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.


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.

    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.

“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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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.

A Response to the Absurd Notion that Being Late Represents Admirable Optimism

Some time ago, I chanced upon an article published on online news platform Elite Daily. The article, titled “Optimistic People All Have One Thing In Common: They’re Always Late“, made me think. A lot.

The article is, in my opinion, very millennial-ly.  It defends the chronically late on the basis that they are not inconsiderate, but just “fundamentally hopeful”. The argument is that looking on the bright side of life, they believe that they can fit more tasks into a limited amount of time than others and therefore end up late when they realize they can’t.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely cannot see my mother thinking this way. This argument, in my opinion, pretty much summarizes why Generation Y, for all the self-centered behavior they both exhibit and condone, is nicknamed ‘Generation Me‘.

The article goes on to emphasize that their hopefulness reflects an innate optimism, which means they are happier, less stressed and more easygoing than their on-time friends. It even goes as far as claiming that they “don’t sweat over the small stuff”, but rather “concentrate on the big picture and see the future as full of infinite possibilities”.

(Warning – this post is a little bit of a rant.)

Excuse me? How did we get from “chronically late” to “seeing the future as full of infinite possibilities”?

The idea that those who are often late simply are this way because they think they can fit in more in the little time that they have before running out the door is absurd. Think about it. How often are you late because you were actually doing constructive?

“Sorry I’m late, I was doing the dishes, studying for my exam and tutoring a friend.” Yes, because that’s a perfectly normal sentence that we say all the time.

GIF from

I think I can speak for most of us that when we’re late, it’s because we snoozed our alarm and slept in an extra 10 minutes, was sidetracked by a funny article shared by a Facebook friend or spent longer in the shower than we needed to. These are hardly productive activities, and are in no way an excuse for being late.

According to the article, when those with a tendency for tardiness aren’t squeezing in as much productivity as possible before inevitably turning up late, they’re living in the present, unbothered by the past and unfazed by whatever awaits in the future.

Seriously? Yes, we should stop and smell the roses. It allows us to reflect, to see things in perspective, to appreciate the little things that we take for granted. But there is a time and place for everything, and that time is not 8:55 a.m. and that place is not tucked comfortably under the covers of your warm bed.

If you’re always late, you have a poor sense of time management. You have lived long enough to know approximately how long it takes for you to climb out of bed, get dressed and leave the house. If you stop thinking that your time is worth more than others’, it’s not as hard as you think.

Of course, the importance of punctuality varies. Arriving 30 minutes late to a big birthday celebration poses no significant consequence compared to being 15 minutes late to a dinner date. But chances are, if you’ve allowed yourself to get comfortable with turning up late when you think your punctuality doesn’t matter, you won’t be on time when it actually does.

I am in no way perfect when it comes to punctuality. 9 a.m. classes are a struggle, especially when I’ve been up late finishing an assignment – an assignment I should have started earlier, but didn’t, because I’ll admit that I don’t always manage my time well. I’m working on it, and so should those who are often late, instead of embracing this habit as something positive.

On the occasions that I am five, 10 or – God forbid – 15 minutes late, I would never attribute my lateness to being “fundamentally hopeful”, and therefore more optimistic, stop-and-smell-the-roses, happy-go-lucky than my punctual friends. I misjudged my time, and I’ll be honest about it.

There is a fine line between living in the moment and being an inconsiderate jerk.

Don’t walk that line.

If Each Generation were a Billboard Top 100 Song…

… What would they be?

Baby Boomers – 7 Years (Lukas Graham)

Lukas Graham sounds like a wise, reflective grandfatherly figure who’s lived a full life. He’s that grandfather who always manages to pin you down and spill his life story, and it’s admittedly God damn interesting. Lyrics like ” I don’t believe in failure, ’cause I know the smallest voice they can make it major” and “I’m still learning about life” is a testament to the perseverance of this generation who’s had it tough.


Generation X – When We Were Young (Adele)

Stop it, Adele. Stop having the voice of an angel and stop drowning us in the pool of tears we didn’t even know our tear ducts had the capacity to produce.

Image from 9Gag

Seriously, though. When We Were Young is a nostalgic tune with a chord progression that would be the perfect soundtrack to every story that begins with ‘back in the day…’.


Generation Y – Stressed Out (twenty one pilots)

“We used to play pretend, give each other different names,
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away,
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face,
Saying, “Wake up, you need to make money.”

The Instagram posts are picture-perfect, the Snapchat stories see us living in the moment, but that’s far from reality. This song may be uptempo and catchy, but its lyrics really do tell a different story.


Generation Z – Work (Rihanna feat. Drake)

Ending this blog entry on a lighter note, this song represents Generation Z in that we have no idea what Rihanna is trying to say. Dur dur dur… nir nir nir…?! Between all the ‘on fleeks’ and ‘on points’, my 13-year-old cousin may be hard to decipher, but at least there is some level of comprehension among us.