Why millennials are the new online dinosaurs

Those born between 1980 and 1996 are already past their sell-by-date. Generation Z is now in charge, but it too will be swept away soon by the Alphas. We are all past it, or will be in about one minute

No one from Gen Z would take a selfie holding the camera above their eyes.
No one from Gen Z would take a selfie holding the camera above their eyes.Brian Finke (Gallery Stock)

Millennials. Even typing that word takes one back to 2012. Pampered by sociologists and marketing gurus, the generation born between 1980 and 1996 is now the object of ridicule on TikTok, where the latest generational battle is being waged. The millennial pause (#MillennialPause) is among the latest sendups. Those who are now 20 make videos imitating the bewilderment of a 30- or 40-year-old millennial in front of the camera. They press play and simulate a pause before starting to speak. Those two seconds, they say, give them away. A genuine Z knows that the TikTok camera is always rolling. But all millennials pause, even Taylor Swift. Making fun of millennials and their efforts not to look like millennials is a whole category of content on TikTok.

Generation Z is totally abreast of age-revealing behavior, which includes posting stories on Instagram and having the lyrics of a song show up – don’t millennials know how to hide them? Or using GIFs to make jokes. Or starting videos with images of idyllic landscapes, taking a selfie from above, ordering your social media bio in the form of a list, making puns in Instagram captions, making faces at the camera, constantly talking about yourself, overacting and dramatizing every incident (Generation Z consider themselves to be much more chilled). TikTok parodies, including tutorials on how to avoid being caught in a millennial gesture, mark the end of an era. A meme of The Golden Girls is circulating among the victims, with the line: “This is me on TikTok.”

“I recognize them on WhatsApp when the word ‘typing’ appears on the screen; two minutes go by and they’re still at it,” says Jaime Villarroel, born in 2002. “What are they going to send me, a letter? When the message finally arrives, there is not a comma or a capital letter out of place; there is no abbreviation. They write a WhatsApp as if it were an e-mail.” For Generation Z, the period at the end of a sentence is an unmistakable sign of having been born in the 20th century.

Is the internet accelerating our irrelevance? Is the relentless succession of generational labels – X, millennials, Z, alpha – shortening our minute of glory, of being sociologically desirable? Oriol Bartomeus, a professor of political science at Barcelona’s Autonomous University, points out that there is no single valid way of categorizing social groups. “There’s the Pew Research Center model, which concludes that a generation is born every 15 or 20 years, or the more classical Ortega y Gasset theory, which counts a generational leap every 30 years,” he says. “Or even a more flexible model that argues that generations emerge after profound historical changes, which would imply that they would vary according to country.”

I recognize them on WhatsApp when the word ‘typing’ appears on the screen; two minutes go by and they’re still at it
Jaime Villarroel, born in 2002

“In any case, there is not one generation per decade,” Bartomeus points out. “The process tends to be slower. The excessive fragmentation has more to do with consumption patterns and the need for those in marketing to create new consumer profiles, rather than academia. This classification has permeated social discourse, but it does not follow demographic criteria.”

The original definition of millennials, coined by William Strauss and Neil Howe in 1987, did not resonate widely at the time – until it was appropriated by marketing departments. According to Google Trends, searches for the term started to appear gradually in 2005, peaking in 2013. Then, everyone was googling to find out if they were a millennial or not.

“The perception of age has been distorted by certain benchmarks of success that you’re supposed to have achieved at certain times in your life, like having kids or buying a house,” Devon Price, a psychologist and professor at Loyola University Chicago, tells EL PAÍS. “It’s always been that way, but you used to compare yourself to your social group; now you can compare yourself to anyone and everyone on social networks.”

Price accepts that generational fragmentation can be useful for marketing personnel, but adds, “This excessive segmentation falls apart when we have more similarities than differences. As a millennial, I share many frustrations with Generation Z. We’ve both arrived in a broken world where traditional patterns of success are impossible to achieve. I’m not sure these generational pseudo-divisions mean much.”

A crowd is shocked when a member of Gen Z classifies Pretty Woman as vintage cinema, or when TikTok praises Selena Gomez for aging well. The Queen of Aging, they call her at 28. These are two indications of how our social pace has accelerated. “Everything is fast and volatile, nothing seems destined to last long: not fashion, not news, not even corporate results,” says Bartomeus. “It’s another tempo. The result is an altered human being, in constant tension, who gets bored when things aren’t happening.”

Whether you’re Generation X, millennial or a lucky Gen Z is of no consequence. You’ll never be anything for long. Like a yoghurt, your shelf life is about to expire. That would appear to wrap up the spirit of our age.

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