I caught up with a good friend this week. Sitting in a fancy, budget un-friendly restaurant in London, we reminisced about our time together at university. She’s taken the brave step of a complete career overhaul, not something many people are willing to do. Exam time, it seems, is a lot harder 10 years down the line. Surrounded by a sea of 18 year olds, she regularly interjected our conversation with “I’m so old now.”
Being over 30 and catching up with someone you have known since your late teens it’s easy to fall into this trap. There was a time when I would stand outside photo booths feeling smugly pleased with myself at how nicely my dreaded passport photos turned out.
This week, those same photo booths spat out an image of me that looked washed out and exhausted. No, I looked like a crackhead that hadn’t slept in two weeks to be exact, which is part true. I would like to think that it’s the photo booths to blame, they must have changed something, reconfigured the microchips or whatever it is that they do to these things. In an effort to prove this theory I promptly walked over to a different photo booth and tried again.
I suppose you finally feel like you have matured as opposed to aged when you begin to notice the generation coming up behind you, and in time honoured fashion, think they are complete idiots. Generation Y is the first generation for whom the internet has just always been there. They are constantly connected, communicating 24/7 in a relentless barrage of tweets, emails and status updates. They engage in crazily dangerous relationship behaviour, seemingly forgetting that HIV is still a thing.
They have to contend with your usual garden variety bullying as well as cyber bullying. Personally I can’t imagine a more nightmarish combination than Facebook and the high school years. They are hyper aware of their appearance and unlike Generation X who smile like fools at any camera, Generation Y have perfected smiling with their eyes, meaningful looks and pouts. They have taken so many selfies that they know exactly which their best angles are.
Take my picture on this blog for example. When I started out, I put up a friendly looking picture of me smiling in a “Hi! Read my blog!” kind of way. When I recently decided to see who my competition was, I was confronted with an array of serious, brooding 20 somethings, looking casually off to the side, staring into the distance, not smiling, saying “Look how serious I am, look at all the important things I have to say.”
Thankfully, a photographer friend had years ago taken some professional looking pictures of me so I trawled through his online portfolio and grabbed whatever looked suitably moody and serious looking with an “I am too busy writing to smile” air about it.
Until very recently, Generation Y were something like a background noise in my life until the penny dropped. It started with small things. I went shopping for clothes and over the last two or three years, I began to feel like the clothes in my favorite stores were being designed by LSD taking toddlers. I would flick through rail after rail of clothes, going increasingly frustrated at the awful cuts, the unflattering colours and ridiculously schizophrenic hemlines, thinking “I would never wear this rubbish.”
Then it was the advertising. So many of the ‘youth’ products’ advertising suddenly stopped making sense and began seeming lazy and uncreative in the extreme. “Who falls for this nonsense?” I’d wonder, thinking I would never buy whatever it was being advertised.
It was when I was asking my sisters if it was just me or were all the clothes in the stores hideous lately when it hit me. I would never wear this rubbish, because I no longer belonged to the target consumer group that my favourite stores were interested in. Those clothes were no longer being designed with me in mind.
That target group was standing behind me tapping on their smartphones, wearing their patterned leggings and drop-hem shirts, rolling their eyes in frustration as I called my youngest sister from the till to ask her if bodycon was a good designer or not because there’s this bodycon dress here that I am thinking of buying.
Generation Y is the homeworking, startup launching, tweeting and twerking voice of tomorrow. In the UK, a recent survey showed that around 30% of the population is prejudiced in some way. The highest level of prejudice against foreigners was recorded amongst manual labourers such as builders, the working class in the UK’s class-obsessed terms. The lowest prejudice against foreigners was reported amongst Generation Y.
So I suppose you could say that in the UK at least the makeup of society is being decided by the working class against the twerking class. Generation Y is a force to be reckoned with. The problem is that they don’t know it, and peeling them away from their social media feeds long enough to get them to engage responsibly in political processes like voting is harder than getting a Kardashian on the news for doing something meaningful for society.