As a young Millennial, I feel I’ve grown up on the path recently worn by the wheels of change. I was born in 1991, a year when we saw the rising of the Celtic Tiger, the Church was beginning to publicly show flaws & the Irish State was finally starting to stand on its own two feet and catch up with the modern world. My childhood was full of question marks, over family status, religion and sexuality. Not necessarily for me myself, but for those around and close to me. In this article, I’ll explore the core pillars of a Millennials’ foundation and what prominent factors have shaped many of us within this generation bracket in Ireland and how they’ve left us feeling.
The legalisation of divorce in 1995 meant that the average Millennials’ childhood was the first where divorced partnerships and shared custody was seen as a somewhat normal part of society. I would guess that around 30% of my close friends’ families have split in two. For them as children and many of us as friends, this caused confusion over a series of topics:
Simple childish realisations like these are what shaped the grassroots of our understanding over how the world worked. Previous generations had a simpler family structure. You married at a relatively young age (my parents were 23), had children young, often didn’t consider family planning. And no matter how much your relationship suffered or weakened, you got on with it - not for yourselves but for your children, your religion and in certain circumstances, your reputation. Growing up where divorced/spilt families were becoming an everyday part of Irish life demonstrated that the most important thing in life is to be happy, even if it means backing out of a lifelong commitment and challenging the status quo. Marriage is still a step your average Millennial would like to take, just not right now… there’s too much to do and see before we settle down.
Just as I was being educated on the existence of God and his teachings, stories of failings of the Catholic Church were beginning to be whispered, if not published. Looking back, I can see the dramatic change in Irish peoples’ attitudes towards the Church as I advanced from childhood, through puberty and into adulthood. Mass on Sunday was sacred when I was growing up, usually attended after playing for your local football/rugby team. By the time I was 16, my family’s insistence on attending had become more casual. You’d miss the odd mass, then maybe only make one every month, until you get to the stage I’m at now; only attending for important ceremonies, Easter, Christmas or funerals. I’m still very much a proud Catholic, and still believe in faith and prayer. But I find it difficult spiritually and socially to commit myself to weekly sermons, particularly when the standard priest on the altar these days is a defensive 85 year old who feels the need to protect himself and the Church as often as possible. I, and any of my friends who haven’t lost their faith, are probably prime examples of the term “Catholicism A La Carte”. We are the Popes’ children when we want to be, but tend to decide when/when not to join in on the rules, commitments and commandments. As a generation we aren’t afraid to step away from tradition and break or bend the rules for ourselves. Sometimes even, we make our own.
Sexuality is something which Ireland has shone the limelight on recently, with the famous Yes Vote campaign. I suppose I’m lucky enough that I’ve never truly witnessed oppressive, aggressive or cruel behaviour towards gay people in Ireland. Personally, homosexuality was never a strange concept. I have a family member and best friend who are both gay and I never looked at them differently as people. The only special treatment they get is a little over-protection from our friends – although it strikes me that these vocal individuals don’t need any help fighting their own battles! Despite attending Catholic schools throughout my entire education before college, I was never taught that homosexuality was wrong, perhaps more so that it was awkward. Which is fair; it’s only in recent years that people don’t gawk at two men holding hands going down the street, or don’t judge two women embracing in public. We as Millennials seem to be the first generation who as a majority don’t awkwardly ignore the different sexuality of a person, or shy away from it in a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of common agreement. Sexuality and its complicated nature is very much either celebrated or simply accepted, with no second thoughts. Through this it can be seen that we as a group are open to change, diversity and again, doing/being whatever makes you happiest. We have shown that we take great pride in not being afraid to show who we truly are, and encourage people everywhere to be your best self.
As the common phrase goes, the world gets smaller every day. Social media has become possibly the biggest influencer in many Millennials’ lives. Apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram offer themselves as channels for what we all stereotypically want… acceptance. It offers us a voice to a wider audience, to connect with people who share our passions and interests. Social media subconsciously instructs Millennials on what/who to love or hate, which product to purchase and where to visit. I find it interesting that while social media was born with the intention of giving us all an individual voice to shout out to the wider world, the majority of users choose not to speak, but rather listen and be told what the right opinion is, not develop one ourselves. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not the kind of person who shuns or challenges social media - I have every major platform on my phone. I embrace communicating to my friends all over the world. Whether it’s Whatsapping the friend down the road, Snapchatting my friend living in Phuket or FaceTiming family friends in Toronto. As a Millennial who has grown alongside this technology, not only is my world smaller but it seems my life is being made easier.
Social media has changed the way we look at emigration and travel. Currently, out of my core group of friends, I have:
3 in California
3 in New York
3 in Texas
1 in South Africa
1 in Thailand
2 in Australia
Those figures represent just the guys I was close with in school, I could be here all day trying to count the people you know from different social circles who have left our island. Some of these guys have left for travel experience, others for jobs.
My own cousin went to Australia to live a number of years ago, and it leaves the family with a sense of sadness and emptiness for sure. But let’s compare this exodus to how it played out for previous generations; there’s no waving them goodbye at the docks with the fear of never seeing their faces ever again, counting the days until we got a letter from where they’ve settled, dreaming that one day we will visit and embrace them. Emigration has become far more relaxed than that. Although as upsetting as departure is, the hole which they left can be substantially filled thanks to modern communication. When my best friend moved to Sardinia for a year, it was difficult; thinking what life would be like not seeing him nearly every day, or chatting to him regularly. Within hours of him touching down in the Mediterranean we were Skyping into the early hours of the morning. You adjust to having them there not in body, but on a screen. Another example is for one of my closest friends also living abroad, this time in Phuket, Thailand. Every morning when I wake up for work, the first things I see are Snapchats of him going about his daily life teaching, watching a Man United game on the TV or out drinking til dawn in a run-down city bar. You begin to feel closer to them and part of their journey. Several more of my friends are moving to the US this coming September (by now I’m convinced that I am definitely the problem) but I’m comfortable with knowing that they are only a few finger taps away from me for a chat, and that with little cost I can visit them or they can return safely.
Which brings me to my final chapter on Millennials. We have a deep hunger for travel. Now I know you can say everyone has that hunger, but never before have so many people had the opportunity to travel the globe and for such little cost. I think Inbetweeners looks at us with a lot of envy in this area. Just when travelling was becoming more affordable, most Inbetweeners were settling down or having children. Millennials have few commitments compared to previous generations; we are less inclined to marry young and less committed to our jobs. Statistically, a Millennial only stays in each job for around 18 months. Most of us take a year or two out of work/education to see the world and create adventures of our own. Not only is it affordable today, but it is heavily promoted through social media, inspiring stories and even corporations who are looking for strong life experience. Right now as I’ve written this, I’ve searched for a return flight to Beijing next month and it’s comes in at €500. Travelling and exploration has become an important ritual to a Millennial growing up, and will continue to affect the age at which we eventually settle down and give full focus to our career paths.
It’s a fantastic and exciting time for Millennials everywhere. The world is there for us to use, play with or shape in almost any way we want. We are a generation of changers and movers who adapt to the reconstructions or reformations of societal norms and expectations. Predicting our next move, our next retweet or our next destination is close to impossible. Ultimately, we will achieve what all generations before us have, but maybe in a different way. We will advance with the world, and tinker with it as we go along. However, the real question is not just how much we will change, but perhaps how much we can change the world.
Simon Killeen is Account Manager
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