political cartoonist and columnist Matt Bors does a pretty thorough rebuttal to the notion of the spoiled Millennials in this strip, but that hasn’t stopped our anonymous friend “Wait But Why” from offering their take. I saw it shared by a few people on my Facebook feed, not as a piece to be mocked (like that Tattoos Lower A Woman’s Social Value guy from a while back), but in solidarity with the message. And because I just LOVE to engage, without further ado, let’s do this:

So right off the bat, Wait But Why (heretofore shortened to WBW) ditches the term ‘Generation Y’ and invents their own term for our generation: “Generation Y Protagonist and Special Yuppie”, or “GYPSY”. Well then. I suppose they could have gone with “Narcissistic Individual Grown from a Generation Expecting Riches”, but THAT might have been in poor taste! I know that not everyone considers “Gypsy” to be a racial slur, but if you’re going to center your article around putting down a group of individuals, headlining it with lines like “GYPSYs are delusional”, maybe, just maybe, you should consider not naming your group of people after a common term for an entire ethnic group. But alright, let’s take this casual racism for granted or else I’m not going to be able to get past the first screen (*exasperated sigh*). WBW seems to employ an infographic style of writing similar to much of The Oatmeal’s work, and as such breaks down ‘happiness’ to the following equation:

“Happiness = Reality – Expectations”

Taken entirely at face value, one might react to this with a resounding “…what?”. It takes a bit of parsing to figure out that they mean level of happiness as a value that can be positive or negative. It’s logically consistent with the argument being presented, but as a rule with this infographic format, the less mental work your reader has to do to comprehend what you’ve written, the better; remember, the goal is to simplify information into easily digestible bites of knowledge. You may think I’m being nitpicky by criticizing this person’s writing style, and you’d be correct; if you’re going to present yourself with an air of superiority over me and my age group, you’d better at least be a better writer than me. In any event, this “equation” ends up being integral to the entire point of the article, which I’ll get into a bit later.

So it goes that WBW presents us with some startling revelations as “The Baby Boomers had it better than the people who grew up in the Great Depression” and “Parents generally want their kids to be even better off than they were” by making up silly graphs that have no mathematical basis whatsoever. What, for example, is “success” measured in? Annual salary? Financial stability? It can’t be such silly notions as “personal satisfaction” or “emotional gratification” because we’ve already established that it’s being presented as an entirely separate variable than ‘happiness’.

The only time this article actually DOES get factual and analytical, it takes the completely nonsensical approach of analyzing how often the phrases “a secure career” and “a fulfilling career” come up in print over time, noting that the latter has gained prominence that the former has lost. How much prominence, precisely? Well according to these folks, the phrase “a fulfilling career” appears in roughly 0.000001% of printed words, or 1 in 100,000,000 or so, whereas “a secure career” comes up 1 in 500,000,000 times. Or something. The figures are so ridiculously low and proves so ridiculously little about anything that I’m almost relieved when we ditch the real math and get back to the truthiness-charts about lawns or whatever.

There’s another occasion where WBW makes an attempt at credibility, and that’s in citing the work of Paul Harvey. The claim is that Paul Harvey “found” that millennials have an increased tendency towards narcissism when entering the workforce. Here’s the issue, though: if one actually reads the cited work, one will see that at no point does Harvey actually provide any supporting data to indicate that the problem of narcissistic employees is especially prevalent among millennials, that’s just an assumption being made by the author (and, arguably, by Harvey himself). If I’m feeling generous, I could call this ‘conjecture’, but it’s really a lot closer to ‘fabrication’.

The remainder of WBW’s piece is more nonsense based entirely on the author’s gut feelings regarding them damn kids. They cap it off by having the nerve to claim that the current job market is “bubbling with opportunity” and you can just “dive right in” and your ambition will take care of the rest. To their credit, they also offer advice that I agree with, namely that one should never measure their own success relative to another’s, but that gets eclipsed by the larger message of the piece, encapsulated in that equation from earlier: “[level of] Happiness = Reality – Expectation”.

Forget the idiotic lawn metaphors and logically bankrupt graphs for a second, let’s just focus on that equation. At its heart, it’s not entirely incorrect; generally speaking, the source of our unhappiness tends to come primarily from unfulfilled expectations. Nothing new here. The problem is that the focus of this article is that expectations are too high, and THAT’S the source of the problem. All of the proposed solutions are not “let’s work to improve the reality of the world”, but “lower your expectations and settle for mediocrity, because that’s all you are and that’s all anyone is”. Criticize some one who has lofty, unrealistic expectations if you must, but I will never get behind the attitude that an unpleasant reality must be satisfactory for all.

Here are a few realities that WBW is asking us to accept:

  • An estimated 2.5 million people are homeless in the United States, over half of which are children (whom I’m sure have lofty dreams including ‘a roof under which to sleep’).
  • While half of post-secondary graduates manage to secure an unpaid internship, about 37% of those result in stable employment, meaning that about 19% of people currently pursuing higher education can expect employment in their field, and then only after working for free for a to-be-determined amount of time.
  • Meanwhile, tuition costs in Alberta have increased approximately 400% in the past 20 years, while its minimum wage has only increased by about 99% in the same time frame. Neither trend is showing any signs of adjustment.
  • As technology continues its rapid evolution, fields of study can not be guaranteed to be reliably employable upon graduation. For example, at the height of the dot-com boom in the early 2000’s, IT workers and graduates were the most sought-after employees. Less than three years later, the bubble burst.
  • Similarly, Canada and the U.S. are seeing an oversaturation of Law School graduates, with fewer and fewer able to find work after investing a minimum of 7 years into their education.

I could go on, and frankly, I’m inclined to, but the bottom line is this: it’s not that our expectations are too high, it’s that reality, as it stands, sucks. We the Millennials were born into the world after two generations’ worth of copious consumption and unbridled industrialization, and then told that the resulting mess is our fault. We came after Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (may they both rest in unending, eternal agony) convinced the developed world that the best way to stimulate growth was to give more to the rich and less to the poor, after the height of the so-called Me Decade, after the days of free love and free substance abuse, after Richard Nixon declared that medical care was a luxury and not a necessity, after true scientific innovation was abandoned for the sake of seeing how many home appliances we can put TV screens into (so that we can all be exposed to more advertisement), into a world where polliticians have sold us on various unwinnable wars waged on vaguely defined concepts, where we would rather lock up the impoverished than to help them survive, a world that has forgotten that “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” was originally an ironic expression used to illustrate unhelpful advice to do something impossible…

And you have the GALL to blame us for the state of the world.

Meanwhile, the Koch Brothers and the Walton heirs will never want for anything in their entire lives, and not because of an ounce of effort on their part. While the rest of us fight for scraps by working multiple minimum wage shit jobs just so we can afford electricity this month, they can go yachting and attend $10,000/plate ‘fundraisers’. Until any of your ilk are ready to acknowledge this very simple truth, don’t you dare talk down to me about entitlement.

Don’t you dare.

~Joselyn

Never read the comments.

I’ve been using the internet since 1997, during an era which many historians have come to refer to as “a long-ass time ago”. Back then, the internet was a dirty, dreadful affair, where the mere act of connecting to the internet was a monumental investment of time and money. Webpages with a mere fraction of the coding of modern-day sites look minutes to load¹, and downloading anything larger than 20 MB was a full-day commitment, during which you could neither send nor receive phone calls. These were the days before Facebook, before YouTube, before Google, before the internet as we know it existed. In those days, interaction between creators and users was a wholly different experience; provided the writer left an email address, you could take the time to open up your email client, type out a letter, send it off, and hope that the dreaded MAILER DAEMON didn’t fire it back at you the next day because Oops! Turns out that person’s email address has been inactive for months. The closest analogue to the modern comments section was a thing called a Guestbook, but generally you’d only ever find these on some one’s personal page, and usually there’d only be one of them, hidden away somewhere on a completely separate part of the site as a whole. Some places had forums (then called message boards), and having your own dedicated message board was considered a big deal (though then, as now, most people just bought a vBulletin board and called it a day). Generally speaking, giving feedback, leaving comments, and interacting with creators necessitated a (relatively) significant investment on the part of the reader.

Then came the mid ’00s, as bands became broad, ons became always, and fis became wi, the internet began to take on a whole new form. Gradually, it became commonplace for all content on the internet – significant or otherwise – to leave space for comments from readers. Whether it’s a thoughtful essay on the distress of privileged classes who feel they are harmed by social change or a six-second video of a guy farting, everything and anything seems to warrant a comment section for the consuming masses. Every day, millions of people post that they just had a cheeseburger and fries for lunch on Facebook and hundreds of millions of people leave comments enumerating their thoughts and opinions on the nature of cheeseburgers and french fries. Creator-user interaction is a low-to-no effort undertaking these days, making it child’s play for any person of any walk of life to make their opinions known.

And with the advent of the ubiquitous comments section, comes a new piece of conventional wisdom: Never Read The Comments.

I see this sentence uttered most often when some one is sharing a link to a usually uplifting story about how Country Y no longer wants to kill all the gays, Municipality Z is sanctioning its first interracial marriage, or University X has overturned the expulsion of a transgender student for using the ‘wrong’ bathroom or some such. Often, these things that I hold to be “good news” are controversially so, and boy howdy are the commenters ready and willing to remind me of that fact. The people who offer me this warning are aware that any warm, fuzzy feelings I might get from the story in question are sure to be nullified as soon as I read the comments and am instantly reminded that Oh Yeah, I still live in a Kyriarchy.

The wisdom of Never Read The Comments extends beyond social justice matters, of course; any time a woman of any age uploads a video of herself in any capacity, one can be certain that a significant portion of the comments will be devoted solely to the debate of how physically attractive she is. Regardless of where a person falls on the matrix of physical appearance, reading an argument like that can be emotionally draining experience. Once an online persona gains Internet Celebrity status, suddenly every single thing they do or produce simultaneously gains and costs them legions of fans, and debates about when people and things ‘jumped the shark’ are so commonplace that I’m honestly surprised I haven’t run into a debate over when Happy Days jumped the shark². The magnitude of mundanity that people are willing to devote hours of thought and effort into debating is truly wondrous to behold, and sifting through all that nonsense is a taxing, thankless chore. And even when well-written, thoughtful comments provoke meaningful dialogue and engaging debate, one needn’t look far to find the much more plentiful white noise of “lol”s and “da fuq”s. Comment sections are, by and large, the garbage repositories of the internet.

And I fucking love them.

I don’t mean that in an ironic fashion. I genuinely love sifting through comment sections, and any time some one warns me not to read the comments, the probability of my reading the associated article skyrockets, simply because I crave those meaty, delicious comment sections that are sure to be even more tantalizing then the article to which they’re attached. I enjoy comment sections for the same reason I enjoy people-watching in public places, reading blogs and journal comics, and following people on Twitter: I love glimpsing into the everyday lives of other people.

As some one who has spent the entirety of her scholarly career in Arts and Humanities courses, it should come as a surprise to no one that I love people. My favourite kinds of games are ones that emphasize interpersonal interaction over competition. One of my secret guilty pleasures is coming up with rich, intricate backstories for bit parts in movies and TV shows, and many people are aware that every character I create for The Sims or Rock Band has contextually meaningful reasons for being in the situations I put them in. So, for me, the comments that people leave represent a glimpse into the lives of people when they are unrehearsed, unedited, just reacting to news and content off-the-cuff, as it were. Even if I don’t agree with the comments, as is often the case, I strongly believe in the value of being reminded that there are many people whose instinctive reactions to things are starkly in contrast to my own, even if such recollection may upset or even anger me. It’s healthy, because it allows me the opportunity to consider viewpoints aside from my own, and to analyze my reasons for disagreeing with them. Contrary to popular belief, I am fully open to having my mind changed, as I firmly believe that every conclusion needs to be questioned and tested, constantly, in order for progress to happen.

Furthermore, I also find a lot of enjoyment in considering the way content creators engage with their comments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into a blog of some kind whose comments are universally in agreement with the author, and then find, to my complete lack of surprise, that the author prescreens comments to silence voices of dissent (I have, in the past, submitted comments to such authors calling them cowards for refusing to engage or even acknowledge opposing viewpoints. For some reason, those comments never get approved). Just the other day, I was linked to this charming blog of a world-weary 23-year-old straight white male who had a strict policy of never allowing self-described liberals and feminists to comment, because he was tired of the progressive indoctrination he was forced to endure in the educational system. This, in between naming feminism as a cultural disease, declaring women with tattoos to be of lower social value because it increases their perceived sluttiness, and endorsing that young adults get married as soon as possible because men have uncontrollable sex drives and extra-marital sex is sinful. His post about tattooed women earned him some infamy in certain feminist circles, which he initially took as affirmation of how right he was, and bragged about accordingly. I expect this sense of validation was short-lived, however, because as of writing, his blog has been made invite-only, presumably to ensure the sexual purity of his readers. You can try plugging that URL into the Internet Wayback Machine and seeing if any of his wisdom has been preserved for the ages if you’re really curious.

On the other side of that, we find Feminist Frequency‘s Anita Sarkeesian, whose proposed Women vs. Tropes video series generated so much ire and and backlash from male gamers that she was invited to give a TEDTalk on the incident. When the first Women vs. Tropes video appeared, she wisely chose to disable comments, likely out of consideration for her viewers who are genuinely interested in women’s depiction in video games who may not appreciate being inundated with threats of rape and violence directed at Sarkeesian³.

As for me, if this blog ever takes off and I become an online Content Creator of Significance, then pretty soon I might start getting comments on my posts that aren’t trying to recruit me for multi-level marketing (i.e. pyramid) schemes. And then, who knows? I can’t honestly say with any certainty that I won’t resort to measures of restriction or outright disablement of comments. I don’t see myself making this blog invitation only for the simple reason that unless I go into business with this blog (which will never happen), there’s no reason to prevent anyone from visiting it that makes sense to me. I’m not going to completely discount the possibility, but I wouldn’t bet money on it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go dumpster-diving in some more comment sections.

~Joselyn

¹: I am aware that ‘minutes’ may not sound like a particularly long amount of time, but to put it in perspective, next time you click on a link, don’t look at your screen again for two full minutes. Time yourself. Then you’ll understand.
²: It was when Ralph and Potsie lost the Fonz’ dog.
³: You may think that I’m promoting a double-standard here, painting one writer who was attacked for their controversial views on gender and responded accordingly as a craven fool and another as a sympathetic figure, and you’d be absolutely correct; the difference is that one of these people endorses equal representation of genders in the media and the other believes that men are basically no better than wolves and modern women destroy love.