March 19th, 2010
I took the Millennial Quiz and got a B. At least that’s what I am telling myself. Check it out and see what category you fall under: Millennial (born after 1980); Gen Xer (ages 30 to 45); Baby Boomer (ages 46 to 64); or Silent (ages 65 and older). Odds are if you are reading this blog you are not a member of the Silent generation. You are instead polishing your WWII medals and muttering that the world has gone to hell in a handbasket.
Technically, I am a Boomer, but of course it’s possible to do Millennial things or hold Millennial beliefs while being over the age of 46. I am not sure it’s vice versa, however. Millenials are now being referred to as Generation Next. The other three categories are, like, so Gen yesterday.
The survey questions are at once fun and mildly unsettling. I think I know where having or not having a tattoo classifies me but what about having talked to a government official in the last 12 months? That smacks of senior-responsibility behaviour, doesn’t it?
My Millennial score was 28, with the Gen Xer threshold being 33. I think if regularly I text messaged rather than emailed I would have leapt into the Xer category, no problem, but this leopard isn’t changing those spots. Nor is she ever likely to sleep with her cell phone. She prefers warm, not merely vibrating, objects in those circumstances. Millennials are characterized as being confident, connected, and open to change. Maybe my unwillingness to change also keeps me firmly in the Boomer category. It’s also pretty clear where the answer to the question of whether or not I have a piercing in a place other than my earlobe would situate me, but at first I wasn’t so sure about how important to me personally is being successful in a high-paying career or profession. I don’t want to ruin all the fun for you, but it’s really only after you see the results and click on the analysis of the findings that you start to appreciate how your identity has been calibrated, and why.
Educators are tripping over their land phones these days, trying to get a handle on the generation they are earnestly recruiting into universities. Graduate students are rapidly moving from the Gen X to the Millennial category. Therefore, educators are doing really nerdy Boomer things like attending seminars on the topic, enhanced with power points, tables, graphs, and charts tracking the new Millennial profile. I once heard a lecturer tell us, a bunch of Boomer deans, that when we push a doorbell we typically use our index fingers but when Millennials do so they use their thumbs. A lifetime of video gaming and texting will do that to you, he said. It’s as if the application of technology is accelerating evolutionary change at warp speed. What once took mammals centuries to adapt to current conditions now takes a single generation. I have no idea if that is true, but the image of that unwrinkled, opposable thumb pressing a doorbell is a handy metaphor for a radical shift in social behavior.
Obviously, since we know Millennials sleep with their cell phones and consider social networking to be as natural as breathing then we need to rethink not only how we lure them to our postsecondary institutions but also how we deliver our academic programs. We have already moved towards a hybrid delivery of online and on-campus courses. Surely we won’t always be slaves to a rigid three-semester system? Flexibility will be crucial, a daunting challenge to the impermeable membranes we call university structures. We will have to take the Millennials’ commitment to change to heart if we want to inspire a love of and retain their interest in learning.
Although excessive body piercing scares me a little, and I will never fully understand the appeal of luridly coloured tattoos on one’s backside, what I really embrace about the Millennial spirit is their conspicuously tolerant views about almost everything. Millennials voted for Barack Obama, endorse interracial relationships, and do an enormous amount of volunteer work. They apparently care far less about how high their salary will be than about the quality of the work they are performing. They value happiness above all, and by that they don’t mean some solipsistic, self-absorbed or individualized notion of happiness. The need for connectedness underscores everything they do and hold dear, and so happiness becomes a far more inclusive notion of satisfaction than what, say, we Boomers might have defined it as being.
Of course, we’ll all have to wait and see what the Millennials turn into, since it is axiomatic that aging makes people more conservative. But by then Millennials will have changed so much about the world—and our universities–that we will likely have an entirely new notion of what conservative means. I am counting on it, one increasingly flexible semester at a time.