It’s been 43 years since The Who stuttered and sneered about their generation, claiming that they’d rather die before getting old. However, in those last four decades, the approximately 78 million baby boomers born in the United States between 1946 and 1964 have created a new generation that is coming of age: Generation Y. Describing themselves as lazy, apathetic, materialistic, idealistic and fast-paced with a love for instant gratification, Generation Y students have many thoughts about what has shaped their generation and ultimately how they will be remembered.
American Demographics defines Generation Y as being born between the years of 1977 and 1994 with a number around 71 million. This makes Generation Y three times larger than Generation X, as well as more than 25 percent of today’s population. Generation Y is the largest generation since the baby boomers. They are known as “the bridgers,” since they were born in the 20th century, but will reach maturity during the 21st century.
The members of this generation are a direct reflection on the numerous and profound changes in daily American life within the past couple decades. The first to grow up with computers at home and school, Generation Y has also experienced events like 9/11 and 1999’s Columbine massacre. They were also introduced to reality television and cell phones and exposed to various celebrity scandals, such as the Clinton impeachment and the O.J. Simpson trial.
As the first generation with easy access to the Internet, members of Generation Y have grown up in a socially and politically turbulent era full of media bombardment. Some Youngstown State University students said this exposure to such a plethora of information has led to an intelligent and technologically savvy generation with many ideas and more opportunities than previous age groups.
In an almost unanimous response from students, technology is what has most affected Generation Y. Also known as the “Net Generation,” Generation Y has grown up surrounded by technology in a digitally-driven world.
In a survey of 7,705 U.S. college students conducted for the 2007 book “Connecting to the Net Generation,” 97 percent of students own a computer, 94 percent own a cell phone, 76 percent use Instant Messaging, 75 percent have a Facebook account and 60 percent own some type of portable media device like an iPod. Because of this, Generation Y has the access and ability to communicate in many ways.
Junior Nick Serra also cited the Internet, free mass media and the “world at our fingertips” as some of the greatest influences on this generation, and noted that this technological inclination could perhaps have a positive effect on the future.
“Seeing as how our opinions can be made public worldwide in a matter of seconds, I’d hope that our thoughts and actions can make a difference faster than other generations. I don’t know if we’ve had any effect yet, but there’s a good possibility.”
YSU history professor David Simonelli said although it is too early to tell about the impact Generation Y will have on the world, technology and communication will likely play a large role.
“Previous generations’ tastes, ideas, politics and choices had an increasing impact on Western culture with radio, TV and movies. Today, due to the reaches of communications technology and the Internet, Generation Y reaches out across world culture,” Simonelli said, adding that this generation is particularly obsessed with pop culture and the media.
Senior Stephen Flask said this generation has more potential than those previous, but said, “We may be known as the generation who trusted the media more than each other.”
Students said this attitude relates closely to Generation Y’s presumed apathy and laziness. Junior Ricky Robbins said this generation is lazier than past generations.
“We rely on microwaves, Google, computers, SparkNotes and so many other things we use as crutches,” Robbins said.
Darryl Alexander, junior, said Generation Y is a “standstill generation,” while freshman Carolyn Baer agreed, adding that she is not sure that this generation will actually accomplish much in its members’ lifetimes. There is a lot of laziness in the current generation, Baer said, adding that she also sees it in herself.
“There are many things that should have made us more motivated, such as the war, gas prices and the current election, but it seems as though these things have made us more apathetic,” Baer said. “I feel that we are all looking for stability in this changing world as many other generations have been before us, but we are less proactive about solutions.”
Although students named alternative energy sources, medical progress, technological advances and a better economy as objectives for their lifetime, some are hesitant to tout the effectiveness of Generation Y.
“We don’t have a clear purpose for ourselves,” said freshman Chelsea Sinchak. “We make short term goals to solve the problems now.”
Flask also said this generation has ideas, but no true direction.
“This is from a lack of responsible leadership from parents, teachers and politicians, both Democrats and Republicans,” Flask said. “They have made us unsure and too willing to accept anything different, regardless of consequences.”
However, junior Tina Emanuel said she believes in this generation and said in the future, members of Generation Y will “work to improve the conditions of society.”
“We are a generation of change and progressive movement,” Emanuel said. “In these days, a lot is falling apart in the world and our generation will initiate the improvements. I am a firm believer of this.”
Simonelli also said this generation is “politically aware, though no more or less involved than previous generations, whatever previous generations might say.” However, he said Generation Y is “no different from any other” and noted that events matter in history, not generations.
“A generation is finished as a major motivating cultural force after the age of 25; just look at the baby boomers who vote conservative Republican now after marching in the streets in the `60s,” Simonelli said. “Adult and family responsibility dulls the sharpest edges of generational divisions.”
Facts, Figures and the Future, an e-publication about consumer data, states 25 percent of Generation Y is non-white, making it the most diverse generation ever. Several students said their generation will be the first to elect a female or African-American president, but also that they were more accepting of other races and sexual preferences.
Senior Kara Smith said Generation Y will be remembered for being open-minded to various sexual orientations, mainly because “there is a wider acceptance of it now and more people are openly admitting to it.”
Kyle Everett, sophomore, added that Generation Y has made much more progress than any other generation in the past “in terms of tolerance.”
Freshman Kathleen Fleming said this acceptance and equality is perhaps due in part to wanting something better for the next generation. She called Generation Y responsible for either saving the world or destroying it.
Tina Fennell, baby boomer and mother of a YSU student, said she has high hopes for Generation Y.
“This is the generation of my children,” Fennell said. “They’re just the same as my generation in wanting to find their own way in life that is different from their parents.