The Millennial Myth

You may have heard of the Millennials (and count yourself lucky if you haven’t). They’re the tech savvy kids born since the late 1980s, who grew up with the Internet and mobile phones and are plugged in, turned on and engaged in the use of web-based technology in ways that are both dazzling and frightening. Or so we’re told. Because the Millennials, like Gen X and the baby Boomers before them, are a demographic construct, a social fiction made up to sell a narrative and more importantly, to sell product.

These kids aren’t engaging in a digital environment that speaks to a spectacular, intuitive grasp of technology. They’re thumbing cell phone keyboards because it’s easier than actually using a phone. And that’s the problem with ubiquitous technology: it becomes easy to use on the surface for the most shallow of purposes. We can bounce packets of data off satellites in geosynchronous orbit but mostly, that data we’re sending is teenage gossip and cute cat pictures. The kids these days, they aren’t engaged in the savvy use of technology. They’re banging digital rocks together because they don’t know how to do anything else. Jaded grownups just assume they already know everything and so don’t bother to teach them anything.

Other than a very small minority of plugged in super nerds, none of the kids in the Millennial generation knows anything about computers. I’ve been around them now, in an academic environment, for 8 years. I’ve met 20 year-olds who’ve never opened a word document. Every Fall semester, I encounter a new crop of recent high school grads whose only experience with the Internet is posting updates on their friends MySpace pages. If you’re lucky, they have a Yahoo account and may have sent an e-mail or two, but usually just to their parents.

But the Millennial Myth is a popular delusion that persists and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why. Until today. While listening to a candidate for a new Instructional technologist position at the University, I heard yet another Boomer tell a room full of Gen Xers and other Boomers that these Millennials needed to be handled differently because the were savvy customers. In what other area do we assume teenagers know more than parents and teachers? And who benefits from this assumption? Cut out the bullshit lingo and what you have left is the truth: they’re customers.

The Millennial Myth is a consumer model. “We don’t need to teach kids how to properly use technology,” the Micky Marketeers tell us, “Because that way, we can sell them products they don’t know they don’t need.” The handful of young (and old) savvy tech users will search out their own technology needs and find their way to the Open Source fringe sector or other specialty areas. They’re not the Millennial demographic. They’re the 1 in a million inoculated against these slogans. Marketeers don’t give a shit about them and so neither do educators who have adopted the MBA approach to education, where students are just a special class of customers. What the Marketeers and Business Model Academics are after are the non-savvy tech users. Because they’ll buy whatever shiny thing the Marketeers and BMAs want to sell them this fiscal semester. Maybe it’s a new style of mobile phone, or maybe it’s a useless degree in business management, physical therapy or library science. Whatever keeps the profit margins in the black.