In Brexit Britain and Trump’s America, it’s hard for me not to feel nostalgic about what came before. I’m certainly not the only twenty-something that feels like this. Harking back to better times simply seems like a big part of millennial culture - we’ve adopted 90s fashion trends, use VHS filters on Instagram, and even resort to ‘switching off’ as a means of relaxing.
Perhaps our collective looking back in order to look forward is a desire for a bright and brilliant future; a future whereby the freedom and optimism of our childhood actually comes to fruition. It’s not that the past was perfect. In fact, the progress we’ve made in terms of gender and race equality, representation, and sustainability demonstrates that it was anything but. We are simply dissatisfied with the now.
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As a demographic, we are equal parts engaged and enraged. In the 2016 US election, according to a Pew Research Center report, 65% of millennial respondents stated they voted, compared to 55% of the general population. What’s more, outside of Westminster and Washington, millennials are the everyday changemakers. And it’s filtered down further still, with 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg and Emma Gonzales - the poster girl for the gun safety March for Our Lives movement - both firmly in the Gen Z camp. In April of this year in a speech at the Houses of Parliament, Thunberg assured her critics that “we will go back to school the moment you start listening to science and give us a future.” Oh, and, she completed a two week zero-carbon Atlantic voyage. In awe.
You only have to look at social media to see the rallying cry of millennials, who make up most of its users. Not only does it distort our reality, but it gives us hundreds of posts, read: reasons, to feel a bit meh, about everything. What’s more, it’s easy to propagate that feeling by way of virtual.
The - virtual - action speaks volumes. The news of the world mediates with more vigour on our social apps than traditional news outlets. In fact, it can often hold the world to account. Take for instance the Amazon rainforest fire; news of it blazed through social media accounts in the West calling for immediate action to be taken, due to lack of mainstream media coverage.
As the first generation to have our lives repurposed as content, we’re attuned to the fact that micro-activism - likes, shares and comments - is not only a reflection of and reaction to the world’s events, but also of our individual morality. Indeed, we have a ‘share to care’ compulsion. While this of course, helps to raise awareness, there is the argument that some people only do it to make themselves appear empathetic and engaged. But is it a facade? Does it simply make a more self-indulgent society that’s devoid of real-life action or is it actually a powerful prospect of change. I would argue the latter. Why? Because it incites optimism, and those seemingly small clicks or conversations alter the minds of the masses. They make us see that individual activists can be just as powerful as big government.