snowflakes, don’t melt away…

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The British predilection for queuing is well known and, unlike our once absolute adherence to international law, remains universally respected. It’s not only a sign of manners but an indication of our endearing patience, of how we can clear our heads of clutter, think of very little, quietly stand in line and obediently await our turn. However, next time you’re in one, have a good look around and see what you notice? Everyone’s on some device or other, speaking, listening, watching or being ordered about. Everyone’s addicted to instant stimulation and is searching for the next hit.

The irony is, however, no-one looks particularly happy about it, especially the group all this stimulation is aimed at, the Millennials. In ‘Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation’ social commentator Anne Helen Petersen examines the stimulation-addiction phenomena within her own kind and admits they’ve all forgotten how to switch-off and let their minds wander, explore and play; to metaphorically lie back and think of England.

When was the last time you simply sat in silence contemplating your own navel? And how long did it last before hitting the next podcast, scrolling through Instagram, responding to the latest unnecessary email or updating your FB profile? Burnout is identified as a symptom of feeling overworked and undervalued, of being asked for too much but granted too little in return, and, whilst it isn’t obviously limited to those born between ’81 and ’96, Petersen confidently argues this generation bears the brunt of economic, social and political decisions made by their generation X parents and baby-booming senior citizens. And its stressing the poor souls out!

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the latter lived, unwittingly, within a golden age of workplace protection, employment opportunity and social mobility but to imply we then intentionally dismantled the whole framework is a tad rich. Not being able to do right for doing wrong, the author critically highlights the steering of our offspring towards ‘concerted cultivation’ – extracurricular activities specifically aimed at their betterment and enrichment, including the likes of tennis, golf, choral singing and debating – as pastimes that would shoe-horn them into sharp-elbowed grammar schools and later stand them in good stead for the white-collared professions that awaited. Whilst trying to do our best we developed a warped attitude to leisure-time within our millennial children and they came to see no difference between work and play. We blurred the lines and like a scene out of ‘Trading Places’ everything gained a Machiavellian undercurrent.

Following the financial crash of 2008, millennials graduated, with crippling student debt and unyielding parental expectation, into the worst job market in living memory. Furthermore, the communication tools we foisted on them to make their lives both easier, more fulfilling and productive have proved to be their undoing. The holy grail of being digitally connected is uniquely aggravating in that the more social media feels compulsory, the more like work it becomes, and the less freedom you ultimately have. Each click promises redemption but delivers merely unrestorative frustration.

Fast forward to the current pandemic and they’re still living under the conditions of a perfect storm, only, where life and work was sh*tty and precarious before, now it more sh*tty and more precarious. Sorry. Far from being the fickle, feckless snowflakes you’re often portrayed as being, I genuinely feel for you. But at least you can console yourself with a handicap in the low-teens and a sliced first-serve to die for. Probably.