My nieces’ entire lives will be documented on social media.
At 5 and 3 years of age, there is not a single second of their lives that has existed or will exist without the urge to share and post. When they get older, rather than looking at a baby book, family photo album or handful of prints from Walgreens to learn about their childhood, they will scour their mother’s Facebook page and Instagram feed. From the moment they were born, their photos have been posted online for the world to like, share, comment on and retweet. Every one of their major milestones has been shared with family via an updated status or a short and sweet text message. They will never know what it’s like to live without social media. It is and always will be their norm. That is to say, until the next technological advancement comes along and makes Facebook-ing a thing of the past.
While Millennials are bombarded with criticism from Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers about our addiction to social media, the generations before us are quick to forget that we are the generation during which technology and the Internet got their start. Thus we are the only generation to have experienced our formative years with the best of both—a life with and without a societal stream of consciousness at our fingertips.
When I was only 4 years old, the World Wide Web went public, but it would still be three years until the launch of Google, eight years until the rise of MySpace and nine years until the beginning of Facebook. In short, almost 10 years of my life would go by after the introduction of the Internet before I would become the stereotypically narcissistic Millennial, posting photos of myself in the vain hopes of a flood of approval from my “friends.” While that may seem an inconsequential amount of time to say, the average 62-year-old U.S. senator, ten years is nearly half my lifespan. For even the youngest Millennials, Facebook’s popularity did not reach its peak until their fifth or sixth year. In 2010, Pingdom, a website tracking service, did a study monitoring the average user age on social media sites, discovering that the age bracket of 0 to 17 years topped only 21 percent of the social media sites tracked and the average user age on Facebook was 38 years old. Millennials, whether born in 1981 or 2000, are not only defined by our status as the social media generation. Statistically, we are a product of both technology and good old fashioned norms.
While we are adept at ordering pizza via a mobile app after an entire day spent watching and tweeting about our Netflix marathon, we also know what it’s like to play outside until dark, until Mom calls us inside for a home-cooked dinner. While we enjoy the convenience of downloading an e-book and screenshot-ing our favorite passage to share on Instagram, we also remember the joy of checking out a book at our school library, inhaling the indescribable smell of a worn-in novel. Simply put, this piecemeal identity allows us to enjoy, create and capitalize on our social media in a way that has, and will continue to change the world—whether you like it or not.
Do Millennials cherish social media? Absolutely. Apparently “Over half of Millennials said they would rather GIVE UP THEIR SENSE OF SMELL than GIVE UP THEIR TECHNOLOGY.” There is a simple reason for that, and it goes beyond our social media cultivated identities that society defines us by. In case the older generations have yet to catch on—technology equals power. Having inherited a shattered economy, unfulfillable promises from universities and heightened expectations from our parents, technology is all we have that is truly ours. We grew up with it as it grew into its own. We got to know it as it adapted to us. For many Millennials, technology is our way to translate our core values and insightful ideas into reality without relying on the traditional road to success traveled by our parents and grandparents. We had to learn, live, connect, invent and grow on an entirely new and different plane, because the traditional norms cease to exist the way some Baby Boomers might hope or claim they still do.
This method to the madness is not always appreciated by the generations before us, and this is not a fact we are blind to. The joke is that older generations “not getting it” when it comes to social media has more to do with their lack of understanding the value of it than the actual usage. Our elders throw up their hands as we check into Foursquare before digging into our food at a popular restaurant. They shake their heads when we talk about our online friends. But what they see is just the tip of the iceberg. The truth is we do gain friends online. We do stand up for our beliefs online. We do gain skills—networking, the ability to accurately define and publicly state our purpose, the creativity to build something from nothing—online. The argument that Millennials are copping out by relying too much on social media in their political, economical and societal efforts is frankly a tired one. Social media is a trade, the ins and outs of which have to be carefully learned, perfected and finely tuned before it can be profited on. Ross Martin, executive vice-president and head of New York-based company Scratch stresses, “One of the core traits of Millennials is hyper-collaboration… which is why social media is such an important part of understanding this next generation. You can’t check a box in social media and be done. It’s a 24/7 job and it’s really hard. It’s alchemy of science, technology and creativity and a degree of magic. If you don’t have them all you will fail.”
We learned early to problem-solve with the Internet the way we were originally taught to do with books, but in the interest of productivity, we chose to move our lives online if only to streamline the process. At the start of the Internet becoming a social experience, I don’t think we could have guessed that the foundation beginning with our first MySpace profile using custom HTML code could ever have ended with a job as a web designer. Or that one day our teenage Facebook addiction could mean us ultimately getting a job as a Social Media Manager. All we knew was that the Internet was the start of something, and we wanted to be along for the ride. Personally, I’m glad we did.
The mutual, unspoken agreement of Millennials to shift our focus and operate in our own online society, separate from that of those who raised us, was our method of marching, petitioning, and fighting The Man and announcing our independence. We saw how our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and family friends had done it when we they were our age, and we too wanted to make our mark. We took those old school ideals of making your mark and changed the world, in more ways than we ever could have hoped, by accepting the social media uproar into our hearts and hard wiring it to our sense of self. The reverberation of this shift to an online existence has continued to this day. More and more, our lives become digital. “Across the country data use on mobile phones almost doubled last year, while minutes spent talking increased by less than 1 percent.” Rest easy, Gen-Xers, it’s all in the interest of a type of collaboration, inclusion and coordination that before social media we could never have dreamt possible. It’s our Online Million Man March in the most all encompassing sense. Now, our ambition that our parents so fervently instilled in us can become reality more quickly, and our vision of a brighter future can go global in the time it takes to upload a video to YouTube or post a blog. We may not always be connecting face-to-face or even vocally, but trust me—we are connecting.