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During our much-rescheduled and really fascinating Jan. 10 hour on how the Millennial generation is "searching for meaning" rather than personal gratification — as is far too frequently reporting — our host Tom Ashbrook made the very astute point that he's surrounded by Millennials all the time: in his home during the holiday season, at work every day, during his staff meetings.
So what did some of those On Point millennials make of an hour of radio meant to encapsulate and define their personal experiences? Associate producers Nick Andersen, (24), and Kat Brewer, (29), had a conversation about how their experiences differ coming of age on either side of the recession, and how the generational category still ultimately binds them in a broad cohort.
NICK: So, I have to be honest at the start here. I was a little afraid when we booked this hour all the way back in early December that we'd steamroll over some of the nuances of this whole "what do Millennials want?' conversation that plays out so incessantly in a lot of media outlets. But I think we did a pretty good job asking larger questions about what our generation actually does and wants and hopes for, rather than prescribing fixes to our so-called "narcissistic" tendencies. Plus, Emily Esfahani Smith used social media usage as indicative of a larger Millennial hope to stay connected and interact with friends with loved ones. I tweet a lot, so that made me feel better about my life and choices.
KAT: I thought it was a very fair look at our generation, both our positive and negative attributes. I also think we did a good job at talking about the diversity in millennials, especially the older vs. younger ones.
I often joke with the under 25 members of our staff that I didn't have YouTube and Twitter in college and when I joined Facebook you could only have one photo of yourself, but there are big way in which my life was very different than younger Millennials. I feel so lucky to have graduated in 2007 in a relatively good job market. I had almost a year and a half to get on my feet before the economic crisis of late 2008. If I'd been in the classes of 2009 through 2012, I would have been having regular panic attacks about my student loan debt, not getting a job, and the whole world falling apart. Graduating college is scary enough without a recession. Did you have any panic attacks?
NICK: The recession of 2008 hit when I was in my first semester of college — weeks after I enrolled, really — and I spent the four years after that freaking out. I was terrified that every choice I made was wrong, that all of my passions and interests were a waste of time, that my college degree would merely make me an over-qualified unemployed person or unpaid intern. I realized listening to our show today that your Millennial experience could be so different mine for the very reason that you didn't have to wait to enter the job market while all these think pieces proliferated in the media about how lazy or self-interested or poorly-educated you were. Was it weird for you to see our "generation" under a microscope as you moved through the first part of your career? Did those criticisms ever make sense or ring true to you?
KAT: Early media pieces about Millennials really didn't ring true to me at all. For the same reason HBO's "Girls" doesn't [Except for that line from the nurse: "you couldn't pay me to be 24 again," that is totally true], because I have been surrounded by thoughtful, smart, aggressive young people who have accomplished incredible things. Maybe because I spent my first five years out of college in Washington DC, which was and still is doing much better economically than the rest of the country, but I have been endlessly impressed by my co-millennials, in technology, in their nonprofit work, in politics and in business.
One way that I’m jealous of younger millennial is their political experience. I have a totally crackpot theory that everyone is defined in a small or big way by the first election they can vote in. Mine was Bush vs. Kerry. No matter what your political inclinations are [as a journalist, I am completely unbiased] I think we can all agree that that election was not a high moment in the political conversation: we were in the middle of two wars and it was the first election since 9/11 and the nation was still dealing with that. Plus, let’s be honest, Bush and Kerry were both pretty boring. And maybe I would have always been a big political cynic, but I prefer to blame the Bush/Kerry election. I hope younger Millennials know how lucky they were to come-of-age politically in the 2008 election. Which was endlessly fascinating, from the rise of Barack Obama, to the fall of Hillary Clinton, to Sarah Palin.
NICK: I've definitely thought about that political aspect, and known from my first ballot that I would never have as exciting and interesting a presidential campaign as the first one I voted in. Those were my first chances to vote, and since both campaigns really tried to engage with young people (or at least made token efforts at such), it felt like my voice mattered, even if it didn't. I was a reporter for my college paper in North Carolina, and I got to interview lots of folks working for both campaigns, candidates for state office, now-U.S. Senators (Kay Hagan, whose daughter had dropped out of school to work her mother's campaign) — it was thrilling and a totally once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. I know that all those people who canvassed and debating and worked on those campaigns, my Millennial cohort — they're political junkies for life.
I really liked what our guest, Darrell Kinsel, said about being creative. Our caller made the very astute point that not all Millennials are artists, and Darrell noted that is our responsibility as a generation to be innovative and creative. Of all points in our hour, that's one I can get behind and agree with.
KAT: I don't know what our artistic voice is yet, as a generation. I just really hope it isn't "The Jersey Shore." Maybe we are the first generation without a singular voice, because everyone has their little niche websites and favorite bands. And the more I think about it, I kind of love that we are the generation that has embraced a cultural "long tail."
I also loved our military callers. Millennials were the majority of the soldiers on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those are our peers and they certainly don't deserve the labels "lazy" or "entitled" that often get throw at our generation, and they often get left out of the Millennial conversation.
What do you make of the "Millennial Generation"? Are you a Millennial? Did our hour speak true to you?
Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Tumblr and @OnPointRadio.