Jared Witt l September 29, 2017
I love my generation. Can I just say that? All things being relative, I think we Millennials are thoughtful, evolved, emotionally intelligent, we mostly give the benefit of the doubt to people who are different than us, and we have high cultural IQs. And maybe the thing I value most in another human being, we’re funny. We have a sharp and caustic sense of humor. So much so, at times, our sarcasm presses the semantic borders of becoming a secret language. And this shouldn’t be confused with cynicism, as it’s sometimes perceived. We are sarcastic because we’ve noticed how you really shouldn’t care about everything that everyone says you should care about. And a lot of the things they say you shouldn’t care about, you should. Sarcasm is a tool which helps us dismiss the former so we can embrace the latter.
We also suck in some ways, if maybe not all the ways they would have you believe. Understand, most of the Millennial bashing we hear in the Boomer driven media is baseless calumny. Lord only knows where they decided that the generation which has worked more unpaid internships, and studied longer for less professional benefit, and graduated with more student debt than any other somehow has an entitlement complex. But there is, I'm sad to say, a kernel of truth to some of what they say. We don’t show up when we say we will. We don’t organize well. We don’t commit. We are very good at pointing out how the world could be better but don’t always put much elbow grease into changing it.
And I worry about us. I don't worry about all the boiler plate stereotypes of us. It’s clear where those came from (hint: look to those who stand to lose something, if our politics and economics are soon driven by a generally eco-conscious group that has a love-hate relationship with consumer capitalism and doesn't purchase magazines and newspapers or watch network news). But I still worry.
Forget whatever Time or Fox News said about us, and lean in so we can have an internal conversation at the kid’s table for just a moment. Guys, what’s with all the social media? Really. Are we totally sure that it isn’t becoming a problem just like they say it is?
Consider an Instagram caption I came across:
“Emma [Watson] looks so good here! OMG! After I finish my final today I just want to chill all afternoon.”
Read that again.
Kind of a weird transition from “Emma Watson” to “final,” no? My concern here isn’t whether Emma Watson “looks so good here! OMG!” Maybe she does. My concern is about the perceived camaraderie between this Instagramer and her audience.
Don't get me wrong, I think the predictable reasons cited for why social media is problematic are bogus. If local news we’re commenting on this post, they’d say “The me-generation is at it again with their InstaTubes and their SnapBooks. Could this be the most narcissistic generation ever?” But maybe they’ve missed all the relevant symptoms while somehow stumbling onto the correct diagnosis.
What I’m saying is that this Instagrammer is anything but Narcissistic. The problem is just the opposite. If there is a 1-10 scale where 1 is “feeling invisible” and 10 is “feeling narcissistic,” someone who bait and switches a picture of Emma Watson with some mundane details from their day is definitely on the lower end.
The assumed intimacy of the “after I finish my final…” part reminds me very much of a response to the “How’s your day going?” text that is so common when you’re excited about a new relationship—those early days when the SO is not so new that you feel like everything you say has to be clever and witty nor so old that the only text exchanges are over functional matters, like whether you remembered to get dog food.
No, “after I finish my final today, I just want to chill” is the kind of factoid you share just to keep the conversation going for the thrill of feeling your phone buzz. Except, in this case, the Instagram followers are the SO, and the intimacy will never go any further than the comment thread.
I don’t know this person. And I’m not suggesting that she doesn’t have very real friends and perhaps a real SO. The discussion is more nuanced than that. The issue is that we’re the first generation to have had to navigate the benefits and limitations of this kind of simulated intimacy from our formative years.
And it's tough for real relationships to compete when they are so much more maintenance. Even low maintenance ones require calendar space, planning, driving, and often spending money just to be in the same physical space with one another. So even if we’re lucky enough to have face to face friendships, there is a very real temptation to lean on the cyber-intimacy crutch more and more and let the frequency of real time together drop a bit.
So we need to start thinking about relationships like we do our finances (pretending, for the moment, that our generation is good with finances, which…I know). A large investment is risky—more chance for heartbreak, loss, hurt feelings, or friendships that just never really become as close as you might’ve hoped. But these are also the only sorts of investments that will ever yield a large return. A small investment guarantees a small return. There’s nothing wrong with social media investments. We just know from the start that they’re not going to yield a whole lot.
And here's the thing about committing to things. Many older generations never thought twice about committing to a standing bridge game every Friday night, or joining a Kiwanis club with crack-of-dawn meetings every Tuesday, or church on Sundays. It was how they organized their social calendars. And it meant that people expected them to be certain places at certain times. In this cold, dark universe of randomness, it matters to somebody somewhere that Ethel make it to her Euchre night.
You and me, I’m assuming, would be wary to give away so much fly-by-night freedom for so many commitments. But that freedom isn’t working out too well for us, if we’re shoehorning tidbits about our day into an Emma Watson caption just to be seen.
So consider joining something that requires you to be at the same place and time every week. That’s why we’re building Castle Church here in Orlando—so you have a place where people expect to see you, where people miss you when you’re not there. But if Castle Church isn’t your thing, start a Euchre group or an Emma Watson Fan Club where you actually meet in person to watch a movie and discussing Watson-related issues.
Do whatever, but do something up close, and regular, and real. Because our need for solid food doesn’t go away just because someone invented the IV drip. And our need for real community doesn’t go away because someone invented the SnapBooks.
Cheers and Peace,
Jared Witt (Twitter: @realjaredwitt) is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community. Checkout this blog weekly for reflections and updates or subscribe to our newsletter so that you never miss a thing.
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