Milennials in their supposed natural habitat. TEODORA PASCA/THE VARSITY

Criticisms have been pelted at the Millennial generation for years. These judgements range from trivial topics, such as hairstyles and fashion trends, to concepts as serious as moral and political beliefs. Notwithstanding their variety, such critiques tend to converge on a singular thesis: Millennials have an unnatural, unprecedented obsession with themselves. This supposed narcissism manifests in the vanity, indolence, and slacktivism that allegedly characterize the generation in all of their pursuits.

However, can one truly claim that the narcissism in the Millennial generation is more prominent or detrimental than in any other? Instead of using the scapegoat of generational egotism, we should consider Millennial behaviour as a byproduct of driving forces; we should consider the manner in which modern technology, education, and politics have shaped Millennials into who they are today.

We should consider the manner in which modern technology, education, and politics have shaped Millennials into who they are today.

One of the most cited arguments to support Millennial egocentrism is their constant use of cell phones. Yet, this argument neglects the fact that Millennials have had more access to technology throughout their lives than any previous generation. The idea of using a telephone for a personal call is outdated to many millennials because social media allows users to control their public identities, and communicate with others. This format of communication is not more narcissistic than the marathon-phone calls of young adults from previous generations; instead, it is a modern take on the same experience, simply prompted by technological advancement.

Critics also jump to condemn selfies, but once again, the culture of photography has changed. Photography no longer requires heavy equipment or developing time. Moreover, the sheer volume of storage space on electronic devices and the ease with which these images can be shared change the value of photography. Millennials use selfies to capture moments of joy and intrigue — these images can add to their recognition, both on and offline.

Basically, Millennials carve out their identities with the help of the technology in different ways from previous generations. This is not narcissism but merely an advanced form of self-expression. The value at the root of these behaviours — displaying personal identity — is familiar to all generations.

Narcissism accusations are also founded against many Millennials pursuing higher education. Unlike previous generations that went to school, got a job, worked hard, and also managed to save money in the process, the state of the current economy means that this generation can scarcely find a job with a college or university degree. For Millennials, education comes at a hefty price, must be endured for an average of four years, and still does not offer any guarantees. As such, many Millennials have decided on something that shocks the grin-and-bear-it mentality of older generations: they refuse to work in a field they do not enjoy.

This is good sense, not narcissism. To pay money for something you do not like and waste your time perfecting skills you do not care for is, frankly, a terrible return on your investment. College and university are no longer symbolic rites of passage but are ordinary, optional stepping stones to adulthood. Paying for the opportunity to work is the foundation on which society rests in 2016, but there are only so many sacrifices one can feasibly make.

What baby boomers may view as narcissistic laziness is actually a quest for fulfillment and sustainability

This is why Millennials often refuse to take unpaid internships or demand more lucrative salaries. Just last year at the University of Toronto, teaching assistants went on strike for higher wages. What baby boomers may view as narcissistic laziness is actually a quest for fulfillment and sustainability, in the phase of life where many Millennials will spend the largest portion of their lives: the workforce.

Finally, Millennials who use social media to express distress and outrage at political injustices are often considered narcissists for actions that come across as ill-informed or attention-seeking. Baby boomers cringe at the way this generation handles issues: seated in a computer chair behind a glossy laptop screen. However, many critics neglect to consider that it is this ‘backseat activism’ that allows Millennials to post and share firsthand accounts of these injustices on a massive scale. Moreover, this has prompted numerous allies to join forces with social movements they may otherwise have been ignorant to — just look at the growth in recognition for movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #TransIsBeautiful.

To define Millennials as narcissists is to misinterpret the effects technological advancements, educational culture, and current politics have had on the world. One generation should not have to perfectly reflect the previous one to earn its respect. The values that make up the Millennial generation are unique, yes, but they are not narcissistic. Rather, they are prompted by the circumstances of the world Millennials live and thrive in.

Jenisse Minott is a second-year UTM student studying Communication, Culture, Information, and Technology.

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