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The Me, Me, We (?) Generation

By Kames Narayanan

Felicia YapFrom left: Vetements' Demna Gvasalia, womens' rights activist Malala Yousafzai, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, actress and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson and pop sensation Taylor Swift defy stereotypes, purveying a lesser recognised definition of what it means to be a millennial.

The greatest generation is pegged to extraordinary, unyielding strength of character nurtured through the turmoil of the World War II years; baby boomers are credited for an unyielding sense of togetherness cultivated by the post-war push for social change; Generation X finds legitimacy in its entrepreneurial dare; and it is here where the shining rapports conclude. Taking a sharp departure from the exemplary attributes of its predecessors, the subsequent generation of millennials (defined as those born between 1982 and 2004 by authors Neil Howe and William Strauss) bears the brunt of sweeping criticisms. 

To put things into perspective, a quick search on Google (as of press time) offers a succinct summary of the shared consensus fixated with millennials. As I typed the words “Millennials are…” into the search engine, Google offered an array of (vastly pessimistic) suggestions to complete the sentence. Amongst them read “millennials are the worst”, “millennials are lazy” and “millennials are entitled” — none of which were gasp-inducing revelations. This ubiquitous school of thought was initially propelled into the limelight in 2013 when Time magazine ran a cover of a presumably teenage girl taking a selfie as the words “The Me Me Me Generation” hang overhead in bold... and were debated in the following years. 

The arguments circle back to one main gripe: the generation’s narcissist tendencies. Does self-gratification really take precedence over collective achievement? Are the lessons on team spirit and incessant drilling of “there is no ‘I’ in team” compartmentalised in the recesses of memory? Are these idiosyncrasies the ironic crowning glories of that generation? 

These questions are an old trope, to which the answers have evolved over time. Setting my personal biases aside — in my 20s, I, too, am a millennial — I look to an entire repertoire of anecdotal evidences that defy the stereotype that has been regarded as the benchmark of this generation. In hindsight, as with all generations, the millennials have grown up. 

Be it on the more frivolous fashion and entertainment frontiers or consequential global matters of importance, a sense of togetherness is a prevailing way of approach. Abandoning singular names, like-minded individuals instead come together to form a collective identity and stand united for a common cause. 

In the last five years, a design collective founded in Paris by Demna Gvasalia, his brother and five other like-minded friends have rewritten fashion history by overturning every industry convention. Collaborations were chief in both the way the house branded itself and the calculated moves it has made in the recent seasons. At Paris couture week last year, Gvasalia and his team of designers unveiled a Spring 2017 collection that was created in tandem with a slew of 18 other brands from all-American Juicy Couture to iconic British footwear brand Dr Martens. What Gvasalia established was a common creative ground for singular names to create a unified vision. On the street-style circuit, crews like France’s four-girl member Gucci Gang — whose ages range from 15 to 17 — amass a cult following on Instagram. 

While fingers point to the proliferation of all things digital — social media in particular — for the egotistical tendencies of millennials, the very use of these platforms to build something greater than the self gets lost in conversation. At only 19 years old, Pakistani women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai has made strides in lending the marginalised a voice through the establishment of the Malala Fund — an organisation that works with international leaders and local partners to provide quality secondary education to girls. On Instagram, Yousafzai counts an astounding following of more than half a million and its also here where she started the #yesallgirls campaign to unite isolated voices. 

A silver screen darling and a fierce feminist offscreen, Emma Watson made her debut on Instagram as a United Nations ambassador for gender equality. The platform, along with her Twitter and Facebook accounts, has served as a base for manifestos in favour of fair treatment of people collectively. Even the man who has single-handedly made the world a more connected place with the invention of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, has extended his efforts into bringing scientists and engineers together through investments in the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub. 

There may be a paramount shift in the millennial way of life from the one led by their parents, but the sense of community has, if anything, strengthened over the course of time — virtually and literally. 

These observations ring through even here in Singapore, where shared working spaces are on an upward trend. In a little over the past two years, more than 20 charming co-working spaces with spiffy furnishings have sprung up across the city state. According to a global Regus survey, that also included respondents from Singapore, the opportunity to meet like-minded workers from different firms has been cited as the main reason for the preference of what can be dubbed the new age workplace. Rather than trying to outsmart one another, the millennials’ take on life sees them being smart together, in an Instagram-worthy interior no less. 

And no one has coined a term to better encapsulate the millennials than pop sensation Taylor Swift. The influence of #Squadgoals rings deeper than Tay Tay and her fist-pumping group of girlfriends — it is now a reality that a generation is built upon.