The end of us? Emma Teitel on the rise of millennials

In her latest book, Emma Teitel demolishes the fallacy that all millennials are down on everything – and how this phenomenon has shaped the way we consume and do business

How do you define a millennial?

The obvious one is the aforementioned millennials. In my book The End of Ours, I call them the age of failed expectation: I think we lost something along the way when we lost these expectations and the need to beat those expectations and never really regained them. I also call them millennials because the archetypal millennial was the first generation to get hooked on social media and isn’t interested in most material objects now. They don’t value the environment or in the popular imagining of them, they’re not interested in consuming the same things as their parents or siblings.

But that doesn’t make them losers, does it?

I think the whole “millennials ruined everything” narrative has not been helpful. It’s been written almost exclusively by people over a certain age, and it drives a lot of the stereotype about them. This one thing is just a sharp looking book to put in a shelf of 20-somethings’ books. The hundred million and seven million people are no winners because they’re just the losers.

Can you explain how this generation is so driven to seek attention?

Yup. I think the main reason is that a particular set of entertainment technologies changed how we all lived. Entertainment was changing rapidly and that’s how so many teenagers formed their expectations. Instead of sitting down and waiting for their parents to get home or getting on TV and watching a couple of channels, we were all surfing, we were all on these platforms, and I think that led to really direct communication, which is not the way young people have traditionally communicated, especially with the new technologies they have, they communicate through tags and hashtags and emojis and status updates. I think that led to a heightened expectation of getting attention by visual expression, which we all now do in a way that’s even crazier than it was in the past.

How did this generation perceive the economy in the years following the financial crisis?

It got interesting after the financial crisis. People were not buying things as easily, and the struggling economy made most people anxious. I think it got interesting because, at the same time, there was this crescendo of newspapers focusing on this generation as lazy and entitled. Then when I looked back at news coverage throughout my twenties, I just thought that it was just an odd way to talk about a generation, given how many of us were just used to seeing about college education and that’s really what we were focusing on. Most of us weren’t wearing our sunglasses and driving fancy cars, it was also a lot about where I lived and what I bought. The impression made that everybody was this class-scalping, sex-poaching, entertainment-proclaiming, globetrotting thing. I remember the anxiety of going through transition age as a different class where you’re between your parents and your siblings and you aren’t sure what to expect – I can’t talk about that too much since my book comes out, but I think that was part of the anxiety I felt. I found it ironic that I had to write about what it’s like to be a generation not really living the life that everyone else has been living for centuries to kind of overcome this myth.

If you could talk to the past generation, what would you say?

I would tell them not to be overwhelmed by what they didn’t have, and not to despair and wonder if it’s all going to be one big thing. For a long time it felt to me that people lived in the past generation’s shadow and that was a huge challenge. I think that now we’re very different, but people are still just focused on the past generation, which I think is a narrative we’re all facing right now.

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