“Absolutely,” President Obama said.
America had “gotten soft,” the president continued. And now look at us! Think of the children!
It’s almost a truism at this point. We millennials lack the opportunities our parents had. It’s not just that we’re missing out on the chance to contract polio and Beatlemania — perhaps at the same time — or fight in the Korean War, or even wind up at Woodstock surrounded by oily strangers.
And it’s not the money.
Sometimes you can reconcile yourself to lower standards of living than your parents had — otherwise, no one would major in the liberal arts. “It’s fine,” you say. “I actively enjoy eating Kraft macaroni and cheese in a garret by the fitful light of a single bulb, accompanied by the sound of my consumptive hacking.”
What’s different is the lack of — well, wanting a better word — hope.
Instead we crave celebrity, the magic snow that melts in your hand, as nourishing as celery. But even our 15 minutes of fame have deflated to 70 seconds on YouTube.
Youth unemployment is 18 percent — double the overall rate. The polls teetered, then tilted. Will your standard of living be better than your parents’? Probably not. Is the American Dream still in reach? Define dream.
What’s worse is that no one seems to realize that we’ve noticed.
“The kids are all right,” they say. “Let’s tweet them a bone. They love it when you tweet.”
It’s enough to give a self-respecting Millennial a headache.
Right now, there are at least 100 people Occupying Wall Street. It’s a protest movement. We are the 99 percent that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%, they say.
They have a nice Web site. They want to find some sort of solution as a group. They also don’t have jobs — or a real plan.
That’s basically us in a nutshell.
Our problem is not lack of finesse. Or lack of, Lord knows, social media linkages. It’s lack of content.
It’s the Lady Gaga problem. She’s always been a master of form over content. Slick design, marvelous presentation, catchy tunes, no real there there. Listen to “Born this Way,” her anthem. Those lyrics could mean literally anything. At one point I think she told me I was an air freshener. Everyone used to like her. Now, well, she’s wearing thin.
And so is Obama. No wonder she showed up at his event recently.
Our problem, as a generation, isn’t just that hipsters are trying to bring our living standard back to that of a badly remembered 1960s. “We think there were records and plaid,” they say. “Beyond that we could not really say.”
We are starving for content.
Form we understand. Lock us in a room long enough, and we can say something colorful or design a handy Web site. We are the generation of vague statements and good graphic design.
No wonder we gravitate to Twitter. It turns out that having a debate on Twitter is a handy way of not having to say anything at all. Twitter gives you the illusion of talking without the room to say anything. We have nothing to say, and 140 characters is a good format for that.
There are also all sorts of venerable older researchers who emerge periodically from the bushes to exclaim that they have discovered that Millennials are Fundamentally Different and if only more people knew their Magical Secrets of Socialization and Connectivity, we would fix all that ails society. They make charts — which must be seen to be believed — that proclaim Barney our “generational mascot” and note that “President Obama got cool creds for conducting a town hall with Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg.” They trail us to our hangouts. They insist that we have things well in hand, and that “Young people don’t think like you did when YOU were young!”
“The kids will use social media to solve our problems!” everyone says. But we don’t have time to attend eight Twitter Town Halls every week! We are too busy trying to find jobs.
Why offer more substance? Instead, go for more e-mails and texts and Twitter Town Halls and Facebook Town Halls and LinkedIn Town Halls (wouldn’t want to miss one!).
Nearly all of Congress is on Twitter now. And the biggest trouble is not that they lack social media presence — it’s that they don’t use it to connect, just to spout the same talking points as ever, in 140 characters or fewer. That wasn’t supposed to be the point of this exercise.
“It’s okay,” they say. “It may not look great, but trust us, the Millennials are eating this up!”
It’s adding insult to injury. And we’re hurting.
It’s not just the annoying e-mails that the Obama team sends — or the frantic texts telling us to return to our homes and check our e-mail because The First Lady Sent You a Note. It’s the presumption that the Internet is a button you can press to whisk Millennials into your rally, without supplying any content to go along with it. Sometimes that works. But these days, we need more. We want to know what is going to happen to our health care, our country, our — jobs. And instead, people just want to tweet at us.
No wonder Barack Obama has what the New York Times described as a problem with small donors.
Hope? Change? It’s all melting into a soft mound of vague promises and good graphic design. Not another e-mail. Not another Twitter Town Hall. You’ve gotten soft on us.