At 45, I am working in what’s widely regarded a young people’s game – the media industry. As such, I am intensely aware of my looming decrepitude and the approaching brow of the hill, no matter how many selfies with my skateboard I take and other youthful shenanigans I pursue. It is not just the media which has a fetish for youth, or, to be precise, for millennials or digital natives, themselves about to be supplanted by the next cohort, Generation K (“named after Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the Hunger Games, who embodies many of their qualities”). What is so special about those 1990s-born youngsters? We study, promote and extol them as if having only ever known a world in which social media rule gave them a sagacity we, the dying-out analogues, lack. Yet despite this hero worship, this young generation has a tougher time of it than any other since the last world war. Indebted by tuition fees, should they be so optimistic, determined or privileged to go to university, they struggle with poor employment prospects and the prohibitive cost of housing while their parents live off the gains they made while the going was good. Not only that, this generation has grown up with – and been shaped by – “terrorism, technology and anxiety”.
This disconnect between perceived cultural leadership and economic suppression is a schizophrenic state of affairs. Perhaps our idolatry masks a guilty conscience. Perhaps it is just a cynical method to flatter them into docility and submission. For what is striking about this youth is its meek acceptance of the status quo. In Brexit Britain, their elders, with self-righteous ruthlessness, have destroyed their future as equal citizens within Europe (two thirds of young people voted Remain). But do we see an outcry, protests of young people marching in the street? While there have been some eruptions (student protests, the Occupy movement), it seems that millennials are more pre-occupied with instagramming their selfies. At the same, they are a practical lot: If there’s no work at home, they cross borders to work as baristas, even if they are woefully over qualified for the job). All this, by the way, is to say nothing of those young people outside Europe, who are even more shockingly disadvantaged. Meanwhile, oldies continue to bolster their position at the expense of their children – one need only look at the primacy of pensioners over young people in the UK. Perhaps the Millennials are merely excercising patience, knowing that what is theirs must eventually come to them by natural causes. If this is true, they may be wiser and more philosophical than I give them credit for.