Millennials search for
answers, but word of
the year is ‘selfie’
First Lady Michelle Obama is seen in this “selfie” with her dog Bo.
SOME WISE ACADEMICS revealed the totally unshocking news on Sunday that the young men and women coming of age since the Great Recession are seeking more than material success in life.
We are told in The New York Times that those struggling to gain a foothold in these brutal times are not obsessed with money and career. They are not the most “self-absorbed generation ever.”
Meanwhile, just a few days previously, no lesser authority than the Oxford English Dictionaries anointed “selfie” as the word of the year for 2013.
Perhaps we need to adjust the focus a bit. They can’t both be right.
NOT JUST THE current crop of newly minted adults has been accused of placing material goods above all others. Who could forget Madonna’s 1980s smash hit “Material Girl” or Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko saying “greed is good” in the classic “Wall Street?”
Supposedly all the mad shopping over Black Friday and beyond to the Yule once made many “happy.” And it was this pursuit of happiness that was supposedly the be all and end all of life.
But the authors of the thoughtful and insightful Millennial Searchers tell us the definition of happiness itself is undergoing a metamorphosis.
The Oxford English Dictionary’s announcement of the word of the year for 2013: “selfie.” Click image to enlarge.
“Millennials appear to be more interested in living lives defined by meaning than by what some would call happiness,” write Emily Esfahani Smith And Jennifer L. Aaker, both of whom have impeccable credentials. “They report being less focused on financial success than they are on making a difference.”
The research appears to show that the definition of “success” is going beyond money. “The No. 1 factor that young adults ages 21 to 31 wanted in a successful career was a sense of meaning,” we learn.
They go further, defining this as: “People who lead meaningful lives feel connected to others, to work, to a life purpose, and to the world itself.”
Ahh. There is that feeling of “connectedness,” perhaps a fitting epitaph for our times.
We explored this a few weeks ago in
Alone together: How the vast interconnected world keeps is apart and it comes to mind now because there are two states of “connectedness,” it seems: one real, one imaginary.
The one we imagine is epitomized by the word “selfie.”
For the uninitiated, the Oxford dictionary defines it as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”
In its announcement The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013 is… we are told the reason for the selection:
“It seems like everyone who is anyone has posted a selfie somewhere on the Internet. If it is good enough for the Obamas or The Pope, then it is good enough for Word of the Year.”
Indeed, even First Lady Michelle Obama took and published a “selfie” of herself and “first dog” Bo. It caused quite a stir.
Michelle Obama is seen, camera in hand, taking her “selfie.” Click image to enlarge.
In the Oxford’s exposition on the history of the word, we learn that “usage of it didn’t become widespread until the second decade of this century and it has only entered really common use in the past year or so.”
This can only be viewed as the apex of narcissism. We are all so self-absorbed that we vainly believe our most important means of attaining happiness and meaning is by publishing self-portraits for the world to see how wonderful we are.
Here’s the dichotomy writ large: the “connectedness” the millennials – and, in fact, every generation that is now always online, always connected – seek in life is not the chimera it appears on line.
The authors of The New York Times article do a good job of defining the real connectedness: it is having “more concern for others and less interest in material goods.”
This concern for others is what adds meaning to life, whether one is a twenty-something or sixty-something. It may rise and fall in popularity with the current economic conditions and technological advances, but it is a constant.
The real connectedness we seek can only be attained when we make a difference – for others. That is why I have chosen the dual careers of journalism and teaching: both have it as their core goal.
Journalism is, of course, making a difference for many; inside the classroom, a teacher is – hopefully – making a difference for the few who can and wish to benefit.
It is profoundly satisfying to know that one’s work has made a difference, whether it be for the many or the few.
Indeed, that is a worthy life goal, the essence of what one could call a life well lived. I have faith the twenty-somethings of this world are learning the right lesson. It was reinforced by my reading of the Sunday paper.
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