Let Me Google That: A Millennial Reflects on Her Generation


[1] Who are the Millennials, variously known as Generation Y, the “Uh-Ohs”, the Plugged In, or the Zoned out? Millennials are those born from about 1981 through the early 2000’s. Millennials are conscientious, wanting to excel. We are scheduled within an inch of a minute. Our parents’ opinions impact us deeply. We value our privacy, but want our tweets and opinions to be very public. The later part of my generation grew up the ‘safest’, with parents using anti-bacterial products of every kind, booster seats, and play structures made of safe materials and playgrounds paved with rubber amalgamates for easier stumbling. I had good parents who knew it was probably ok if I ate my share of dirt and skinned my share of knees.

Annelise Eeman [2] The Millennial generation is constantly plugged in. I sleep with my cell phone within arm’s length of my bed. I might classify a trans-Atlantic flight with no music as cruel and unusual punishment. When lacking in information, my generation types a query into a smart phone, computer, or tablet and has an answer in seconds. However, a Google search fails to turn up satisfactory answers to more serious questions like, “How can we be responsible adults, raising conscientious, kind and generous children?”, or “How can we secure jobs relevant to our degrees that pay enough to live comfortably and pay student loans?” In many instances, information is no replacement for knowledge and wisdom. Having scores of information at our fingertips creates an amplified sense of anxiety when we do not know the answers.

[3] Like previous generations, Millennials have the greatest anxiety regarding the unknown, but in a different way. Milestones or markers of success for other generations no longer provide the certainties they did thirty years ago.

[4] To illustrate this, I offer a metaphor. When a storm rages around an anchored boat, a wise sailor pulls up anchor. This seems counter intuitive, as one would want to remain still and rooted to wait out a storm. Without knowledge and experience, one acts intuitively and the boat is destroyed in the storm. Millennials do not have the same anchor points or markers of success their parents did. Economic worries of student loan debt and investments are most pressing. Political polarization and scenes of rising neighborhood violence unsettle many. These are major sources of anxiety. However, hope is found in putting in place new anchor points and rebuilding some old ones.

The Economic Situation
[5] Economic woes are the foremost concerns in several ways, from student debt and jobs, to investments, and the delaying of life decisions.

[6] The state of the economy is the most publicized woe. Student loan debt is synonymous with the millennial generation. The necessity of a college degree requires many to take out immense loans. Student loan debt currently is over $1 trillion dollars. Tuition rates are exponentially higher than the rate of inflation. According to a recent Forbes Magazine article, “since 1985, the overall consumer price index has risen 115% while the college education inflation rate has risen nearly 500%.”[1] However this rise in tuition costs does not match the number of available jobs, nor does the level of pay allow for the loans taken out today to be paid off in a reasonable timeframe. The national average for student loan debt is $26,682.[2] For Millennials, that’s a new car, a down payment on a house, or according to Minneapolis averages, over two years of rent.[3]

[7] Even upon graduation, finding a job in a relevant career field that pays well enough to live above the poverty line and make loan payments seems to be very difficult. A friend of mine graduated this year from a private Lutheran college, one of the top sixty schools in the country. He is currently working three part time jobs to cover the cost of rent, food, gas and student loan payments. He has so far been unable to find a full time job, and currently has no health insurance.

[8] Trying to keep one’s financial boat from sinking is one of the more anxiety producing and terrifying prospects in a country that places such incredible emphasis on material wealth. Material wealth defined success. It used to be that certain investments, certain anchor points, were safe, like purchasing a house. However, this is no longer an anchor point or marker of success for Millennials. The ‘must have’ items of this generation are not the same as for previous generations.

[9] Investments that were thought to be failsafe are no longer so. Homeownership is one such investment. Property values plummeted while incomes and loan payments remained the same. In a meeting I attended this summer, with approximately twenty-five other young adults under thirty, homeownership was a hot topic of discussion. Some expressed their worries about investing, while others had decided against home ownership entirely, opting to rent. It seemed a safer option than hoping that property values would hold steady.

Changing Definition of Success
[10] For my parents, homeownership was constitutive of the “American dream”. In this same meeting of young adults, a young woman addressed her understanding in the shift of the definition of success and the fulfillment of the “American dream”. She outlined how the old dream used to be a job, a house, a spouse, two and a half kids and a dog. Now, she seems uncertain about what success means. Economic uncertainty meant delaying her decision to have children because there was not enough certainty in her employment future to take such a financial risk. The American dream-liner is no longer sailing in still and tropical harbors. This leads in to other anxieties and fears about rising neighborhood violence.


[11] Perhaps it is economic pressures leading to desperation; maybe it’s a sense of community in gang life. For a variety of reasons, urban violence is troubling to Millennials. Some wonder if it is a byproduct of growing up in a 24/7 all news and information culture or if violence is truly increasing. Yet, Chicago violence is ever present. While attending school in the Chicago-land area and working in Park Ridge, Illinois over the summer, the city experienced one of the bloodiest summers in decades. 152 people were murdered in the Chicago-land area from June through August 2012. For the young people at this meeting, this was very, very troubling. While the economic situation seems grim, the rise in urban and suburban violence is ominous. Many expressed memories of their childhood, playing in front yards, or even in the street. Now, this is no longer a reality Millennial parents in the room consider. Given the need to pay off loans and work steady jobs, affordable housing is not always possible in the best of neighborhoods. As a result, the children of many Millennials play indoors, and those who do not yet have children state their anxiety over letting children play outdoors. This demonstrates an awareness of a changing world, pushing Millennials to change alongside it. The Millennial world is in flux, and similar to previous generations, this one is just trying to muddle through.

[12] Millennials muddle through together, though. It seems every six months, a new mobile device comes out. Suddenly your brand new, top of the line smart phone with all the bells and whistles that everyone had six months ago is now utterly obsolete. The demand for such devices is at an all-time high. This stems from a desire to be connected: to one another, to the world, to information. Because of this, various articles have labeled Millennial as the “plugged in” generation, criticized for being checked out and socially inept in face to face encounters. While there is some foundation for the criticism, Millennials are to some degree more connected to each other than ever before, but passively so. Reading status updates on Facebook or Twitter is a way to keep in touch without actually having a conversation. I’ve maintained an awareness of what my high school friends are doing, despite having not actually talked with several of them since graduation. Out of my own 1,067 Facebook friends, I actually talk with upwards of seven on a daily basis, maybe fifteen on a weekly basis, and the rest, rarely if at all. Millennials want to be aware of who’s doing what, seeing what, and dating whom. It’s a way to be in the loop without being involved. Social media shifts the medium for communication, but it also creates a sense of unity.

[13] Economic difficulties delay major life decisions. There is great anxiety and uncertainty over what is to come in the next decade. The definition of success has changed. Millennials are investing in intangibles: experiences and education. The one tangible obsession of this generation is technology. The latest and greatest gadget, gizmo and app are the must have’s. A desire to be connected drives this generation. In this the desire, Millennials are not without hope. While devoid of many old anchor points, this generation holds together through tweets, instagrams, texts and Google. Millennials are more passively involved in each other’s lives because of the proliferation of social media. Knowledge in this generation comes from a blending of the wisdom of previous generations and cutting edge innovation. While there can be no true replacement for experience, this generation tries, and trusts the experiences of one another more than other generations. While old anchor points are shifting, this generation is more at ease to Google search “How to survive a storm in a boat”, identify a consensus, pull up anchor and ride out the tempest, excited to see what shore comes next, and hoping that whatever land is found, will be good.

Annelise Eeman is a 2012 graduate of Northwestern University, Evanston, IL and currently a student at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. In addition, she is a member of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics Advisory Council.

[1] Odland, Steve. "College Costs Out Of Control." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 24 Mar. 2012. Web. 21 Oct. 2012. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/steveodland/2012/03/24/college-costs-are-soaring/>.

[2] Works, Equal Justice. "Learn Who's Affected By Rising Student Debt." US News. U.S.News & World Report, 17 Oct. 2012. Web. 21 Oct. 2012. <http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/student-loan-ranger/2012/10/17/learn-whos-affected-by-rising-student-debt>

[3] Brennan, Morgan. "The Best And Worst Cities For Renters." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 14 June 2012. Web. 21 Oct. 2012. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/morganbrennan/2012/06/14/the-best-and-worst-cities-for-renters-2/>.



© January/February 2013
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 13, Issue 1