Art by Benk: Melbourne

Why it’s all about ‘Me’

By Sybil Ottenstein

The way Millennials see it, our institutions are no longer worthy of our trust, and have left us out to dry.

Welcome to the reign of ‘Generation Me.’ In order to understand our foundations, motivations, and why we take so many damn selfie’s, let us take a quick stroll down memory lane. Let’s look closely at the evolution of our generation’s realities and what the hell it all means.


Where better to begin than with our grandparents? They lived through a World War, witnessed the downfall of fascism and marveled as their parents worked through the Great Depression. The combination of successful political leadership and the paranoia of McCarthyism pressured them to conform. Meanwhile the values of individualism fell by the wayside in favor on the all-encompassing ethos of patriotism, love of country. Forever dedicated to the collective, they were nicknamed the ‘silent generation’ as they quietly and loyally adapted to the world around them.


Then came our parents, the baby boomers. Coming to age during the great social changes of the late 60’s and early 70’s, this generation lived through a period of sheer and utter chaos. Their faith was tested and shattered by the war in Vietnam, civil strife and political assassination. Simultaneously, they were eyewitnesses to expansions in civil rights and the economic boom of the 90’s. Such confusion made the formation of a cohesive world-view nearly impossible. Instead, Gen-X funneled into a general sense of disillusionment.


Now fast forward to today. According to recent polls, we are the first generation in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than our two immediate predecessor generations. Our generation has arguably been hit hardest by the recession, we have grown increasingly skeptical (bordering on cynical) of even the ‘best-laid’ retirement plans. Only 6% of us expect to receive the kinds of retirement benefits that today’s retirees enjoy, and with good reason.


To quote Ronald Reagan, ‘I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Party left me.’ The way Millennials see it, our institutions are no longer worthy of our trust, and have left us out to dry.


We have grown up in an era where dirty money spent by the shadowy few dictate our ever-bleak futures. We have watched the toxic vapor seep out of the bodies that are meant to govern us while we sit on mountains of student debt with desolate employment prospects and grossly overpriced diplomas rotting in our hands. It comes as little surprise that we aren’t running to congratulate our elected leaders and salute our respective flags. No, instead, we have become alienated from our society’s major institutions. Turned off by religion and disgusted by politics, we are less trusting, less patriotic and generally a pretty jaded bunch.


Nicknamed ‘Generation Me,’ us Millennials figured it out from an early age that we would be going at this whole life thing alone, with no government or institutions to provide for us or even offer a cushion to fall back on.


With verifiably less attachment to group cohesion or classically defined community, we have been consistently taught to put our own needs first. When left unchecked, individualism has the tendency to lead to blatant self-absorption and narcissism. Generation ‘Me’ takes turns being both the victims and the perpetrators of aggressive self-promotion in all things mundane via the Internet, from your cat taking a nap to an elevator selfie.


But individualism isn’t all bad. In fact, it has provided our generation with the opportunity to explore, discover and develop aspects of our lives that our parents and grandparents didn’t even know were possible. For Generation Me, we are on a life-long quest to self-actuate. Straight from psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous pyramid of the hierarchy of needs, self-actualization represents the realization of a person’s full potential. According to Maslow, ‘What a man can be, he must be.’


Following our generation’s individualistic modus operandi, we work, study, eat, dress, travel and socialize to be the best possible versions of ourselves.
Alienated from the institutions which served our parents and grandparents, we recognize that we only have ourselves to rely on. For better or worse, we chose to have the freedom to chose, the opportunity to have options, and to experience the world in a way generations before us never have.

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