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Are millennials really activists, or do we just think we are?

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Millennials are known and often branded for their outspoken nature and determination to change the world – but is this really the case? Are we the generation of activists or are we really just compliant with the system and is online activism just a facade to make us look like and think we are world changers?

With the easy access of information and the growing desire to know and learn more, we are seeing more young people using their devices to make their voices heard. But this may not be the case.

A 2019 Deloitte research study found that climate change is the number one concern for both millennials and Gen Z this year. Our views of government, business and the economy are also at record lows. Growing up in a world of accelerated transformation leaves both generations feeling unsettled about the future.

climate activists
via Unsplash

Personally, I am overwhelmed by the vast number of issues the world faces and sometimes I don’t even know where to begin in terms of doing my part. Yes, we can all make an impact, and we hear that all the time, but it’s easy to see how this generation of young people are feeling dispirited by the mass media we consume which focuses on the deterioration of the world.

Some things honestly feel beyond my own control and maybe this is why we are seeing a spike in anxiety, paranoia and depression in young people. The same survey found that millennials and Generation Z are expressing uneasiness and pessimism about the world around them. More notably, we’ve seen a steep decline in respondents’ trust in the economy, their countries’ social and political situations, and institutions such as government, the media and business. So why is it that millennials are known to be “extremely vocal about what they stand for”? Especially when the results show that there are less trust and hope in the world. I find myself feeling passionate and vocal about some issues, but still, I feel there are structures and bodies of power which are beyond me – so I can relate to the sense of helplessness about the world around me. I mean do we really know everything?

We’re the generation that seemingly has the world at our feet and are quick to appear knowledgeable about many issues – but are we really that equipped and capable?

activist social media
We may have the world’s information at our fingertips – but that does not mean the information is correct, nor that we’ll use it in a productive way. (via Unsplash)

I think millennials are particularly aware of the influence society has on our identity and the more we examine social structures the more we realise society is limiting our ability to “expand and explore one’s inner self”. We see memes about millennial angst all the time and studies show millennials are not particularly satisfied with their lives. Gen Z, in particular, have strong values and are often described as “pluralist” and have more conviction in global diversity.

 

So young people are more likely to be advocates for devolution and autonomy – given this, I struggle to ameliorate the popular and harmful notion that “millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists” who can’t save the world at all. The Deloitte research found that millennials do value experiences and aspire to help their communities. With that noted, while market research shows that millennials are very vocal about the issues they care about. They are also idealistic about them too. One thing is for sure, I know we’re confused as heck and we like to make light of what sometimes feels like a shitty situation.

Millennials are also more likely to “not think highly of leaders’ impact on society, their commitment to improving the world, or their trustworthiness”. So have millennials taken it upon themselves to improve the world or are they really just compliant with the system and only willing to fight for issues which complement and support their ego and online persona?

tech activism
via Unsplash

What we do know is that more young people are depressed and this could be because everyone is caught up in their own identity crisis through social media platforms which very rarely portray what real life is really like.

Millennials and Generation Z might not be traditional activists; we aren’t rallying on the street the old school way. However, they are more likely to “support companies that align with their values; many of them will not hesitate to lessen or end relationships when they disagree with companies’ business practices, values, or political leanings”. So it appears we do have a conscience and the boomers can take back what they say about young people resembling zombies; numb to the world. Unfortunately, this is not just a boomer reference – a small scale survey I conducted found that the young participants (18-24) also viewed millennials as or associated them with the words ‘entitled’, ‘confused’ and ‘self-important’.

We’re very aware and informed (or as Gen Z say, ‘woke’?) but does this come with a price? Perhaps a price to the mental health of young people, and government and companies that are making disastrous decisions in the minds of young people.  A 2018 Deloitte Global annual survey also found that Australian millennials remain uneasy about the future and indicated concern about terrorism, robots taking their jobs, and unemployment – and to add to the 2019 list, area 51 and aliens.

activism graffiti
via Unsplash

I conducted a small-scale survey of my own with participants primarily between the ages of 18-24. 75% agreed that millennials were compliant with the system and only fight for causes which support their social media image and ego while none claimed millennials were the generation of activists and world-changers. It’s sad and not really what I’d expected to find.

 

I believe millennials have a lot to say – but we can see the dire state of things and feel at a loss at how to act. Social activism is important to promote and elicit change and while the media might make us believe the world is going down in smithereens, a positive note is that young people like me still remain positive and seek to make changes in the community and the world at large. This is not a case of ‘millennials don’t care’, it’s just that sometimes it feels like we don’t know how or where to channel that care as activists.