You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Tue, Jun 21, 2011 : 2:01 p.m.

5 truths about the 'Millennial' generation that older Americans misunderstand

By Wayne Baker

0620 millennial connections.jpg

Millennial minds are similar to puzzle pieces: the more you know, the easier it is to understand them!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Gayle Campbell on Our Values about core American values. This week Gayle is focusing on the disconnect between Millennials, those ages 18-29, and older Americans, and searching for ways to improve cross-generational communication..

Millennials. Boomerangs. Generation Y. Echo Boomers. Generation Entitlement. Failures to Launch.

Oh we’ve been called all sorts of names! Older Americans don’t know what to make of us. We’ve been called the Dumbest Generation — and praised for our creative energy. There’s a lot about Millennials that older Americans just don’t seem to understand!

This week on, I’ll be using my 22-year-old mind to introduce five Millennial concepts seemingly foreign to our elders. The better we can understand one another, the better we’ll be able to work and live together. We’re calling these “truths” in our headlines —but we really want you to tell us, whatever your age, whether you think they’re true… or not.

The first “truth” is:
We’re history’s first “always connected” generation.

We’re wired. We use Facebook, Twitter, texting, YouTube, or all of the above — we’re the generation that sleeps with our phones and checks our e-mail before our morning coffee. We’re proud to be history’s first “always connected” generation, as labeled by Pew Research Center. We’re leading the technological movement, while many older Americans are still trying to figure out what a hashtag is.

My father recently called me “antisocial” for being on my laptop too often. Little did he know, I’d just spent the past hour e-mailing, Skyping, Facebooking and G-chatting with people from Washington D.C. to Spain. Really, Dad? Antisocial? How about super social!

Older Americans tend to view technology as a distraction from “real life.” Reality for them lies outside the computer. But for my generation, technology is real life.

Technology is how we maintain our connections and consume our news. We use LinkedIn to find jobs and Facebook to start political revolutions. Millennials embrace the changes in technology, while older Americans tend to mourn the digital transformation.

The concern of many older Americans, I've found, is that Millennials are too connected — that our thousands of virtual friends detract from “real-life” friendships.

In Monday's OurValues column, readers voiced a number of the same concerns I’ve heard before about the increasing digitalization of today’s communication. “I understand the Millennial use of social network, but I also am concerned about their choice to converse with people they may never see at the expense of those right in their immediate vicinity,” said Linda.

Mike echoed her concern, lamenting a lack of “depth in connections.”

In the midst of evolving technology, relationships are changing, but are they necessarily changing for the worse? The question leads us to…

The Second “Truth”:
We have more close friends.

Believe it or not, these virtually connected Millennials have more close friends, (yes, “real-life” friends!) than any other generation. And they’re more likely to maintain these connections longer. But good news for older Americans: Increasing our circle of friends isn’t limited by age, if people engage in social networking.

In a fascinating new survey, Pew Research Center dissects the effects of social networking sites on our lives. As we saw yesterday, Millennials dominate social networks. According to 2010 data, 80 percent of Internet users ages 18-35 use social networking sites, compared to 48 percent of Internet users over age 35.

The survey findings show that social network users are not isolated by technology — quite the opposite! Technology users have larger overall social networks (not just online ties) than average Americans and are less likely to be socially isolated. Facebook users, more than half of which are under 34, average 9 percent more close ties in their social network than other internet users. On top of this, Facebookers are more likely to revive “dormant” relationships.

What does this mean for older Americans? Will they grow old with few friends, while Millennials are surrounded by social networks? Not necessarily.

The numbers of older Americans on social networking sites is quickly climbing. Millennials may have led the social networking trend, but older Americans are quickly joining the bandwagon.

No matter what your age, tell us today:
First, do you see a gap between Millennials and older generations?
Do you agree with "Truth No. 1" and/or "Truth No. 2"?
What do you like — or hate — about new forms of connection?
If you use social networking sites, what effects have you seen in your life?
If not, why? Do today’s findings sway you to “take the leap”?

Please, comment below — We hope to touch off a vigorous conversation. And don't forget to check back later this week for "Truths 3, 4 and 5!"

About Gayle Campbell: After graduating from the University of Michigan with a dual degree in Political Science and Spanish, Gayle chose to pursue her passion for civility in public dialogue as media director of Gayle can be reached at or on Facebook.


Wayne Baker

Fri, Jun 24, 2011 : 3:01 p.m.

Thanks for all the great comments from this week's column. If you're interested in reading more on Millennials -- and specifically the intersection of Millennials and politics (and want to read something that might surprise you!) check out yesterday's second set in this week's series here: <a href=""></a>

Mary Fletcher Jones

Wed, Jun 22, 2011 : 4:40 p.m.

I've read countless variations on what is basically this same article. I'm not convinced that the Millenial generation is any different, substantially, from any previous generation -- except there's more of them, and most of them can't dance. Every generation has claimed a generation gap. The Millennials did not invent it, although you would think they did from as much as they talk about it. It's a life stage. It's normal at this stage of life for young 20 somethings to feel disconnected from older people -- and even try to emphasize that separateness -- as they strive to establish their own identities (a developmental process that doesn't really cement until around age 25) and independence from their parents. Also it gives them an edge in the workplace to differentiate themselves as better in certain ways. But I don't buy it. Millennials are not the first always connected generation and it's pompous to claim it. I asked my sister how many birthday cards she got yesterday and she said none, Facebook kind of took care of that. My generation was not less or social, it was just not as easy. We connected constantly: we socialized, sent cards, did Peace Corps and travel, emailed, wrote letters, went to bars, ran up astronomical phone bills. It was just different in execution. Do you have more friends than us now? Yes, but not more than we did in our 20s. It's typical that 20 somethings have lots of friends and a relatively active social life that goes on in all settings and times of day. It goes with the life stage of being in college, not being married, and not having kids. Older people were like this too when they were young. Life changes: you couple off, your circle gets smaller. You stay at one company for a longer time, you settle down in one community, maybe have kids, and then hang out mostly w/people who have kids. I think Millennials need to get over themselves. We were clamoring to get connected with more experienced, and it served us well.


Wed, Jun 22, 2011 : 1:27 p.m.

Truth # 1. Yes, generally speaking this is the first always connected Generation. As a Boomer, I think the writing is on the wall. Be socially connected or risk being left behind. This is part of a societal shift that was enabled by a technology shift. Without the technology, the shift would not happen or be possible (whether we consider it for better or worse). Truth #2 . The paradox with this truth is this. Is MORE and CLOSE when talking about friends be possible? What is the definition of a &quot;close friend&quot;? One person's defintion of close means a few, deep, connected and &quot;confidant level&quot; relationships (share deep dark secrets with). Is it possible to really have 20 or 30 &quot;CLOSE&quot; friends that reach that level of close? That's an individual thing but I would say its much less likely. Not to say these are superficial friendships but maybe not as profoundly deep as having a few close friends. I do however think there is great value in social networking in helping &quot;deepen&quot; old and new friendships and relationships if its used correctly. I have reconnected with several old friends from back in high school and made other connections that I almost 100% attribute to the spontaneous connection made via social networking. Social Networking is like anything else. It can be used for &quot;positive&quot; or &quot;negative&quot; purposes. The choice is up to the individual. I often see very negative commentary/feedback on or on social media. Those individuals have chosen the negative path. (You should have seen the comments on Rich Rod's Facebook page from his supposed &quot;Facebook Friends&quot;). I can't believe he even had a FB site with the stuff getting posted on his wall. I do think older generations tend to look at social media and the 24-7 connectivity in a more jaded way. Again, it IS REALITY for a Gen X'er. Its not what us Boomer's or Vets grew up with but we're finding out pretty quickly, we better get with the pr

Adam Jaskiewicz

Wed, Jun 22, 2011 : 1:51 a.m.

I find real, in-person contact far more fulfilling than Facebook, Twitter, et al. There's really no comparison. Sitting down with someone for an hour over a beer is nothing like three hours of back-and-forth Facebook messages while you read and random Wikipedia articles. Our generation may be &quot;connected&quot;, but the connection is superficial. We may have many friends who know intimate details of our lives, because we choose to share those details with our social network, but those friends won't have the deep, visceral connection with us that we have with the people we spend time with, face-to-face, without a cold, unfeeling box acting as a proxy. And kids these days don't remember what it was like when all we had were mailing lists, newsgroups, and IRC.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Thu, Jun 23, 2011 : 11:28 a.m.

Oh, and I'm 26.

Will Warner

Tue, Jun 21, 2011 : 11:29 p.m.

Any doubt I might have had about the toughness of the next generation was removed when their boots hit the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. I can't praise them enough.


Tue, Jun 21, 2011 : 11:27 p.m.

Each generation is different and has different strengths and weaknesses. Global connectivity is a strength. Instant communication can be a strength if used well. I also see what is happening in terms of something like a global mind. That is very interesting. This generation is more open and friendly and has access to a world that no one in my generation dreamed of. Weaknesses include: The ability to think critically and in depth is diminished by overuse of electronic media, the most extreme being twitter, currently. Pursuing this will seem quite boring. It is rewarding, but hard work. The problems facing the millenials are bigger than any other generation and will take lots of problem solving and critical thinking. It is easy to be misled/controlled when the ability to think critically is not developed. A loss of connection with the natural world, including the natural world of humans is an important loss. There are undreamed of connections there but it is very time intensive to nurture these. Time in nature, lots of it, without distraction is something previous generations had in their youth and adulthood. Even those who grew up in cities had this. All that space is gone. (Read Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder to see what I mean). An example of the gap as I recently experienced it: A millenial I know had gotten friended by a local politician during his campaign. When he lost, he unfriended her (and a lot of others). She was indignant at this. I was surprised, wondering &quot;what did you expect? this was a campaign strategy, not a real friend.&quot;I regard her as an intelligent woman who I respect, but this one puzzled me, obv a generation gap thing. BTW: I'm a boomer

Will Warner

Wed, Jun 22, 2011 : 1:47 a.m.

I wouldn't worry about a nature deficit. I'm a boomer and I've spent lots of time in the wilderness (spent some summers panning for gold in Yukon and Alaska, didn't see another person for weeks). What I can tell you is that there is nothing there. All the great things are man-made, as anybody who actually lives in the bush will tell you.


Wed, Jun 22, 2011 : 1:38 a.m.

I'm a 'Millennial', and quite connected online (facebook, twitter) and I am glad to say that at least some of my generation thinks critically. The number of atheists/skeptics in my generation far exceeds previous generations, for example. The internet is very helpful in thinking critically, because we can ask questions and find answers- scientific papers, for example, are readily accessible, along with refutations if you want to dig for them and assess... and then think about it all to come to your own conclusion. I'm also happy to say that as a Millennial, I am very educated about the natural world. I know all about nature deficit disorder and I have worked as a naturalist and hope to continue working in that field in the future. But I, too, am dismayed at the loss of my generation's connection to the natural world. However, this has been happening over time. Many people much older than myself are seemingly unaware of their own native species. Some windbag on a popular news network doesn't even understand how the tides work. In other words, I have my work cut out for me. :)

John B.

Wed, Jun 22, 2011 : 1:32 a.m.

&quot;It is easy to be misled/controlled when the ability to think critically is not developed.&quot; Well-said! Scary, but true, imo. The gnat's-length attention spans that millennials seem to often have reinforces this as well.


Tue, Jun 21, 2011 : 9:27 p.m.

Old story. Young people are always criticized by their elders. The baby boomers were criticized by their elders, as were the youths who came of age in the Roaring Twenties.

Atticus F.

Tue, Jun 21, 2011 : 9:21 p.m.

People have been saying these type of things about every generation. from greesers, to hippies, to hairbands, to grung rockers, ect... Every generation is seen as a generation of slackers by the generation before them. I personally feel that due to instant access to information, this younger generation will change the world in ways that we cant even imagine.

John B.

Wed, Jun 22, 2011 : 1:24 a.m.

Yes, but we (old farts) didn't lounge around our parents' homes in our boxers and sponge off them until we were thirty years old - we actually became independent and stood on our own two feet (so to speak). Big difference....


Tue, Jun 21, 2011 : 8:45 p.m.

You inquired: &gt;No matter what your age, tell us today: &gt;First, do you see a gap between Millennials and older generations? Yes. &gt;Do you agree with &quot;Truth No. 1&quot; I guess so. One could argue that a small, isolated village was also 'always connected', at least with each other. What is the RELEVANCE of this truth? &gt;and/or &quot;Truth No. 2&quot;? I suppose so. It depends on what you mean as 'close friends'. Since Millennials don't even date anymore, the terminology is a bit abstract to me at this point. Again, what is the RELEVANCE of this truth? I never thought that 'more' friends (in and of itself) was necessarily better. Of the people that I know that have 100+ Facebook 'friends', only a small number are real friends in any meaningful sense of the term. &gt;What do you like — or hate — about new forms of connection? The internet USED to be a great source of information. It's still OK now, but SEOs have largely ruined it. I guess Wikipedia is still OK. As for the other stuff (Facebook/Twitter) I think they provide the illusion of communication without the reality of it. &gt;If you use social networking sites, what effects have you seen in your life? Yes. They have had little or no effect on my life. I have met some colleagues on-line, but they've been met through common submissions on other websites/blogs. I still struggle with the concept of Twitter. Unless one is someone very important, I don't think anyone really cares about what I am thinking or what I am doing at several times of every day. This is a substitution of QUANTITY vs. QUALITY w.r.t. information and communication. A common modern day problem. No researcher (for example) has the time to write a definitive text, so they instead write numerous papers, each advancing a single tiny topic. This may maximize paper production (and thus help with the whole tenure goal) but it is not a good way to disperse information. &gt;If not, why? Do today's findings sway you to "take the l


Tue, Jun 21, 2011 : 8:49 p.m.

Sorry, last answer was cut off. &gt;If not, why? Do today's findings sway you to "take the leap"? Since I do use social networking, this is Not Applicable.


Tue, Jun 21, 2011 : 7:53 p.m.

I won't be here, but it will be interesting for those of the 'Millennial' generation to look back 50 years from now to ascertain the real &quot;truths&quot; about themselves. Inevitably, contemporary history contains some flaws.


Tue, Jun 21, 2011 : 8:14 p.m.

I'm sure in 50 years they'll be whining about how the current kids who are plugged into The Matrix think they're really connected and having meaningful experiences really missed out on the texting and twittering that their generation grew up with.

Sarah Rigg

Tue, Jun 21, 2011 : 3:04 p.m.

I'm actually glad to hear #2, because many OTHER studies have shown that the more time you spend &quot;socializing&quot; online, the more socially isolated many people feel. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

John B.

Wed, Jun 22, 2011 : 1:30 a.m.

I tend to agree with all of those 'other studies....' FWIW, I agree with #1, but strongly disagree with #2.