A good friend of mine asked me to think about what it means to be a millennial, to be part of this generation which came of age after 2000.
The timing is important. In a way, you could say that we have a new religion.
It’s as if the God of the few (Jehovah) has been replaced by the God of all (Jesus).
The God of the few was
- the God of prosperity,
- the God of material consumerism,
- a God who appealed to the Western world by promising a good, comfortable life surrounded by various appliances.
At the turn of the millennium, the God of the few was superseded (mostly through the Internet) by the God of everybody.
The God of the Old Testament is different from Jesus by being
- more parochial,
- more oriented to the precise material needs (for a land) of the Jewish people,
- more attuned to what they need in terms of their contract, the Covenant, the Promised Land.
Jesus (the new God) appears to be more spiritual:
- incarnate (of course),
- dying on the cross (yes),
- but ultimately not of this world (“my kingdom is not of this world” John 18:36).
After 2000, the God of the millennial generation demands that you pursue your desires in a different realm.
You did not need to be Jewish to join Christ and now you do not need to be American (or part of the Western world). That is to say, you do not need to be born into this world of riches and prosperity to join the new religion.
You only need to show interest in processing all that is produced across the world for anonymous somebodies.
You join this new religion by starting to consume with the rest;
- you do not stop at buying things, material objects (such as an iPhone, a new TV set or some pills to help you lose weight),
- but you also buy into the idea of acquiring intangible products (ebooks, movies, games, membership into virtual communities) whereby you consume something which does not have shape or mass.
This (in itself) is not new:
People have been spending money on movies and music before, but now it’s available in your room. You could reasonably say it is actually in your ears and on the screen in your hands.
- It’s not just that Amazon delivers to your room that piece of equipment which promises to make your abdomen look like a body-builder’s.
- Amazon also delivers things for you to consume even if they don’t really have substance.
Nonetheless, these things still provide
- a feeling of prosperity,
- a feeling of pleasure.
The secret of the millennials is that we live in a mass-culture in which we don’t feel that we’re part of a mass-culture.
Of course people still go to the cinemas and sporting events and music concerts where you watch something together with thousands and thousands of others, but the great majority of people who watch movies or listen to music do so in the privacy of their apartments, houses, rooms… headphone-compounds.
You have a mass-consumerist culture in which the consumer feels individually special.
- You can drool in front of your computer over I don’t know what fantasy produced by somebody, without needing to worry about how those around you might judge you.
- However, even in the most carried-away moments in a stadium or in a cinema, at some level you’re still aware that you’re in a crowd: At the very least you had to think about how to dress before going to this place.
Even spiritually speaking, going to the church or the temple seems to be now available within the four walls of your room. Buy the tape or the DVD (self-help)
- made especially for you individually,
- marketed for a group of people called the “insecure”.
That’s the millennial generation. It’s a generation full of paradox, of mixed feelings, since
- you’re feeling special
- while rationally knowing yourself to be part of a faceless mass of people.
The natural inclination (then) is to join that class of producers of these intangible things: to be a film director, to be a marketing manager, to be a product designer, who spends time thinking about, polishing and devising a product.
Nowadays this occurs within the constraints of a system in which the number of consumers is (potentially) huge because the needs are not as commonsensical and as intuitive as they used to be.
Needs are created.
Remember Steve Jobs and his famous dictum that “people don’t know what they want”.
This means that
- the degree of competition is extremely high and
- the variety of products is extremely high.
Going back to the millennials: Who are the millennials?
The millennials are those for which the new God is not One.
Maybe in the Old Testament the need was for One and the recognition was that there can only be One, but for those who came of age after 2000 the need is for Many (things to consume).
The millennials are caught in a dilemma:
- To consume more you need to be a successful producer,
- but in order to be a successful producer, you need to spend less time consuming and more time thinking about what you could produce.
How much can you produce? Well, it depends on how much you consume.
Are there any (realistic) limits to how much you can consume (now)? No. Not anymore.
Now we have a system
- where the balance is lost between producers and consumers,
- in which hardcore consumers can no longer envision themselves as producers,
- in which the producers need to worry about the backlash coming from a mass of consumers who can no longer recognise themselves as human.
No balance because we spend too much time taking in and almost no time putting something out.
If humanity is to survive, the system needs readjustment to encourage more producers than consumers.
How do we do that? I don’t know.