Millennials, right? Okay, to be honest this isn’t a term I took with any seriousness until recently.
It was comfortable to dismiss it with the casual disregard that I do other terms like Baby Boomers.
My excuse is that these terms only make sense in context: Baby Boomers in the US emerged out of a particular experience specific to them that was in no way be comparable to, say, the Independence Generation of Africans. Comparable age set, totally different contexts, totally different disruptions.
But the world has shrunk a lot in these past few years hasn’t it? Now there’s this generation called Millennials, and I have heard just enough people around me using it to start wondering if it is a real thing over here and not just out in the Great Beyond Our Borders.
Simon Sinek, a motivational speaker, has a talk available on YouTube where he describes the predicaments that Millennials face.
He paints a sorry picture of young adults who suffer from various barriers to participation in society – none of them their fault. So many of their problems seem to stem from social media.
Millennials, right? Mr Sinek’s talk is interesting and illustrative but when trying to describe an entire generation no-one can be completely accurate or exhaustive.
For one, the structural problems that he describes – expensive educations that are somehow disconnected from the labour market, a lack of self-motivation, the need to be nurtured in the workplace, low social skills due to too much reliance on new media etc – is particular of a very specific set of Millennials.
I am lucky enough to have escaped that particular categorisation by the skin of my teeth, which makes me sensitive to the exasperation, frustration and occasional hostility with which the term is used. It’s like some kind of curse to call someone a Millennial.
But why should it matter? Can the complementary generation of Africans be called Millennials with any credibility?
I suspect the answer is yes, which is why the term is gaining traction. What ties together this generation across the world are the combined forces of globalisation in all its forms as well as ICT and media, especially social media.
The human experience is being standardised at an alarming rate. Even belonging to the proximate generation, I know that there is something about the world we have created for Millennials to take over that is unique.
I feel quite differently from Mr Sinek about what is the overlooked side of the Millennial experience. He focuses on alienation, I seem to detect motivation to challenge a cold and unfeeling world.
When I think of the African Millennial, who is she? She is any one of a hundred million young adults living a life that navigates contradictions between traditions and modernity. She is an inventor, a hustler, and idealist, someone who thinks the word Entrepreneur is aspirational.
She is independent of mind and she is cosmopolitan. And I think she shares these qualities – along with a potentially harmful addiction to social media, and an alienating world – with far more of the world of her own generation than she does even with me.
Millenials, right? Right on.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. e-mail:[email protected]