Millennials. Even typing that word takes you back to 2012. The generation born between 1980 and 1996, pampered by sociologists and marketing gurus, is now mocked on TikTok, the site of the latest generational battle. The millennial pause (MillennialPause) is the penultimate derision. Those who are now 20 years old make videos imitating the bewilderment of a 30 or 40-year-old millennial on camera. They hit play and simulate a pause before starting to speak. Those two seconds, they say, give away the impostors. A genuine zeta, born recording himself, knows that the TikTok camera always works. The perplexity of the zetas comes from verifying that even Taylor Swift makes the pause of shame. Making fun of millennials and her efforts to not look like one is a whole category of content on TikTok.
Gen Z has well-documented age-betraying behaviors in their domains. Namely: post stories on Instagram and let the lyrics of the songs come out, do you not know how to hide them? Use GIFs to make jokes in 2022! Start the videos with images of idyllic landscapes. Take a selfie by placing the camera above your eyes. Sort the biography in social networks in the form of a list. Play puns in Instagram captions. Make faces and make eyes at the camera. Constantly talking about themselves, overreacting, and dramatizing every act of life (Gen Z considers themselves much more sober). TikTok parodies, which include tutorials on how to avoid getting caught in a millennial gesture, mark the end of an era. Among the victims circulates a meme of The Golden Girls that warns:
“I recognize them on WhatsApp when ‘writing’ appears on the screen, two minutes go by and they keep writing. What are they going to send me? A letter? When the message finally arrives, there is not a comma or a capital letter missing, there is no abbreviation. They write a whatsapp as if it were an e-mail”, says Jaime Villarroel, born in 2002. For generation Z, the full stop is an unequivocal sign of having been born in the 20th century.
Is the internet making us expire faster? Is the succession of generational labels: X, millennials, Z, alpha…, shortening our moment of glory and the time in which we are sociologically desirable? Oriol Bartomeus, Professor of Political Science at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, points out that there is no single valid way of counting social groups. “Depending on the researchers, the Pew Research Center model can be considered, which concludes that every 15 or 20 years a generation is born, or the more classic theory of Ortega y Gasset, which counts a generation gap every 30 years. Or even a less strict model that maintains that generations arise after profound historical changes, which would imply that they would not be the same between countries”. For this,
“In any case, the process is usually slower. There is not one generation per decade, the excess of segmentation has more to do with consumption patterns and with the need of marketing, and not of the academy, to create new consumer profiles. This classification has permeated social discourse, but it does not follow demographic criteria”, says Bartomeu.
The very original definition of millennials, formulated in 1987 by William Strauss and Neil Howe, did not have much resonance at the time. Probably until a marketing department took it over. According to Google Trends, searches for the term began quietly in 2005 and peaked in 2013. So everyone googled to find out if it was or not.
“The perception of our age has been distorted by certain benchmarks of success that one is supposed to have achieved at certain ages, such as having children or buying a house. It has always been like this, but before you used to compare yourself with your social group; now you can do it with each and every one of the users of a social network, ”says Devon Price, a psychologist and professor at Loyola University in Chicago, via email.
Price agrees that generational segmentation can be helpful to marketers, but argues, “This excessive segmentation falls apart when we have more similarities than differences. As a millennial, I share many frustrations with my Gen Z siblings. We have both arrived in a broken world where traditional patterns of success are impossible to achieve. I’m not sure those pseudo-generational divides have any meaning.”
A crowd is shocked when a zeta classifies Pretty Woman as vintage cinema, or when TikTok praises the good aging of Selena Gomez. Queen of Aging, they call her at 28 years old. These are two symptoms of the acceleration of the social rhythm. “Everything is fast and volatile, nothing seems destined to last very long: not fashion, not news, not even corporate results. There is another time. The result is a disturbed human being, in constant tension, who gets bored when things don’t happen”, says Bartomeus.
Be you Gen X, Millennial or lucky Zeta. Does not matter. It will never be anything for long. Old, always about to expire like a yogurt. That and no other is the spirit of our times.