Why, Gen Y? PART ONE

This is a longer blog, and I’ve decided to break it into two parts.

I see them shuffle in every semester, this group referred to by the label-makers as Gen Y or The Millennials. The Millennials in my Community College classes, though, don’t look like the super slick, Gossip Girl outfitted, tech-savvy young adults I see in Apple computer or Kia Soul commercials.

One of the communities that I teach in is very rural, and the students come in right off their jobs on ranches or in construction. The other community that I teach in is extremely urban, with many students unfamiliar with technology except in regards to their music players. In neither group do I have many commercial viewing, internet trolling, movie-going young adults who live on that tech cutting edge.

Many times during lectures, in fact, I am reminded of my students’ lack of popular culture exposure. I reference movies, songs, news items, the latest commentary on The Daily Show, etc and I get blank stares back at me. In my online Introduction to Myth class I even use contemporary movies to illustrate the mythic themes each week, and I wade through regular emails from confused students complaining that they don’t have an online movie rental account, don’t have access to a DVD player or a computer that will play movies, or worse, can’t even choose a movie because they’ve never heard of them. (Note that I choose mostly current movies, those 10 years old or newer).

I’m not the only person who’s noticed this inequity in representation. Social commentary writer for Bitch Magazine online, J. Maureen Henderson wrote a recent blog (03 May 2010) called “The Young and the Feckless” where she specifically addresses the “largely invisible” who, “by virtue of culture, religion or upbringing, have different values or a different relationship to technology than those which defines the Millennial archetype.” She believes it’s predominantly an economic issue. I’m not so sure.

Is it economy alone? Isn’t there some amount of culture of origin, and faith system, and even political affiliations at play? While money is, I think, a large part of this equation it isn’t only money that separates the tech savvy from the tech invisibles.

Whatever the reason, there’s a definite divide; it is, though, quickly being bridged, even if the media hasn’t caught on to that fact yet. In March, Jennifer Bleyer wrote “Hipsters on Food Stamps,” a blog post about college educated young adults who are finding themselves on food stamps (and they’re shopping at Whole Foods, which adds to the controversy.) Bleyer’s piece looks specifically at those who enter the workforce with a certain expectation of success, only to find themselves heavily in debt and starving. To her credit she makes no overt critique of these graduates utilizing government social programs, but there is a certain cluck-clucking sound playing in the background. I have mixed feelings.

Few, if any, of my students have ever stepped into a Whole Foods and while these so-called Hipsters might have been the original Gen Y models for all those cell phone commercials, they no longer have the disposable cash to utilize their tech know-how. The divide could easily close over all of them, without regard for their parentage or economic status of origin.

Next time: The media and Healthcare versus the reality for Community College students.

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  1. Maureen! Wow, thanks for stopping over and commenting. See, I totally agree that the monomyth for this generation is missing. That’s a fact. There is no glue for this generation that spreads far enough across the globe to make the Big Media claims legitimate, and, yeah, few (maybe just you) are talking about it. I love you last point….my own teenagers sometimes fall into this culturo-centric mode of thinking and I just have to laugh about it. Laugh, or be very worried!

  2. Hey Katherine,

    Thanks for referencing my Bitch piece. While I do think the lack of media discussion of Gen Yers who don’t fit the Millennial archetype has a definite economic slant to it, the lack of a monolithic popular culture for people in this age group is something that doesn’t get talked about much, either. I wrote about youthful cultural cretinism for True/Slant (http://trueslant.com/jmaureenhenderson/2010/05/04/cultural-cretins-are-we-a-generation-of-philistines/), which I think addresses one facet of it, but I think what might be even more germane is the fact that the online world (esp. social media) does an excellent job of enclosing us in a bubble and convincing us that everyone shares the same touchstones that we do (which, within the bubble, they do). When we deliberately remove ourselves from that context, it’s a bit of a wake-up call to realize that the whole world (or even our entire peer group) doesn’t tweet, has no clue what LinkedIn is, can’t name the latest viral vid, etc.

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