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Who is Y?

Ivonna Beches peels off the label and through the layers of Generation Y.

Why so negative?

Narcissistic, hedonistic, idle, commitment-phobic young men and women with an ardent desire for immediate gratification, an inflated sense of entitlement and little to no manners. Sound familiar? It should, since for the past few years it has become the media’s primary method of describing the teenagers of the 2000s; generation Y.  For the most part, this term is mainly employed by advertising agencies to denominate a specific target audience, with unique wants and tastes, very different from those of previous generations; and recruitment companies, in order to better understand the main traits of the current, youngest job-seekers.

The children of the baby boomer generation, a 1999 article in Business Week described the US representatives in a fairly objective manner as 'more racially diverse: One in three is not Caucasian. One in four lives in a single-parent household. Three in four have working mothers. While boomers are still mastering Microsoft Windows 98, their kids are tapping away at computers in nursery school.' This creates the impression of a miscellaneous group of young people that cannot be tied down to one label, connected only by the fact that most of them have been in contact with quite advanced technology since infancy.

The question then is why Western media insists on creating an image of teenagers that don’t rebel by taking the initiative and coming up with new, bold approaches to life, but rather by refusing to do anything productive at all and ruining their lives in the process?

To what extent is it true?

The Daily Mail declared 'They are the 'entitled to it all' generation to whom hard work is an alien concept...[who] believe they deserve jobs with big salaries, status and plenty of leisure time - without having to put in the hours.' Then again, the article is based on the findings of one study that included 16,507 Americans across the generations. Not very representative, when considering that in the US alone Generation Y is made up of approximately 70 million people.  On the other hand, a similar article in the Independent deemed today’s school children 'harder to teach' because they are brought up in an 'instant gratification culture' and 'success in learning doesn’t come fast enough.'

In light of recent developments, most notably the London Riots, the concept of today’s teenagers as impatient and unable to deal with issues in an effective and original manner seems increasingly plausible. The overreliance on the internet and the social media was also exemplified as the riots were framed and sustained by websites such as Twitter and Facebook and applications such as the Blackberry Messenger. The events were chaotic and disorganised as young people simply damaged property at will and items were stolen at random from any shops that were broken into.

Yet the Internet was also used as a means for some to show off what they had stolen. In addition, once perpetrators began to be taken into custody, it became clear that even the thefts committed did not always have utilitarian purposes; some of the children involved had good prospects or were from well-off backgrounds. This could be seen as proof of the effects of a post-modernist culture, where the members of Generation Y are convinced they can be whoever and whatever they want to be, even if only for a short while before they return to their ordinary lives.

This truth won’t out

A blogger who belongs to the infamous generation states that 'We are individuals... Yes, we love talking about ourselves and sometimes (most of the time) we do believe we are in the centre of the universe. Yes, we do question everything. Yes, we didn’t know the world before the Internet. Yes, we are the most watched-over generation in history. BUT we are all of that and even more, thus you can’t put a label on us and put us for mass production. We are customized, just like everything we buy.'

It would seem that we are in fact defined by our refusal to be defined. We may want it all and we may want it now, but according to expert Tamara Erikson it’s because we see life as fleeting; 'anything can happen at any point in time.' Some of us may be willing to put the work in, others may not. Each and every one of us may have extremely different ethical values for every aspect of our lives. Alternatively, we are also the only generation obsessed with the concept of communication and the collective human experience. We are more aware of the world around us, of its fragility and of the spectrum of ‘realities’ than any other previous generation.

According to some, these characteristics make us a new, better version of human beings, proof of the constant evolution of the species. Other accounts describe us as lost and unable to follow and sustain one collective idea that defines us. Either way, one thing is certain. Most of Generation Y is likely to take both opinions at face value and accept them as conflicting, but perfectly plausible truths. Then again, some of us may choose to think something else entirely.  

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