I am not a Millennial -The Birth and Death of Generation Y
I was born in 1986.
Every generational article goes into great detail about the Baby Boomers (my parents.) How by sheer numbers they changed the world as they aged.
If the 60’s were the Boomer’s teenage years, the 70’s its chaotic twenties, then the 80’s were when the Boomers entered their 30’s, freaked-out, put on a suit and tie and punched the clock.
Greed was good. President Reagan was the common-sense Conservative president. The embodiment of the fake Winston Churchill catch-phrase, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” People were making up newer and more complex ways to get rich. And, in handicap bathroom stalls across the country, countless cagey day-traders were taking coke bumps for breakfast.
The 80’s were awful. C’mon. Admit it. Any decade where pink zebra print, neon, and nose-to-ear chains were fashionable should make like an exorcist and get the hell out of here.
And from this un-godly decade emerged a generation of Americans that sociologists began to realize weren’t Generation X. “What do we call this new batch of humans?” sociologists pondered, “it’s gotta be something flashy, sexy, like Generation Icy Cool FRESH or Generation TIT$” Eventually, Sociologists settled on Generation Y because it was late and they were out of beer.
I was therefore Generation Y. We would be the generation that, according to the 80’s, would soon be wiped out either by a nuclear holocaust or the Japanese. We would join gangs of cyber punks, get sweet gauges and learn how to menacingly twirl chains. After Japanese businesses bought America wholesale, we’d all be shlepping to our local Jap-Mart and plunking our hard earned Yen into boxy robots that dispense food pills.
But then, something unexpected happened. The human race crossed a threshold that they hadn’t known existed in the first place. The Internet. We could always look up at birds and think, “lucky bastards, all flying and shit,” or we could look up at the moon and think, “man, I wanna walk all over that shit someday or blow it up or something.” But most humans didn’t think about communicating with everyone instantly. We had phones, for God’s sake, which if you touched in a certain way would produce pizza.
Okay nerds, if you’re already drafting up a furious WordPress comment about “the internet was invented in BLAH BLAH BLAH” or any Al Gore joke (I swear to God…) then you need to step. back. When I say The Internet, what I really mean is the World Wide Web. If any of you remember using Nexus, or later Netscape, you were the literal pioneers on the Internet’s Oregon Trail. Only instead of getting Dysentary, you were checking out Space Jam’s Original Website or looking at porn.
I remember when there was no internet. When my dad’s Apple II sat, beige and dormant, while I watched reruns of MASK in my matching onesie. I also remember when our family received our first e-mail. We had moved to Botswana for a year and taken along a monolithic, black-and-white apple laptop that would have fit right into the decor of a submarine. Since calling home was outrageously expensive, we used some ancient form of dial-up internet (I think it only worked when lightening struck the pole on a Tuesday) to access an E-mail Address and get E-mails from home. “What the Christ is an E-mail,” I wondered as a seven-year-old. It was like a mail, my parents explained, only electronic. I then asked if our electronic keyboard was an E-Board, a question which they laughed at, and then ignored. Thus began my deep confusion as to what the internet was, and what it could be used for.
A few years later, whenever we would be waiting for my Dad to finish grading tests at Ferris State University, he would plop us boys in front of the University’s flashy computers and invite us to “surf the world wide web.”
I wondered if I could surf the world wide web on my e-board, but alas, I could only seem to go to a place called Yahoo and check the weather. Was it sunny outside? Ignoring the window behind me, I could ask Yahoo, which would search for weather and usually show pictures of girls in bikinis.
Eventually, I was able to use the internet to satisfy my biggest passions at the time, Star Wars and Toys. Through the power of Yahoo, I was able to find an endless supply of sweet-ass custom Star Wars figures toys that were not available in stores. A Mon Mothma action figure? HELL YES. Background spacesuit creature from the Mos Eisley Cantina? BRING IT ON BITCH.
While us children of the 80’s were old enough to discover the internet as it was still being built, block by block, anyone born in the early 90’s missed these wild and wooly early days; when the internet was a buzzword, the new get-rich-quick scheme. I remember when commercial use restrictions were lifted on the internet in 1995, as I thought I may finally be able to purchase all the Star Wars toys.
What happened instead was an explosion in internet content. Soon, instead of checking the weather while eyeing some sweet new Uncle Owen mod, I could play games on the internet. I could find out the answer to any question (who killed Kennedy? Lizard People.)
We could also see porn. Lots and lots of porn.
My generation went from passing around a glossy Penthouse mag (or JC Penny catalog) to having access to a limitless supply of pornography right when we were becoming teenagers. It was like 90’s Robert Downey Jr. finding the secret passage to coke mountain at the back of his wardrobe. We had access to every fantasy imaginable, ones that no normal human with body odor and backne could live up too. Generation X was told that they could be anything they wanted to be when they grew up. Through the internet, porn, pop-culture, and the flood of information, we were shown what we wanted to be when we grew up.
Sex wasn’t just sex anymore. Most kids of my generation measured their first sexual experience against terabytes of porn. It wasn’t the wall-to-wall oh-god-yes mmmmm that we were led to believe. There were awkward sounds, uncomfortable silences, profuse sweating. And feelings. You couldn’t just finish and close the browser.
Sex didn’t measure up to what the internet had promised us. Neither would our future.
September 11th may have shattered the optimism of the 90’s, but the cracks were already there. The dot-com bubble had burst (pets.com anyone?) and the 80’s principles of tax cuts and trickle down economics had caused the cost of a college education to skyrocket by 60%. When the towers and the stock market fell, my generation was confronted for the first time by war. Real war. I remember sitting at home, watching the second tower fall when I was fourteen, and wondering if this is how it felt when eighteen year old kids saw newsreels of the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. An event big enough to swallow up our futures faster than a single sheet of Brawny soaks up those tough stains.
But the war never came. At least, to most of my generation it didn’t. And when it did come, usually we were shipped out by fine-print. We would sign up for the National Guard to take a bite out of that 60% higher college tuition, only to realize that one weekend a month, two-weeks a year could also mean manning a .50 caliber machine gun on a Humvee in Iraq. Or dying. I missed that episode of Dawson’s Creek where Pacey went to Afganistan and got PTSD.
Most of us went to college anyways. And, because the internet showed us what we could become, we decided that we wanted to be rockstars, actors, musicians, painters, bohemians. We still had a 90’s hangover, convinced that we could also go to a Liberal Arts College, get that degree in creative writing, and write the next Catcher in the Rye or Goodnight Moon.
Then the Great Recession happened.
Almost every major milestone for those born between 1980 and 1990 was either directly preceded or followed by a major economic crash in the United States. The biggest shock of all was the subprime mortgage crisis, which hit us either as we were about to graduate from college or had just graduated. And just like that, poof, 6% of all jobs were gone. Not only were those jobs kaput, but the hollowing out of Baby Boomers 401k’s and savings meant that they wouldn’t be retiring and passing the torch along to us, the generation that stood to benefit the most from the Baby Boomers retirement and also the generation which would be paying for said retirement.
Compare that to the “Millennial” generation. If you were born in 1992, by the time you graduated from your undergraduate program it would be 2014. The Great Recession? Over. If you were born in 1986 (like me) and graduated in 2009 (like me) you wouldn’t be able to get a job at Subway. Hell, you couldn’t even get an unpaid internship at Subway.
And so, we either became nomads and took to the winds, or simply failed to launch.
In 2009, when I graduated from college in Michigan, the unemployment rate was 15%. The population of Michigan was 9.902 million at the time. That means that 1.48 million people were without a job.
There was no line forming post graduation to become an Astronaut. Or a rock star. Just lines forming to become a Sandwich Artist.
I was faced, then, with two choices post-graduation. Move back in with my parents in Reed City, MI (population 1,900.) Or move someplace without a job, or house, or social contacts to speak of. Luckily, I had several friends who had also graduated from college straight into the buzz-saw of the Great Recession, and we banded together for what was later termed “The Great Gold Rush of 2009.”
Having a few friends generous enough to secure us a bedroom, and with a small loan from my parents to cover my first month’s rent, myself and two friends moved to New York City in the fall of 2009. On that first humid night in pre-trendy Bushwick, surrounded by boxes filled with dirty clothes, I opened my wallet and counted how much money I had in the world:
Through the generosity of a few other Michigan refugees, I was able to land a job in NYC in two weeks. This September, I’ll celebrate seven years in the city.
Without that crushing, motivating desperation that forced my friends and I to move, what would have become of us? What would have become of our generation, born in the pink neon haze of the 80’s and grown in the coddled protective warmth of the 90’s if we hadn’t smashed face-first into the concrete of the 00’s?
Maybe we would be what everyone pictures your stereotypical Millennial, sending racy snaps to their friends while crossing the street into oncoming traffic. Or talking about starting a vegan soul food restaurant over a pack of American Spirits. Perhaps, like every other generation before me, I’m merely casting a jealous eye on the generation ahead, shaking my head and grumbling that they’ll never know hardships like ours.
Somewhere in the economic haze after 2007, sociologists dusted off a term coined in the late 80’s. Millennials, they said, why didn’t we realize how sexy that sounds! And just like that, poof, Generation Y was dead and we were thrown in with a group with which we simply didn’t belong. A group that was born with an e-mail address.
And just as we don’t belong in the same basket as the post-internet generation, they are themselves separate from the iGeneration, kids who were introduced to Facebook by the parents and had an iPhone before they could drive.
Perhaps all that needs to solidify this small group of 80’s refugees is a sexier name than Generation Y. Maybe we could use the same trick that those brave pioneers of the internet first discovered to make something sound hip and with-it.
How about the E-Generation?
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