Ahead of Youth Day, we celebrate five things that define us

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Illustrations: Kobie Nieuwoudt

Mainstream media defines Millennials as selfie-loving, narcissistic, layabouts; a generational stereotype that’s all about doing Buzzfeed quizzes, having sex via an app and self-identifying as a "brand". This is probably why mainstream media is in such a bad way, as the biggest and most powerful group since the Baby Boomers eschew traditional media for conversations they’d rather engage in.  

The best bit? Despite being on the wrong side of 30, I’m a millennial, too! The first, in fact – entering preschool the year the term was coined, 1987, to describe those who would graduate in Y2K, to use the parlance of our time. Sure, as the most marketed-to generation of all time we’re as bored as you are of rad-dad ad-men telling us what and who we are: “Wait, Daniel, replace the Polar Bear’s cigarette with a vape pipe! And while you’re at it, change the guitar to DJ decks because you obviously can’t play the guitar while riding a hoverboard, bruh.” That's why, in celebration of Generation Me I’ve used my first-mover advantage to come up with a list of traits that define a generation more confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open-to-change than any of those who came before us. That list was then turned into illustrated gifs because, you know, tl;dr… Here are five ways to know you’re a millennial.


We are a generation raised by helicopter-parents hovering over our every bowel movement and constantly telling us that we’re all such unique little snowflakes that we can become anything we set our hearts to. In order to separate ourselves from the other blogger-slash-photographer-slash-foodtruckers we either get piercings and tattoos, adhere to strict diet and workout regimes, get colourful hairstyles, dress in out there fashion, or embrace the other multiple modes of self-expression that we then show off on our various social networking platforms in order to let others know that we are original. Just like everyone else. #septum #builtnotbought #healthyselfie #ink #teamfollowback


Well what else would you expect from a generation who grew up on Encarta CD-Rom discs filled with 5000+ articles, images and sounds, and a dial-up modem for when we needed to dig really deep? We may not be as familiar with the Dewey Decimal System as the generation before us, but we make up for this where in a single scroll of Twitter feed we can take in as much content as what would’ve previously required four months of wedgies while spending time between the AV Club and the library. Because of this deluge of data, millennials are on track to become the most educated generation in Western history. There’s also been a mind shift: we’re weary of Leary’s “turn on, tune in, drop out” mantra and educational achievement is now cool. We’ve realised that studying is crucial to achieving success in life – so much so, in fact, that we’ll put ourselves into crippling debt for that flat cap, cape and certificate combo (and, because that shouldn't be the case, #FeesMustFall). And then because we’re smarter and would rather self-educate about spirituality than take instruction, we only go to church for weddings, and when we do, we celebrate people having the right to marry the same sex or a different race and all that’s left now is for us to be allowed to smoke weed at the reception. #legalise #420  


Because we’re so smart we know that it’s better to try and remain children for as long as possible, as these are the best years of our lives and adulting is hard. Putting more emphasis on education means that we’re delaying typical rites of passage like getting married and having kids. After seeing how our parents worked jobs that they hated while married to people that they hated, we’d rather choose our career and a person to grow old with when we’re ready, thankyouverymuch. That’s if we’re ever ready, because growing old is really just a frame of mind and why should another birthday put an end to us learning new things, doing new things, doing new people, going to different places and partying? As long as we moisturise, drink green juices, buy flash sneakers and avoid corduroy, we can extend our youth well into our late thirties. And we'll have the selfies to prove it. 


Generation X’s reverse-charge-call has been replaced by the please-call-me. Post Offices are simply clubs for old people to go stand in line and talk to other old people. We don’t write letters to our pen pal in Kenya now that we’re able to keep in constant contact with the entire African diaspora online. However, for all the leapfrogging that’s been made in telecommunication we’re terrified of phone calls, which we’d rather leave to go to voicemail, where we explicitly instruct callers not to leave a message, eventually replying to the follow up text with a string of carefully selected emojis. Likewise we’re haunted by blue-ticks on Whatsapp and whether it’s actually ok to use words like on-fleek, swag and lol unironically. Catchphrases are cool though, and we’ve curated classics from the shows we stream – winter is coming – shows from our youth – You can’t sit with us – and obscure shows that only those from our tribe would ever understand – algebraic! Meanwhile the written word is now texted and being truncated to a list of acronyms. And while we’re losing vowels, replacing s’s with z’s and A’s with traingles and U's with V's we’re adopting the patois of rappers who have 17 different words for cough syrup but investment acumen that stops at grills. What a time to be alive.


And that’s because instead of following the lead of those who came before us, we’ve carved our own niche and are living our best lives on our own terms. A lot of us choose not to drive because cars are expensive and drinking and driving is stupid and all that carbon dioxide is killing the planet. Also, for the amount of money you’d spend on an entry level car you could buy a sweet fixie bicycle, a longboard, a loaded MyCiti card and a couple of Ubers with the change. Some of our friends still have cars anyways, which means that like music and movies, lifts are free, too. We Instagram our meals for posterity and to intensify the FOMO of those who couldn’t be there to break bread with us. Not that we eat bread, because gluten. But that’s about the only thing we’re intolerant of, as we really are a compassionate bunch. There’s not even any shame in a selfie, even if it did take us the better part of an hour to post #wokeuplikethis. And that’s just because we refuse to settle for anything but the best, demanding the best with everything we do, not least the workplace, where we’ll jump ship until we find a healthy work-life balance. That’s if we even go into the office, as freelance life is what we aspire to and thanks to technology we’re able to fuse our lives with our gadgets and work on the go. Personal pronouns? Hah! Gender fluidity is where it’s at. Our most defining trait, however, is a socially conscious mindset where we can clearly see that there are problems in the world and that it’s up to us to change them. Some of us may still be too young to vote, but that doesn’t matter, we’re an imaginative bunch and will simply hide our parents’ ID books. Or we’ll just take to social media and post our thoughts there. The revolution will not be televised – it'll arrive via your timeline, complete with a hashtag. Or maybe just a cute Snapchat filter?