Food for Thought: Are Generations Just an Artificial Construct?

A friend linked me to this video the other day which basically dispels the the entire notion of generations to be nothing more than a construct that we’ve made up. Ever since the opening of this blog, this has actually come to my mind quite a few times. Who decided that this generation is born between this and this year? How did we agree that this generation has this set of characteristics, and another generation a completely different one?

It’s all pretty trivial, if you think about it. Discussion about generations becomes especially heated when it comes to careers and jobs. We talk about how Millennials have a completely different work ethic from say, members of Generation X, but at the end of the day, but is that really true? At the end of the day, we’re all people. We prefer to make more friends than enemies, we want to be happy and we want to succeed. So, are we really that different after all?

Extending upon Adam’s argument, I think that in many ways, the whole idea of these generational differences is misleading. It seems to imply that because you’re born in a certain generation, you take on certain characteristics and you have a certain personality. Generation X’s grew up in a tougher and less wealthy world, so it’s easy to say that they’re hard workers and have a strong sense of responsibility. But that doesn’t mean that everyone born outside of this year group is lazy and thoughtless. In fact, it can be quite as easily argued that in a wealthier society, people are more competitive because they are well aware that they have the potential to achieve more. This competition drives them to work hard and to think and act responsibly to beat out all the rest, so in that sense, we’re really all the same.

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Graphs taken as screenshots from video

On one hand, there are so many different people in a generation, and the age range is pretty large. Someone who’s 30 is a Millennial, and so is an 18-year-old. A 30-year-old would have had some solid work experience and perhaps settling down to start a family, while an 18-year-old is just freshly out of high school. They would be at completely different stages of life – so how can we lump them both into one ‘generation’? As Adam mentions in his video, a Millennial could be a mother of a Millennial, which completely goes against the whole scientific idea of family generations.

I wish I had a coherent conclusion to express, but I don’t. Generations are a construct, because it’s trivially decided in what years a generation starts and ends. But there are trends that show some differences between them, for example a varying level of trust in what we see online, contrasting views on sticking to one job or exploring options. In discussing generations, I think it’s important that we understand these differences are not born out of the generation we belong to, but are the result of the varying circumstances we grow up in. A lot of arguments regarding generations are also way too absolute and unbacked in the way it classes humans into different groups, lacking the understanding that we in many ways are the same.

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“So, you’re not local, right?”

Featured image from http://www.bcaromania.org 

This is a little bit of a personal post. At university, whenever I speak to someone in Cantonese whether it’s just to strike up conversation or because we have to discuss a group project, a follow-up question is always something along the lines of “So, you’re not local right…?” I don’t blame them. My Cantonese is perfectly imperfect, and if he or she heard me speak English earlier, my lack of a Hong Kong accent would lend to the belief that I am in some shape or form connected to another country.

“But you were born overseas?” “You studied abroad? “Your parents are from somewhere else?” No, no, and no again.

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GIF from reaction.club

I studied in an international school growing up where English was the medium of instruction, and I’d always shown a larger interest in English than Chinese as a child. I loved reading, but it always took a disproportionate amount of encouragement and sweet-talking for my parents to get me to read a Chinese book.

Recently, the term ‘third culture kid’ (TCK) has gained a lot of traction. According to TCKid.com, a ‘third culture kid’ is a person who has spent a significant amount of time growing up in a culture that is not what their parents grew up with.

In a sense, I am very much a third culture kid. The music I listen to, the TV shows I watch and the books I read are all in English, originating from the US or the UK. They’re definitely not things I can speak to my parents about. But just like my parents, I grew up in Hong Kong, albeit a very different Hong Kong from what they were used to as children.

So, I don’t fit the traditional bill of a TCK. I wasn’t born in India, my father isn’t an African diplomat and haven’t lived in 8 different countries. This Buzzfeed article lists 31 signs you’re a TCK, and I can’t say I identify with many of them. But I can say this – this position I’m in is definitely not unheard of among Millennials whose way of identifying themselves will show you that you don’t have to physically be part of two different cultures to be a third culture kid.

Why?

Speaking from a Hong Kong perspective, the demand of parents for their children to receive an international school education – or at least study in an English-speaking school – contributes to this. Especially for the later-born Generation Y-ers, families are becoming wealthier, making non-local schools a viable option. Forums geared towards expatriates are full of questions about long waiting lists and fear that their children won’t be able to get a spot. While an international school education is not arguably better in any way, it almost guarantees a grasp of the English language that would surprise others who didn’t know you were educated in English – but at the expense of your Chinese skills going to shit. When you’re spending seven hours in school speaking, hearing and learning English, that afternoon Cantonese program you watch first thing after school and the few words you exchange with your parents do little to stop the fact that English is slowly and surely becoming your first language – even if the circumstance of growing up in Hong Kong didn’t intend it that way.

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Harrow International School Hong Kong; image from educationuk.org.hk

Proficiency in English opens up a world of media that our Generation X and baby boomer parents just don’t get. The dominant language of popular media is English, so it is unsurprising that proficiency in it basically allows you access to all facets of media, from K-pop songs to 90s American sitcoms. Our brains, hard-wired to figure out technology, mean we can torrent anything and everything. I’ll be honest – Limewire was a formative part of my preteen years. I know every Avril Lavigne and Hilary Duff song, but I can probably name about three local celebrities.

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GIF from theodysseyonline.com

The implication of this is that Generation Y and Z are fairly similar, in that their chances of catching on this kind-of-but-not-really TKC-ness are equally high. The middle class is getting wealthier, allowing for more access to education in the language that dominates the first world – English. The media is only getting more powerful, and we’re only getting smarter in learning how to use it to fit our interests.

I sat down to write this without really knowing where it would go, but I guess we’ve got a little bit of a conclusion here. The constant questioning of my identity as a local Hong Konger doesn’t make me feel bad about myself, but it does lead me to understand that it is a form of TCK that is common among my generation, and likely the generation after mine as well.

A Gen Y’s Response to “Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy”

Around two years ago, the article ‘Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy’ popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. Knowing that I was a member of Generation Y and wondering what ‘yuppies’ are and why they, or perhaps we, are apparently ‘unhappy’, I clicked into it and read it. At that time, I thought the article made so much sense. The use of simple graphics and easy language to argue an otherwise somewhat heavy-handed topic made for a flow that was straightforward to follow, which probably contributed to my thinking that it was one of the truest thing I’ve ever read.

The other day, it appeared again on my Facebook newsfeed. I was bored, so I clicked the link and I read it again. This time, I found myself disagreeing with many of the points raised in the article.

(I just did a quick Google search and this article has gotten pretty wildly circulated since I first read it, with reposts on The Hustle and The Huffington Post. It’s even gotten quite a few reactions, understandably from other Gen Ys, of which I will be contributing to with this blog post.)

Here are some arguments, in order of their being, well, argued, in the original article that I’d like to contend with.

  1. The definition of happiness

    To set the context for the article that’s basically focused on why Millennials are unhappy, the writer, Tim Urban, defines happiness. Fine, that’s a solid way to start.But this is the definition that Urban has set out.Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 11.41.12 PM.png

    In my opinion, this is true in the scenario that you are a high schooler who didn’t study for a big test but really should’ve. Before taking the test, your expectations are low – at best, I’ll get a 50%, you think. But the test ends up being pretty easy, and you realize you remember surprisingly more from class than you thought you did. You end up with a 70%. Since happiness = reality – expectations, happiness is a solid positive 20%, so you’re happy. Okay, fair enough.

    Except we’re not all high school students who didn’t study for a test. Most of the time, we don’t have concrete expectations. I spent five months studying abroad last summer, and just being in a new environment with new people doing new things made me happy. It wasn’t because reality exceeded my expectations. My expectations were vaguely that I would enjoy myself, and I did. Happiness isn’t an equation; it just is.

    Therefore, the assertion that Millennials are generally unhappy is unfounded. It’s merely based on the above flawed equation whereby we have higher expectations than our elders, Generation Xs and baby boomers, and therefore are unhappy when reality falls short of them.

  2. We’re delusional because we think we’re special

    Also untrue. In fact, the competition to do get good grades at school, which later translates into the competition to secure a prestigious and high-paying job, is precisely what makes us realize that we’re just not diamonds in the rough. How can we all possibly think we’re special when we know only one in the eight of us sitting in this interview room will have a chance of landing this job? Perhaps this might have some truth among the younger Millennials, but as they grow older, they will realize for better or for worse that while they might have talents that not everybody shares, they are in no way ‘better’ than everyone else.

    And while parents likely do coddle their children more, enrolling them in special interest classes because they can afford to do so and to keep up with the trend of other parents doing similarly, the article makes it sounds like parents are putting their children on a pedestal and showering them with endless praise. I don’t know what it feels like to be a parent, but just from the perspective of a human being, it’s hard to be positive and encouraging all the time. I doubt there are many parents out there who really raise their children with the mindset that they’re better than everyone and can do no wrong.

  3. We’re taunted by our peers’ presence on social media

    This third point perhaps resonates with some semblance of truth, but it’s still not quite there. We’re not stupid. We know social media is all but a facade; I mean, I wouldn’t put up a picture of me in bed by midnight on a Friday night, because I know that would make my life look boring and pathetic. Whether or not that’s true, I’m aware that I only present the side of myself I want other people seeing, and everyone does, too.

    Australian Instagram star Essena O’Neill made that pretty clear back in October 2015. Deleting most of her Instagram pictures and re-captioning the ones that remained with confessions such as ‘it took me 3 hours to put on my makeup here and the whole rest of the day to get this shot’, she announced her departure from the limelight and how she finally realized that she was living a lie.

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    Image from The Guardian

    That’s one reason why Facebook is, as titled in this article, ‘losing its edge among college-aged adults’ – because we know it’s not real life. According to the American Press Institute, almost 80% of Millennials cite ‘seeing what friends are talking about’, i.e. the news stories they’re sharing, the blogs they’re following, as the main reason they use Facebook. Just over 40% use it to ‘share content’, and the rise in the numbers paying attention to their privacy settings shows that Millennials just aren’t interested in sharing their lives on social media, likely because they know it’ll never be a true representation of themselves.

    In my opinion, Urban’s first mistake was the assertion that we’re unhappy based on an ‘equation’ of happiness that’s way oversimplified, and subsequently connecting our ‘delusion’ and vulnerability to being ‘taunted’ by social media to it. It’s a coherent and well-written article, and while the conclusion of how we should keep our ambitions and focus on ourselves instead of those around us are fair, there’s still much to contend with.

The Intern: A Mediocre Film that Relies on Generational Stereotypes

This is the trailer for 2015 film The Intern. Let’s be honest here – it’s a pretty shitty movie. The characters aren’t intriguing, the storyline is predictable, and from the list of films that the Cathay Pacific flight I was taking offered, I was regretting picking this one about a third of the way through.

What’s the movie about? Basically, 7o-year-old retired widow Ben sees an advertisement for a senior citizen internship program at a fashion start-up, applies, and gets the job.

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Image from Warner Bros

He’s assigned to be the personal assistant of Jules, the CEO of the company who’s also a mother.

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Image from Ace Show Biz

Majority of the film is set in the office of the start-up, About the Fit, so we really get to see some of the differences in the work habits among the generations. Ben is, of course, a baby boomer, and Jules is from Generation Y. Needless to say, their attitudes in the workplace are very different.

The Intern falls flat both in the eyes of general viewers and film critics (with an unimpressive score of 51% on Metacritic). I personally didn’t enjoy the movie much, because it took the stereotypes of the two generations way too far. Ben is a generic baby boomer, traditional and incredibly old-fashioned. He worked at a telephone book printing company in his day, has trouble setting up his email account and insists on suiting up for work even though he’s told a couple of times that he really doesn’t have to. Jules, though tough, is a likable boss. Although she is in charge, there’s no clear hierarchy in the company. The start-up she runs, providing customized clothes to clients and delivering them to their doorstep, is not unlike the trend of many goods-cum-service start-ups in which personalization, so everyone can feel at least a little special, is emphasized.

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Image from thewrap.com

 

If anything, at least the film demonstrates that one generation is not better than the other. Ben and Jules are both stubborn as hell characters; Ben insists on leaving the office on the dot at the end of each day, even if all his work is done and his co-workers are long gone. Jules is pressured to find another CEO for About the Fit, but has trouble letting go though she knows it would mean being able to spend much more time with her family.

I’m sure there are better movies out there that show the quirks and habits of different generations in a multi-dimensional, non-generic way. These differences are interesting because they reveal how much we as social creatures soak up the dynamics of the environment we grow up in and how hard these characteristics are to shake off. They also shed light on how the idea of a ‘desirable’ ethic has changed.

It’s a shame that The Intern isn’t able to present these differences in a more enlightening way, resorting instead to stereotypes. I’m still on the lookout for a film that does a good job with this topic and will report back when I’ve found one.

 

A Healthy Lifestyle: The Millennial Edition

There is no shortage of open-for-all events in Hong Kong meant to bring together a community with similar interests. The hundreds of yogis who made their way to West Kowloon for the IRIS: Your Escape ‘yoga day’ earlier this month showed the keen interest of Hong Kongers in attending these public events and meeting others who share their passion.

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Screenshot taken from IRIS Facebook event page

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The event was attended by hundreds that day, and the overwhelmingly large proportion of Generation Y-ers rolling open their yoga mats and assuming the dhanurasana pose begged the conclusion that no other generation has yet expressed such a strong embracing of a healthy lifestyle.

 

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Infographic made on canva.com; content from A Sweat Life, Shape and Business Insider

It’s pretty clear that Millennials are a healthy bunch, and as seen above, certain Millennial-y traits are reflected in their healthy lifestyle. Health apps and wearable fitness tech such as Nike FuelBands and Fitbits are a key part of tech-savvy Millennials’ fitness journeys, and gyms are outdated compared to spin classes and fitness celebrities’ programs with scores of ardent followers. These, compared to just going to the gym, allow for that sense of community and togetherness built upon shared interests which Millennials love.

So, it’s not just that Millennials on the whole have more interest in a healthy lifestyle. More importantly, the way in which Millennials keep to such a lifestyle is very different from their elders – and here’s how.

The first way which distinguishes the healthy living patterns of a Millennial compared to the older generations is that they like to work together. It’s interesting, because other studies show that while there’s a lot of teamwork going on in the workplace of Millennials, they in a sense prefer working independently due to their competitive drives.

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But health and fitness is a different story – maybe there’s only room for one person to be promoted to manager, but if my friend reaches her goal of running 5k under 20 minutes, it doesn’t mean I can’t too. Group activity classes are all the rage here in Hong Kong, with spin classes, trampoline fitness studios, and outdoor boot camp-style workouts such as Urban Active being popular among Millennials.

Millennials are also willing to pay for what they think will give them results. Millennials attribute a high value to fitness, and their inclination towards non-traditional, just-going-to-the-gym workouts means they shell out a lot more. One 50-minute class at XYZ, the first spin studio in Hong Kong, is $350. Compare that to the price of one-month’s use of the gyms provided by the local Leisure and Culture Services Department – just $180, or $90 for students. Public, free events like IRIS exist, but they don’t occur very regularly. Healthy snacks also don’t come cheap; they’re more expensive to make, which is reflected in their prices.

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One of the many booths at the IRIS yoga event was organic snacks shop Sow Vegan. Their zucchini walnut crackers (45 grams) is $45, and their sour cream and onion kale chips (35 grams) $55. Health food stores like Sow Vegan target younger groups – i.e. Millennials, not just because they’re healthier than others, but because they value eating right as an important part of a healthy lifestyle and hence can justify these costs. Ever heard of the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen”? That pretty much sums up Millennials’ healthy eating habits.

Following a healthy lifestyle likely began with – and is continually fueled by – social media for Millennials. Millennials have turned fitness into more than just your own personal journey. While Generation Xs and Baby Boomers might be shy in talking openly about how many pounds they’ve shed, Millennials don’t treat this topic as taboo at all. Just look at those who follow Australian Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide program. Fans, or ‘BBG girls’ tag Kayla in their transformation pictures on Instagram, and Kayla regularly reposts them on her Instagram page.

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From Instagram account @kayla_itsines

Another popular influencer is Cassey Ho of Blogilates. Known for her regular uploads of follow-along pilates workout videos on YouTube, Cassey also shares ‘workout calendars’ on her Facebook page, which encourage people to ‘do’ specific videos week after week for a full month of progress. Both paid, such as Kayla’s, and free, such as Cassey’s, tools exist in social media, and their accessibility, ease of usage and the ability to connect with others in the community make the Internet an indispensable part of the fitness journeys of many Millennials.

So, Millennials have their own take on a lot of things, including healthy living. A sense of community built upon reaching a goal together, the willingness to invest in what they deem as something that works for them and the key role of social media plays set the fitness journeys of Millennials apart from their elders, who might just have a completely different definition of what it means to be healthy.

“How Do I Turn on Facebook?” – My Aunt, 2016

Baby boomers are known for being clueless with technology. Now, some are pretty decent. They know their way around their smartphones surprisingly well, maybe just as well as you and I do. But there’s the other extreme, in which lies baby boomers who are just technologically hopeless.

My aunt is one such boomer.

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GIF from giphy.com

She got an iPhone and an iPad sometime last year, but let’s just say she hasn’t quite mastered them.

Ever since she got her new playthings, every meeting with her, without fail, will at one point see her coming up to me, iPhone in hand and a look of utter perplexion on her face. She would then proceed to ask me all the technology-related questions that have stumped her since our last meeting.

Last weekend’s dimsum lunch was no different. Here are some of the questions she asked:

  1. “I just took this picture on my iPhone. How do I save it?”

    Not quite understanding the concept that photos taken are automatically saved, my aunt was very concerned that the photos she takes just disappear into thin air. It took a lot of coaxing and explanation to dispel this thought.

  2. “Should I delete messages after I read them so that my phone does not run out of space?”

    She’s got a 32GB iPhone with no music, no videos, about 21 pictures and three extra applications that I’ve helped you download – Facebook, Candy Crush and Hay Day, a virtual farming community that is, admittedly, oddly fun. Definitely not in danger of running out of space any time soon.

  3. “How do I turn on the sound on Facebook?”

    I was pretty confused when she asked about this. Sound on Facebook? What? Facebook doesn’t have sound! Only after she clarified that she was referring to videos could I offer my invaluable expertise.

  4. “(Person here) said she added me to her contacts. But how come I can’t see her on my contacts?”

    Aw, cute. She thinks that adding someone to a contact list is like sending a Facebook request. Again, it was a lot of exasperation on my part to explain that it isn’t mutual, and that just because you have someone on your contact list means they have you on theirs.

  5. “How come I have all these pictures of random strangers on MY Facebook?”

    This was a hard one to tackle. First, I had to explain that the default screen on Facebook is not your profile, but a news feed. Then, I had to explain the concept of a news feed. After which I had to explain what tagging is, and how these strangers are not in fact strangers, but my friends who have tagged me in photos, and Facebook shows you other photos in that same album as well.

I love my aunt, but I can’t help but find humor in her misconceptions about technology. Once, when she wanted a picture of flowers as a background for her iPad, I searched ‘orchids’, her favorite flower, on Google. When the images started showing up, she was stunned, her mind unable to wrap around the fact that all these different pictures of orchids  just presented themselves in front of her. In a world where this technology is so prevalent around us that nothing quite seems to impress us anymore, the fact that things like Google Images pose a novelty to my aunt – and to many baby boomers – is refreshing.

Teaching her the ways of the 21st century is equally hilarious as it is stressful, but above all, it offers a perspective of how much this generational difference causes us to have such wildly different expectations of technology, and therefore a gap in skill level that for a moment makes me think that my aunt and I live in two different worlds.

Which Generation do I REALLY Belong to?

Just for fun, I let some online quizzes tell me which generation they think I’m from. Because, you know, the Internet is always right.

Here are the results:

USA Today: Which Generation Are You at Heart?Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 8.44.27 PM.png

I am apparently a member of Generation X by a pretty large margin – 41%, with the next highest category being only 24%! I am, however, a fresh-faced 20-year-old with little to no political interest and zero idea of who John Hughes is. (Edit – a quick Google search tells me that Hughes is the director of the Home Alone movies! See, you learn something new every day.)

Buzzfeed: So How Big of a ‘Millennial’ Stereotype Are You Really?

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This quiz was strange. It was very American, so questions like if I’ve borrowed a Netflix login (yes, I know Netflix’s come to Hong Kong, but does anyone actually use it?) and worn something from Urban Outfitters or American Apparel didn’t apply to me. According to Buzzfeed, I don’t fit the stereotype of a Millennial because I’ve never felt ‘fired up’ by *insert celebrity here*, self-identified with a character on Breaking Bad or been dumped via social media. Maybe I’m glad I don’t, then.

TIME: Which Generation Matches Your Parenting Style?

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Okay, I’m not a parent, but I’m pretty good at imagining myself in scenarios that don’t pertain to me at present (or have never pertained to me). That imagination had to stretch pretty far for that breastfeeding question, though. TIME tells me I’m a Boomer parent, which means I must have picked some of the more traditional options for the questions, which surprises me because I don’t even think my own parents were the most conventional growing up.