The Tragic Millennial

Chris Salvemini
7 min readApr 13, 2018
An envious, yet supportive, millennial encourages the next generation to do what they themselves failed to.

The day starts with a wailing smartphone, brought to the forefront of daily life by millennials. For this generation, the alarm signals a day that will be spent looking at memes on social media, or studying, or working in jobs they hate, and for a select few it will involve all these things; fewer still look forward to the day ahead.

However different they are from each other; no millennial wakes asking for whom the bell tolls. They already know.

Millennials pioneered a new online world, so they already know what it has to offer. While they can’t claim to have built the infrastructure that the world now runs on, they can claim to be the ones that put it to use and to be the ones that popularized new platforms. From the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, it was millennials who demonstrated to untapped power behind then-relatively-new digital infrastructure to organize and impact the offline world.

Grassroots organization, crowdsourcing for contemporary arts and innovation, and the murder of industries nationwide are all hallmarks of the millennial pioneers who helped make society what it is now, just as the world is being adopted by the next generation.

The next generation takes its first steps into a new digital world, marching farther than their parents could have ever hoped to.

Yet still, the chapter on millennial accomplishments is tiny compared to forebears. The Silent Generation transformed the Great Depression into one of the most robust economies on the world stage at the time, the Boomers inherited that economy to propel social and political revolution through its hippies who rejected the values of their parents and sought a better nation, and Generation X up until the Millennials connected the world by developing digital infrastructure and adopting it in business settings.

Comparing millennials to other generations is like comparing a Chihuahua to a Pitbull; the question is not what have millennials done, but what could they do?

They are the products of a baby bust, in the shadow of a baby boom. From the onset it was expected millennials, despite their exceptionally fewer numbers, would carry the Boomers into old age — literally by funding social security systems, and figuratively.

They grew up in the age of terror, when an upswing of patriotism bombarded them with old-nation rhetoric against new global outlooks. Boomers made their grandchildren the battlefield between rising globalist sympathies and nationalistic pride; they tasked millennials to integrate old-world ideology with the new digital world.

The quasi-Thoreau notions of self-reliance, large-scale reverence of capitalist forces, valuing self before others, and other increasingly traditionally American values were expected to be transported by the children learning how to use their first iPhones into a world that emphasized cooperation before competition, empathy before selfishness, and communication before action.

The internet was the first and last obstacle to carrying out this task. By its own interconnected structure, the online world destroys the independent outlook of the old one.

Unable to carry incompatible values into a new world, and lacking the ability to rebel like the Boomers during their youth simply due to the Boomer’s overwhelming numbers, the millennial story is a tragedy. From birth they were expected to accomplish the impossible and had to face that inherent inadequacy early on, developing from it.

With failure embedded in their being, millennial hatred is inevitable. Hated from birth, Millennials had no reason not to challenge their parents. They planted the seeds of dissent, ideas, and cultures that are just starting to sprout in the new generation, as seen in the March for Our Lives. Only, millennial activism was not as blatant as what is seen now.

There is no millennial Summer of Love, and modern iterations of American, massive revolt can be claimed by Generation-Z rather than their forebears. The closest millennials have come to expressing themselves have been in the failed Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements.

These movements, performed by a generation with failure and inadequacy woven into its very nature, were doomed from the start. They were large-scale demonstrations of the internet’s power to organize, but also of its simultaneous, inherent fluidity and with those two aspects on display, millennials exposed the internet’s inherent instability.

These movements were lost in the internet’s rapid fluidity, as millennials should understand. To explore the internet is to explore the unknown, to boldly go where no man has gone before, and millennials are stuck on the digital frontier. They make up Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and early adopters alike; it is not in millennial DNA to settle into a digital lifestyle.

Millennials are the misunderstood pioneers of our digital lives — demonstrated most clearly in one of the few purely millennial inventions: the selfie.

Without the concrete sense of belonging-in-the-world given to their ancestors through physical, tangible communities; millennials were the first to discover the digital realm. The internet was empty then, little more than databases and numbers serving brutally dull, capitalistic purposes; people could connect in an instant across the world but could only speak in numbers.

This purely business-minded internet was the first force to begin eroding the physical community that traditionally provided people a sense of belonging. It demonstrated the ability of the internet to strip people of their humanity — millennials saw the first inklings of an artless society, sacrificed for postmodern business interests.

Recognizing this atrocity, millennials flocked to freer digital spaces, crowding chat rooms in search of a place where new ideologies could flourish which could potentially save them.

Pioneers seek nothing more than to know they are not alone, and the surest way to know that is to find marks of other explorers online, and to leave marks themselves. Millennials sought to make their marks on the new world in the hopes that someone else would see them and relate.

So, millennials invented the selfie as a means demonstrating their own existence, in the hopes others would do the same. They are expressions of a generation tasked with the impossible, and who only ever sought, but were denied, a generational identity.

Selfies are not a manifestation of millennial narcissism and self-importance, but rather a shout into the online void, “do you see me?”

A tragic millennial bellows into the void, hoping it will yell back.

Rather than the overt expressions against the status quo that provided other generations their identities and clearly marked their impacts on the world, millennials found a much subtler and effective method of expression.

Their explorations into the digital unknown, marked by selfies, provided them an opportunity to make the new world free of the brutal ideologies in the old. They founded new ground for new things to flourish, and we are seeing those new things just begin to blossom today.

The cost of this was for all millennial expression became insubordination as they fled from their birthright — a world controlled by American exceptionalism. If millennials had conformed to the expectations of their parents and spoke the language of numbers to people half a world away, there is no doubt American ideology would be ever more powerful than it is now.

Instead, the millennials made their mark on the world by refusing to carry out their mission, refusing to carry over the old values into the new digital world, and instead protecting the new world from that ideology.

The articles that circulated years ago about how millennials were killing malls, jewelry stores, and raising the avocado business were mere symptoms of a deeper destruction: that of the traditional American consciousness. Recognizing that the old ideals would only lead to an early end for the internet, millennials sacrificed their own opportunity to leave a legacy of power so as to ensure the old values did not find a place in the modern world.

Millennials destroyed their ideological inheritance for the sake of the next generation and were left with nothing but blame.

Malls closed across America failed not because millennials thought online shopping was better, but because malls were expressions of American consumerism which millennials sought to remove from a new digital world. Jewelry stores closed because they are expressions of western greed and opulence, since diamonds and other jewelry are artificially expensive expressions of wealth. Avocado sales rose because the fruit is an exemplar of globalized trade and health consciousness, which that did not belong in the fast-food consumerism of the time.

Millennials sought to end the world they were born into, so they could create a cradle for the next generation to build a new one. The legacy of millennials is destruction, but not of petty jewelry industries and malls but of the forces and beliefs that led to and supported their existences in the first place, so that the next generation could build taller than their parents.

And due to this, the millennial will be a tragic figure in history. Overshadowed by their parents and abandoned when they failed to conform to their parents’ expectations, millennials sacrificed themselves and their opportunity to make a mark on the world so that they could be overshadowed by their children as well.