More on the “Instant” Generation

There have been a number of stories lately about the Millennial Generation, loosely defined as those young adults born between 1982 and 2004, and one author has even written a book claiming that the Millennial Generation will be the next great generation.  Let us just say that I have my doubts, but I could certainly be wrong, since that generation has another five to six decades to allay my concerns.

What I do know, however, is that a significant proportion of that generation has an enormous and largely undiagnosed problem that has gone largely unrecognized.  Oh, some of the symptoms of that problem have been widely reported, but these “symptoms” are seen as separate problems, rather than as a manifestation of a far larger problem.

One of those symptoms was reported in a four-page feature spread in The New York Times last Sunday.  It was all about a once-promising young man who ended up overusing a popular attention-deficit disorder drug [Addarall] and who ended up committing suicide at age 24.  The young man had never been diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder and clearly did not.  He had been focused as a teenager, excelled academically, and had gotten a full academic scholarship to a good but not Ivy League caliber college, where he was his college class president and played on the baseball team.  But… in college he had a tendency to procrastinate and then attempt to write papers and cram for exams at the last moment, and that tendency worsened as he progressed in college, and as he relied more and more heavily on drugs such as Addarall.  He wanted to be a doctor, but he didn’t score well enough on the MCAT exams to be accepted at top-flight medical schools. After college, and as adult, he visited doctors and convinced them that he was indeed ADHD and needed Addarall and other attention disorder drugs.  He became violent upon occasion, then paranoid, and depressed and then swore off the drugs for a brief time, which abrupt withdrawal caused even more problems and likely led to his suicide.

What does this sad story have to do with the Millennial Generation?  To me, it’s emblematic of a generation that has far too many members believing that everything can be accomplished instantly and with little real work. Real work, either physical or intellectual, requires focus and concentration… and neither are being taught or instilled to the degree necessary among the younger generation.  No…for all too many of them, it’s the mouse-click, easy button generation.  If you don’t have the self-discipline to study, take a pill to focus your concentration.  If you don’t want to do real research for that paper, use the internet the night before, doctor your plagiarized copied words, fake the references, and turn it in the next morning. If you don’t want to do the hard workouts to stand out in sports, or if they aren’t enough, try various steroids.  If a student can’t or won’t concentrate, all too often the first option is ADHD drugs. If a student, or anyone, is depressed, the first option is usually anti-depressants.

The use of ADHD drugs has become epidemic.  According to the Times, over 14 million prescriptions are filled monthly, and usage by young adults in the age range from 20 to 39 has almost tripled in the last five years.  In addition to that, over 90% of the media-reported school-related shooting incidents involve students or former students on anti-depressants.

Now… to be fair, it’s certainly not entirely their fault, perhaps even largely not their fault.  We have a media culture that extols instant celebrity and instant accomplishment…. and the parents of that generation have made it worse by insisting that an child can do anything if they just “want” it enough. You want to sing professionally?  Don’t bother with years of studying voice and music; just get on “American Idol” or “The Voice.”  You want to write the next great bestseller?  Throw it together on your computer with spell-check and grammar check; get some friends to read it; and then self-publish it as an e-book. The media and the internet are filled with ways to reach instant success.  Then add to that a generation or two of “any child can do anything” and “no child left behind” and incredible numbers of parents who believe that their child can do no wrong, not to mention educational curricula on the primary and secondary level that have become, except in a comparative handful of schools, watered down, and top it off with astounding grade inflation all the way through college and even graduate school, and you have a generation where far too many leave school with vastly inflated ideas of their own competence and often no idea of what real work requires. They also have no idea that there are many things they cannot do, no matter how much they “want” them, and no matter how hard they may try.

What all of this praise, the instant success myth, and the wanting ignore are the hard facts.  Only a few high school athletes will ever become professional athletes, and even fewer become stars.  Only a minuscule percentage of “gifted” school-age writers will ever become best-selling authors.  Medical schools have become so competitive and selective that only the truly gifted and hard-working will be accepted to the best, and even mixed A and B grades will likely disqualify most applicants – unless the A grades are in the hard sciences.

And once a young person enters a profession, it doesn’t get easier. Only a comparative handful of lawyers ever make “big bucks.”  Perhaps one in a thousand junior executives makes it to the top.  Most professional singers sing in clubs or in second or third tier performance venues, hoping to make enough just to keep singing. And for most of those who do eventually succeed in any profession, it takes years of hard and dedicated work, and more than a little concentration… not a mouse click or an instant prescription for something to improve concentration or feelings.

That message isn’t being delivered… and the failure to do so has already caused untold misery… and a toll that we haven’t even begun to count.

3 thoughts on “More on the “Instant” Generation”

  1. j says:

    I actually think the biggest generational shift happened more in the late 80s than the early 80s, even though 1982 is often cited as the transition date to the Millennials. In my experience people born in the mid 80’s still have more in common with Generation X than with the new generation. The real shift, in my view, is between those who grew up without the internet and those who can’t remember ever not having the internet.

    Grade inflation and the self-esteem movement go back further than the internet, but they’ve gotten worse every year. These kids are not to blame for what’s happening to them. It’s a broken system, bad ideas, and the adults who are forming these things that are creating the problem (and I am not referring to the teachers, who are not the cause of the problem!). The kids are being miseducated, lied to, and set up to fail when they leave school and arrive in the real world. Even the best student needs correction, needs to be taught concentration and discipline, and needs to be given an honest assessment of his capabilities and achievements. When we give them dishonest, always positive feedback and no discipline, as if they were plants and all they needed to grow was a ‘positive, nurturing environment,’ we’re setting them up for failure.

    I think it’s going to become common for older adults to criticize the Millennials. But it’s their parents’ generation that did the most to cause this.

  2. Stephen Hagelin says:

    This reminds me of something you mentioned on a Podcast with the Writing Excuses team on the subject of “Practical Fantasy.”

    Specifically the requirements for a nation to be able to field a knight or any number of them; I cannot recall the exact amount of space, feed, or currency necessary for one.

    How it applies to this is merely in the understanding that many of these great positions in any field can be compared to being a knight in a Practical Fantasy setting where not only are the resources required but there is also the need to be personally proficient enough for the position.

    So then the requirements for greatness are two-fold: Proficiency, and Resources to Supply or Support the Position.

    This means then, that even if there is an excess of Proficient people, their positions are limited by the nation’s ability to support them. When comparing the attitude of previous times to today, a person wanting to become a knight would take very seriously the amount of work and political maneuvering required to become a knight. However, today a person wanting to become a doctor or an officer in a branch of the military might not recognize that their goal requires similar expense.

    -Stephen H.

  3. KJB says:

    This description, Mr. Modesitt, of how very few are actually excellent in their chosen career/profession is so true. There used to be a time that it was okay to be “good” at your professiona nd not just excellent. But, yes, kids and young adults are told too often how excellent they are without resrevations. This message, usually false, is unfair to the recipient… There used to be a time when character was valued as much as excellence. And character still counts and, in so many instances, can help to overcome deficiencies in the degree of excellence one has… Out of about 300 kids I knew who were may age in high school, one – just one – is now famous in his field on account of his excellence. And, not surprisingly, it was apparent even then at fifteen that this kid was special. He also had the resources (smart well to-do parents) to help him develop that nascent germ of excellence.

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