Point Counter Point:  A Response to A Millennial about Bridging the Generation Gap

“The 11 brutal truths every Millennial needs to hear”

By Isabelle Albanese (Baby Boomer)

President/Founder – Consumer Truth® Ltd.

“Jane, you ignorant slut!”  If you’re self-defining as a Millennial (who, according to Goldman Sachs Research, is born between 1980-2000 and numbers 92 million) and reading this, you might be thinking, “What the…??”

If you’re a Baby Boomer (born between 1946-1964 and numbering 77 million), you are smiling and recalling that brilliant banter between Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin on Saturday Night Live (still on the air by the way – creatively masterminded then and now – by Lorne Michaels, a Boomer) back in 1976 during their “Point/Counterpoint” sketch.

That’s how I’d like to address Nicholas Cole’s article appearing on Inc.com entitled, “The 11 Brutal Truths every Baby Boomer needs to hear about Millennials.” And it provides a great format and tone for my intent of this rebuttal – a bit tongue in cheek, a bit completely intended, all with a bunch of love for the Millennial audience.  After all, I have three children that are part of this generation!

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a marketing researcher – so I talk to Millennials all the time about their desires, discontents and dreams relative to my clients’ brands.  And I recently sat through a webinar entitled, “The Participation Game:  How and Why Millennial Consumers Adopt Brands” based on four years’ worth of research conducted by a company called Moosylvania.

I think the rebuttal format works best if the reader is familiar with Cole’s originating “point”, so I’ll list his point first in italics and follow up with my “counter-point” in in non-italics.

1. We grew up in a world where anything and everything is possible.

“What you are exposed to as a child shapes so much of who you ultimately become. Imagine being a 7-year-old and sitting in front of a computer on which you could type anything you wanted into a search engine (Google) and have it appear in front of you. To older generations, that was magic. To us, it was normal. Please do not misconstrue our wild imaginations. It's all we know.”

Millennials grew up in a world where anything and everything is possible because their parents – likely Baby Boomers - provided that cushy berth.  I don’t believe your wild imaginations are being misconstrued.  We understand “wild imaginations” – the Boomer generation was born to be wild!  We also know your imaginations were fueled by a generation of parents who facilitated exploration, encouraged failures as well as successes and gave you permission to dream.  And they provided the laptops, iPads and cell phones on which to explore and launch them. 

2. We actually really do appreciate time away from technology.

“As much as it's believed that Millennials are screen addicts, trust that we are as worried for the next generation as you are. At least for us, there was that gap in our early years between VHS and Napster, when having fun still consisted of, you know, going outside and playing in the grass. We are not as immersed as you might think--and many of us hope to find ways to help our own kids find a balance between the real and the digital.”

We understand.  We appreciate you – and we feel badly that you were shaped by the notion of entertainment and exploration being limited to cyber-“friends” instead of real ones that you actually see and play in the grass with on a daily basis.  Please do not misconstrue our perception of Millennials as “screen-kids” as being negative.  It is what it is. As far as any concern for the post-Millennial generation’s complete absorption by technology – I don’t think it’s all that different from the younger Millennials (those born between 1990-2000) who may have had only a few years between birth and age 10 without a screen appendage – and that’s not even considering Nintendo, Game Cube, etc. which my own kids were playing at the age of five.  I think maybe it’s okay to embrace the fact that you are screen addicts – but that it’s not your fault. J

3. We are not narcissistic. We just know what works.

“Since our modern-day world is ruled by digital social tools, we understand the rules of the game. We know that people want to see people. And yet, when we post about ourselves, we are slaughtered for being "narcissistic." Go look up the definition of narcissism. While there is a gray area, posting a selfie is not the same as being a true, evil narcissist. We just know selfies get higher engagement. Chill.”

Narcissism. “excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one's physical appearance.

synonyms:
vanity, self-love, self-admiration, self-absorption”

Let’s go with “self-absorption” and call it a day. Millennials have somehow convinced themselves that the world truly does revolve around them, their needs and opinions (I blame their parents- myself included - and participation trophies that they got just for showing up). And their needs and opinions are, by the way, intrinsically the “right” ones.  Why can’t the rest of us just accept this and move on? Okay - we don’t mind (much) seeing endless posts of pouty-lipped selfies. And yes, any picture is more “engaging” than a post without one. But doesn’t the need to be constantly engaging tap into the very essence of narcissism – even a little? It seems a bit more about getting attention than being engaging.  “Look at me! Look at me!”

And it strikes me as funny how a sentence that combines “we just know what works” with “we are not narcissistic” is not only somewhat oxymoronic yet amusing, but also inherently implies that they know best; that others don’t know what works.  I’ll refer to the definition above and respectfully ask you to reconsider.

4. You need us, just like we need you.

“The generation gap is fascinating. The most prized spending demographics lean younger, however, and to capture their attention you need to speak their language. Older generations, the ones who own the big companies and big brands, then need Millennials to help translate those messages to the demographics they hope to target--and in turn, we, as Millennials, need the older generations to help support our wild ideas. And, statistically speaking, the older generations are the ones with the funding. Can't we stop fighting and just work together?”

Well…maybe that depends on who’s doing the needing and what it’s for.  We do need each other to learn and expand our personal layers.  But as far as “needing Millennials to help translate” our messages so that Millennials can buy our big, corporate products? Nah.  We just employ companies like mine, Consumer Truth® Ltd. to do market research among the Millennial target – just like we research every other demographic.  And those Millennials spill the beans for a buck just like everyone else!  And rather than relying on the “older generations” to fund your wild ideas, why not turn those ideas into something marketable with monetizability on your own?

And I’m not sure if Millennial spending is so “prized.” According to a recent article in Glamour.com they actually spend LESS than either Baby Boomers or Millennials’ closer predecessor, Generation X (born between 1965-1979).

Overall, the typical Gen-Xer or baby boomer spends about $1,000 on discretionary items—think: dining, retail, entertainment, apparel, and travel—plus about $1,600 a month on bills, according to TD Bank's Consumer Spending Index. That's about $32,000 annually—before factoring in extras such as car payments, loan repayments, or healthcare. On the other hand, millennials spend an average of about $26,000 total each year—about 27 percent less than Gen Xers and 23 percent less than Baby Boomers, according to the index. (May 16, 2016; glamour.com)

5. We face a very different set of challenges. Not easier or harder--different.

“You grew up in a time when you had access to only what was within your proximity--which meant as the world expanded (and more rapidly with the internet), you were left with a feeling of "I remember when things were simple." We, on the other hand, grew up in an era when anything and everything was accessible, all the time. Our issue is not "the world used to be simple, and now it's expanding." Our issue is that the world and what we have access to is expanding so fast, and we have no idea how to create simplicity for ourselves.

We will never know what it was like to grow up in your time period, and you will never know what it is like growing up in this one. One is not better or worse. They are different--and it's on both parties to seek to understand each other.”

I must have forgotten that Millennials invented the idea of a “Generation Gap”. And yes, I’m sure my fellow Boomers will remember fondly back to the time before planes, trains and automobiles were invented.  Before radio and television opened our worlds to limitless possibilities of expanding our proximity.  I remember the days when a loaf of bread was 10 cents (wait, do I?), when I had to walk a mile in bare feet – uphill – to go to school (wait, do I?).  The point here is that Boomers were not raised in the Stone Age.  We had access as well – just perhaps not to the same things and experiences.  And our imaginations were also fueled by true inspiration and creativity.  Our world expanded fast as well.  While actual credit is disputed, the initial idea for the Internet came about in the mid-1960’s…I think the first personal computer was launched in the mid 1970’s.  Millennials need to understand first – that we are not cavemen and second - that their world of technological access was created FOR them – but not BY them (see above point on “narcissism”).

6. We are trying to learn from you. Do not put us down for doing so.

“Whenever studies come out saying that Millennials would rather work fewer hours per week, would rather make less if it meant more personal time, etc., the overwhelming consensus is that we are lazy. But what a lot of people don't consider is that we have watched our own mothers and fathers work their entire lives, slaving away for the American dream, only to obtain the house with the picket fence and still be unhappy.

Instead of walking the same path and expecting a different result, many of us want to try a different path and seek work-life balance.”

There’s that parent thing again.  Watching them slave away for the American dream and still be unhappy. Wait – weren’t we slaving away so that our Millennial children could have limitless possibilities?  So they could grow their wild imaginations? So we could fund all their creativity?  I’m confused!  And are they really trying to learn from us?  Or are they mostly trying to teach us? There’s no issue with blazing your own path.  Yay!  Do that.  We encourage you. That’s what we did – with our music, our rebelliousness, our work ethic. We want work-life balance too, but the “work” to raise our Millennial children may have overshadowed the “life” – at times.  Acknowledge it. Appreciate it.

In vetting this article among a couple of Millennials, one shared a quote with me by John Adams which I think is bang on to this point.  The American Dream that we “slaved away” for was to give our children the capacity for bigger dreams – for themselves and their children.

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy…in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music…”  John Adams

7. Social media aren't good or bad. They just "are."

“Social and digital media are here--and they are only going to continue growing and dominate more areas of life. When people say "It's ruining society" or "Life was better before," that's wishful thinking. Just like some days when I wish I was 9 again, and my biggest responsibility was deciding whether I wanted macaroni and cheese or frozen pizza for lunch. Digital media are here, and there is no going back. All we can do is continue to adapt and move with them and learn as we go.”

Why are Millennials under the impression that everyone who is NOT them hates or is threatened by social media?  That webinar that I virtually attended revealed that Millennials check their phone about 43 times a day.  I think I do that too, actually.  Maybe it’s not so much about “connecting” but just about being obsessive.  Or bored. Or waiting in lots of lines.  The same webinar indicated that 74% of Millennials spent 1-4 hours per day reading social media.  But also that 76% of them spent another 1-4 hours per day watching TV.  Just like us. Although Millennials are likely reading social media and watching TV simultaneously. Wait – I do that too!

That said, Facebook is probably used by more mothers of Millennials than by Millennials themselves. And everybody Tweets. Social media has its negative aspects (another article, to be sure), but we have embraced the digital world, just like you have.  Because it is the only world there is now.  It is how our world and our daily lives are navigated. And we are as much a willing participant in it as you are. We’re as “social” and digital as the Millennial living in our basements. (JK! LOL). 

8. We are vocal about who we are and whatever challenges we have gone through because we want to help others do the same.

“Someone said to me once, "Twenty years ago, nobody said a word about their mental health or opened up about their emotional baggage. Now, you can't find a person under 30 who isn't proud of whatever it is they are struggling with." The person said it as if this was a bad thing. As if we were too vocal.

Personally, I don't see this as a negative at all--I see it as an overwhelming positive. In some sense, I experienced this as an adolescent. I was very sick, with undiagnosed celiac disease, and there wasn't a doctor in the Midwest who could figure out what was wrong with me. I really didn't know where to go for information.

Now? You search online for whatever it is you're struggling with, and you'll come across message boards filled with other people who are going through something similar. And if enough people are going through it, someone (or the community as a whole) tends to step up to provide a solution.

That's incredible.”

Millennials are indeed open and vocal – about everything.  They seem to thrive on digital communities and social validation. And they look to others in their social media feeds for recommendations, advice and counsel on everything they do or want to experience. I’ll just say the word, “Pinterest” and that explains everything (yet another article, I think…)

Indeed, word of mouth is huge for this generation.  This I know for sure from research my company has conducted. And a lot of this transparency and open communication has done much good in providing a forum, a place to go, a source of comfort and validation.  If that helps with the struggle, then it’s all good.

9. We are motivated by things that are emotionally satisfying.

“I think this has less to do with our generation, actually, and more to do with how our world is changing. More and more, older people, too, are making career changes not geared around making more money but focused on personal health, well-being, and fulfillment.

Some are motivated by money, sure, but in general most Millennials are motivated by being part of something that is meaningful. Something that speaks to the life they strive to lead, and what they believe to be fulfilling. If you can cater to that, we will work endlessly to be part of it.”

Let me get this straight. It is the exclusive purview of Millennials to seek emotional satisfaction and happiness? To be driven by a desire to do good and make an impact on their world? And while other, older generations are shallow, passion-less miserable drones – mostly motivated by money, Millennials are high-minded, introspective, socially aware and active Pollyanna’s looking to do nothing but good and meaningful things?  Refer again to point 3.  And 4.  And 6.

10. We have an incredible work ethic.

“Speaking to No. 9 here, when we find something we love and that connects with us emotionally, our work ethic is unrivaled. We are not the "clock in and clock out" type. We would much rather (and often do) make what we are doing part of our lifestyle, instead of seeing it as a segmented portion of our day.

On the flip side, keep in mind that every time we open Instagram, we see photo after photo of a 20-year-old model on a beach in Bali with the caption, "Follow your heart and live the life of your dreams." Every message around us (in 2016) speaks to living life on your own terms. Now, it's our fault for wishing that to be true instead of putting in the hard work. But it's also important that you learn what motivates Millennials and give them a sense of purpose.”

This makes me think that Millennials and Baby Boomers have a different definition of “work” and “work ethic.” It sounds like you want to do what you want, when and where you want to.  That sounds great to me too!  Sounds like an entrepreneur – which is what I am.  Of course, we all want fulfillment from the “work” that we do in this life – including “work” that earns us an income, which even though not all of us punch a clock every day, we spend an awful lot of our time doing. And that ends up becoming just as important as the “work” that earns us personal, emotional and spiritual satisfaction.  Hopefully, we get some crossover of that life – through our children, our friends, our community or religious involvement as well as the “work” that we do to support our Millennial children’s dreams.  That way – every year we can take them on a vacation to a beach – although it’s probably more like Florida or Mexico than Bali.  But we can always dream…

11. Our intentions are genuine.

“Aside from our ADD and our instant-gratification-seeking and our inability to comprehend why someone won't give us $500 million for our cotton candy concept, we really do have the best intentions. The number of young people who want to make a difference in this world and do something positive, create a solution, solve a problem, bring people together, and help those in need is astounding.

We might be misdirected sometimes, and we might not think in the same "conventional" ways that you would, but that's kind of the point.

Otherwise, how else do you stumble upon anything new?”

Well, those are a lot of “asides” to ignore.  Just saying…

Have you ever heard of Woodstock?  Haight-Ashbury? Anti-war sit-ins? Love, Sex and Rock and Roll? While those days of early Boomer rebellion and “dropping out” of the late 1960’s were about a decade before my own teen age years, I mention it to remind Millennials that our generation wanted to do something positive too.  We didn’t think in the same “conventional” ways as our parents either. 

Every generation will have a “gap” in true understanding between themselves and their parents’ generation.  But to your point about learning from each other – this is the critical lesson.  No matter how our worlds made us different, no matter how our experiences were different, we have experiences to share and learn from, so that we can grow as humans; so we can adapt and build upon one another.  And that’s the 12th “brutal” TRUTH that Millennials need to know about us.