Stop calling yourself Millennial!

Stop calling yourself Millennial!

- in Opinion
@Jon Joaquin

I’ve been wanting to write about Millennials and how I think there is no such person in the Philippines (well, maybe there are a few) but never had a strong enough reason to do so. A lot of Filipino young people have been calling themselves Millennials without bothering to find out what it means, and media have also been using the term as if it applied to our country. But I usually chalked this up to ignorance, an unwillingness to research what the world really means in its proper context, and good old colonial mentality. So I never got around to writing about it.

But it’s a different matter when a government agency itself uses the word and applies it to the very people it is supposed to be serving. I was surprised to find this entry in the Department of Education (DepEd)’s K to 12 Curriculum Guide, under Section III titled “Needs of the learners: The Context”:

The generation born after the year 1994 until 2004 is referred to as Generation Z. This is the first generation to be born with complete technology. They were born with PCs, mobile phones, gaming devices, MP3 players and the ubiquitous Internet. They do not know life without technology. Hence, they are often termed as digital natives and are extremely comfortable with technology. They can email, text and use computers without any problems. In addition, members of Generation Z can understand and master advancement in technology. Unfortunately, this reliance on technology and gadgets has had a negative effect on the members. They rather stay indoors and use their electronics than play outdoors and be active. They are leading a sedentary life that can result in health problems later on.

I appreciate the department’s attempt to understand today’s learners, but using this generational label is misguided at best. “Generation Z” presumes there is a Generation Y (more popularly called “Millennials”), which presumes there is a Generation X, which presumes there is a Baby Boomer generation, and so on. All these are Western labels and do not necessarily represent our own experience in the Philippines.

There are generally five generations that grew in the 20th century:

1) The Greatest Generation — Journalist Tom Brokaw coined this to describe those who grew up in the US during the Great Depression (1929-1941) and then went on to fight in World War II. The times in which they lived called on them to live selflessly and become willing to sacrifice even their own lives for the greater good.

2) The Silent Generation — Those born between 1925 and 1945 and were too young to fight in the war. Watching the war from the sidelines, they grew up focusing on their own careers instead of being activists. Another reason they were silent was they grew up in the McCarthy era during which it was deemed dangerous to speak out.

3) Baby Boomers — Children of the Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation who, optimistic after the war’s end, bore children at an unprecedented rate. The following graph shows the sharp rise in live births in the US from 1945 to the mid-60s, a trend that was mirrored in Canada, many parts of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand:

Unlike their parents, Baby Boomers did not have to suffer through shortages and other effects of the war. They grew up  in a time of government subsidies in housing and education, and their parents, having gone through difficulty, gave them basically everything they needed and wanted. They were thus better educated, more active, and wealthier than their predecessors.

4) Generation X —Because they were richer, the Baby Boomers could afford to bring up their children with even more privilege. Generation X, however, grew up without a cause and are thus labeled as “slackers,” even though many studies have shown that they are actually a very hard working generation.

5) Gen Y (also called Millennials, Perennials, Xennials, etc.) — Children of Generation X who grew up with rapid advances in communications technology and are described as having a greater sense of community — both local and global. However, they are also pictured as lazy and narcissistic, as evidenced by their love for taking selfies (and posting them online).

And then there is the aforementioned Generation Z, which the DepEd further describes this way:

  • not bothered about privacy
  • willing to share intimate details about themselves with complete strangers
  • have virtual friends (for them hanging out with friends means talking to them over the cell phones, emails and text messages
  • creative and collaborative and will have a significant impact on the way companies work when they join the workforce
  • adept at multi-tasking
  • has reduced attention span leading to what psychologists call acquired attention deficit disorder
  • unable to analyze complex data and information as they cannot focus for very long

But do these accurately describe young Filipinos? More importantly, are they fair? Bear in mind that all the generations I listed refer to the West — the US, Canada, and Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand. As far as I can see, these are not mirrored in the Philippines and many other parts of the world. First of all, there was no Baby Boom here. The following chart shows how our birth rate grew slowly (and at times even fell) from the ashes of the war:

Those born after the war did not grow up with unprecedented privilege. They didn’t have subsidies for housing or education. The economy grew, but very slowly. The Philippines after the war struggled to recover, and those born from 1946 to the mid-60s felt it.

And of course because there were no Baby Boomers, there was no Gen X, no Gen Y, no Millennial generation, no Generation Z. These terms are hinged on each generation rearing their children in a particular way, who reared their children in a particular way, and so on and so forth.

I see a lot of young Filipinos calling themselves Millennials, but they’re simply copying what they see in other countries. Yes they think of themselves as connected to the world, but the label can also make them picture themselves as lazy and narcissistic and all the other negative attributes Millennials are supposed to have. And I can tell you that these two traits do not characterize most young people I know — and I know a lot.

But how many times have I seen older people complaining about the supposed lack of work ethics and loyalty among “Millennials” in the Philippines — as if that label fits our young people! There may be a small percentage of them— particularly in highly urbanized areas — who match the Western Millennials’ characteristics, but most young people are entirely different.

The truth is there are just too many factors that affect the psyche of people that it’s difficult to pin them down: economy (we are a developing country where smart phones may be cheap but keeping them connected to the internet is not, so people rely on free data that is limited), geography (as an archipelago, we have many distinct cultures), language (more than a hundred), and many more.

Maybe I’m nitpicking here, but let’s stop labeling ourselves after our Western counterparts. We have our own identity; it’s just a matter of finding and identifying it. It’s time we did a study on our own generations and find how rich, diverse, and awesome we really are as a people.

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