Saturday, February 9, 2008

Generation Y... Why?

I am, by every definition I have been able to find today, a "Generation X-er."

According to my oh-so-exhaustive interent research today, it's pretty hard to define most of Generation X. We grew up with the birth of modern-day technology, the increasing normalcy of divorce and latch-key kids, and some sense of independence and adaptability. The overriding characteristic seems to be a desire to rebel against narcissism. We've been instilled with reaching out to others and philanthropy as not only admirable qualities, but also part of leading a fulfilling life. 

"Generation X grew up in the 'me generation' of the 1980's and now they are able to see that it's not all it's cracked up to be," said Jackie Shelton, an advertising executive from Reno.

But Generation "Y" is very different.

According to USA Today, "unlike the generations that have gone before them, Gen Y has been pampered, nurtured and programmed with a slew of activities since they were toddlers, meaning they are both high-performance and high-maintenance."

There are also studies that show a 30-percent increase in "elevated narcissism" in college students from 1982 to 2006. Some say this generation doesn't even comprehend the concept of "working your way up" - let alone think it applies to them, and also results in an inability to form relationships or loyalty.

There is a good side to this. Inventive, open to new ideas, creative, and flexible are also words frequently used to describe Generation Y. Free-thinking and forward-thinking, Gen Y-er's are more optimistic about the future of technology, environmental causes, and their own personal abilities.

I first became acquainted with this basic generational gap about five years ago when I started advising at one of my sorority's chapters. I found myself saying and thinking over and over again, "This isn't how it was when I was in college. Things have really changed."

At first, it was easy of course to chalk that up to my own personal aging - ahem, maturing. After all, I had been out of college for about 6 years by then and naturally, things really had changed. But the more I began to dig and the more I began to listen closely to other advisors of other chapters, the more I began to understand that my short six years represented a huge chasm... because I represented the end of one generation, and today's college students represent the next.

More and more, the new mantra seemed to be, "what's in it for me?" I was baffled to hear of would-be college students visiting campuses and demanding to know why *they* should choose that school. There's been a shock wave in the Greek system too, where "Rush" is now (more appropriately) called Recuritment and the focus is on convincing potential members to choose *your house* - instead of potential members trying to get "into" a house.

As I continue with my advising work, I am finding this to be an increasing struggle. It's a struggle in my personal life too, as I work to understand the motives and actions - let alone thoughts and priorities - of my two much younger sisters. 

At the sorority, I am responsible for the sorority involvement of roughly 180 women, and all that entails. But as the Greek system struggles to evolve and remain relevant to today's generation, I sometimes feel as though we are constantly missing the mark because we do not fully understand this generation. We do not always understand that the differences between us are not the normal, natural progression of things, but often something much bigger.

The Greek system has forever relied on networking as one of its fundamental advantages. It's a great way to meet people on a college campus, a way to find a niche, a sense of belonging, and maybe it might even help you land a job one day.

Today's generation has MySpace, Facebook, and a long list of other resources available to them that provide all of those things and then some. And the digital age has completely transformed interpersonal communication. Some say it's unfortunate that we hide behind the "send" button instead of picking up the phone, but I don't think that speaks to the real detriment of electronic communication. What I see happening more and more is that people are willing to say things on a computer screen that they would never have the cajones to say in person. Add in anonymity, and you'll easily see libelous and slanderous remarks that surely cut to the quick and leave lasting scars. I've seen teens fight with each other through MySpace and on blogs - out in cyberspace for all to see.

In the Greek system, loyalty is valued. It's loyalty for the sake of being loyal, because you love the institution you are loyal to and are grateful for what it adds to your life. Loyalty adds to the sisterhood experience. You rely on loyalty for ritual, and you need it to make that deep connection. Sorority membership is lifelong and meant to transcend, while accentuating, your college experience.

Today's generation doesn't grasp the full meaning of loyalty. How could they? Noone stays at one company for an entire career anymore (most people don't even have that choice), political and religious leaders let us down, heck - even 50% of couples who promise to stay married to each other don't. I'm not bashing society, just saying we can't expect a generation that hasn't been shown loyalty to understand it. They don't understand it, and they don't feel it, and I realize that when I talk to the women about the importance of legacy and ritual, they are listening with ears incapable of comprehending.

At the risk of sounding too "back in my day...," I do feel like college students today are not as mature as they used to be. (And believe me, I am not forgetting the long list of immature things I did in college. It hasn't been *that* long ago.) Maybe it's that they're not capitalizing on the opportunities for growth and maturation while they're on campus. Or are those opportunities not there in the same way? I don't know the answer. If 40 is the new 50, I feel like college might be the new high school. Don't believe me? Check out a website called I'm sure many more like it exist, I'm just not cool (read: young) enough to know. Or care, truth be told.

So, I know this post is even more rambling than usual for me, but it's really an issue I'm struggling to sort out. I feel like maybe this is one of those "connection" moments for me. It's a subject I'm intrigued with, and I'm in a position in my life where it is relevant. With knowledge comes understanding, and hopefully the ability to better myself and the women I advise.

1 comment:

Jason said...

College kids today seem to have a sense of entitlement, and it comes across as materialistic. Almost as if their advertisement-saturated world of perpetual internet and cellphone use has "infected" them to some soul-draining degree. I'm 28 and I don't remember brand-name obsession or competitive attitudes in college like today's students. Good post; glad to see someone mention the phenomenon... :-)