In her book aptly named Generation Me, Jean Twenge explains how the current generation, also known as iGenerations, Generation Y, the Millenials, or in her book’s case, Generation Me (GenMe) has placed individualism over anything else.
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In the first part of her book, Twenge indicates that the focus on individualism in GenMe is a product of demographic and cultural influences that have taught young people to place more importance on the self. The writer dedicates the second half of the book to exploring the consequences of individualism as seen in GenMe members.
This essay agrees with the propositions presented by Twenge. The essay observes that the consequences of individualism have largely worsened the values of the current generation through self-seeking behaviors that have little or no room for collective society value.
The consequences of individualism are indicated below:
Increased self-assuredness and less attention to others
The first consequence, which perhaps draws attention to the root cause of individualism in GenMe, is the inclination for GenMe members to believe in self while caring less about what other people think of them. As would be expected, people who do not care what others think of them do not, in turn, spend time caring about the actions or behaviors of others.
The belief that “there is no single right way to live” makes the self-seeking tendencies even more likely because it reduces the urge for GenMe members to learn from others (Twenge 19). Closely related to the concept of not caring about what others think of a person, is the inclination for individuals to have less empathy towards others.
As would be expected, a generation whose members focus mainly on the self would have little or no time to focus and attend to the need of others. Such is the nature of the current society where narcissism is arguably on the increase.
Reduced etiquette levels
Another consequence of individualism relates to the reduction of “respect for other people’s comfort” (Twenge 26). Since GenMe members were born into a society that had started breaking the rules of etiquette, (Twenge 24) argues that they learned to take standards and rules for granted.
The foregoing argument means that GenMe members are less likely to be law-abiding compared to the Baby Boomers generation that came before them. Their disregard for rules and standards makes them more likely to engage in acts such as cheating (especially in school).
Additionally, their respect for authority and/or experts is low, and they are more inclined to use profane language. Moreover, it would appear that societal taboos that were previously upheld in areas such as dating and marriage, and exposing oneself to others in explicit detail, are no longer applicable to GenMe members.
As a result, it is considered normal for people in the generation to cohabit outside marriage, and even when they marry, they have succeeded in redefining the meaning of marriage (e.g. through same-sex marriages). The increased use of social media among GenMe members means that they can share explicit details about their lives, not only with their friends but also with strangers.
This could be interpreted to mean that although GenMe members insist that other people’s opinion of them does not matter, they are a more inclined shape other people’s opinion of them through the multiple social media avenues.
Even more interesting is the reshaping of religion by GenMe members as described by (Twenge 34). Noting that church attendance has been on a steady decline for more than half a century, Twenge observes that GenMe compensates for their failure to attend church (or organized religion) by individualizing their belief systems.
Unlike the past where people had been socialized to accept religious teachings as absolute truths with no room for questioning the same, GenMe members chose to shape their beliefs whichever way they consider best. For example, they can believe in Christianity but still question some of the events documented in the Bible.
Such an approach to religion has consequences on the moral authority that religious institutions have on society. The individualized approach to religion is according to (Twenge 35) perpetuated by scholars, opinion leaders, and preachers, who underscore the importance of accepting oneself and not pursuing “other people’s approval” because “God accepts us unconditionally, and in His view, we are all precious and priceless”.
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Growing up in a culture where the emphasis was on the importance of feeling good about oneself regardless of whether one’s performance was good or not, (Twenge 56-57) observes that GenMe members have been conditioned to believe that performance is inferior to one’s feelings. In other words, one’s performance does not really define who they are.
Consequently, suboptimal performance is a likely outcome, especially in areas where the GenMe members do not have the internal drive to perform. Notably, however, GenMe members are likely to perform beyond expectations in areas that interest them.
Interest aside, the environment where they work needs to be flexible enough to accommodate their varying perceptions and approaches to life. For example, industries in the technology sector have successfully tapped into the potential of the GenMe members by giving them the freedom to dress and work whichever way they please; the only condition given by such companies is that employees must finish work within deadlines.
Increased acceptance of equality and diversity
Because GenMe members are less likely to believe in (or uphold) moral absolutes, they are more accommodating and open-minded to diversity (Twenge 181). GenMe members have departed from social rules that emphasized economic, gender and racial divisions among other negative values that undermined some groups.
By so doing, the subject generation has facilitated equality to take root in most societies. For example, women can now attend schools, take jobs, and perform equal tasks to those performed by their male counterparts. Additionally, race, religion, and nationality are no longer viewed as predictors of one’s capacity to perform specific duties.
A more anxious and depressed society
Although GenMe members have experienced relatively more economic prosperity, peace, and harmony in their generation, (Twenge 105-107) observes that they paradoxically register high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression compared to the baby boomers.
Among the likely reasons why anxiety and depression are prevalent among members of Gen, I am that the independence and self-sufficiency notions created by individualism often culminate in loneliness. Additionally, the focus on self has made GenMe members pursuers of material things, in an era which has registered higher costs of living. (Twenge 120)
For example notes that while “it was once possible to support a family on one middle-class or even working-class income”, the same is not true in the prevailing economic conditions. The foregoing observation can be interpreted to mean that what GenMe members expect from life is often at odds with the economic reality of the day.
Declined collective action for or against policies
Finally, Twenge (140-141) indicates that the individualistic GenMe pays no or little attention to society, the world, and politics. Declining interests in social and political affairs are evident in the reduced voter participation (compared to baby boomers), and the distrust than young people have in governments.
Twenge, therefore, argues that it is likely that the notion of collective action in support or against policy issues will continue declining in the future. Arguably, such a decline in collective actions can explain why most young people do not take labor unions membership and would instead prefer to negotiate pay and other work-related conditions through individual bargaining agreements.
As indicated in the introductory part of this essay, individualism informs most of the decisions made by GenMe members. The focus on self has thus shaped individuals’ perception of themselves as being superior to others, and this has led to a disenfranchised society, where collectivism and the power that emanates from collective action appears to be dwindling.
On a positive side, however, it would appear that individualism has created the environment necessary for equality and diversity to take root in society. Additionally, some industries have successfully utilized the self-seeking nature of GenMe members to facilitate optimal performance in workplaces.
Considering that most of the consequences indicated in this essay are negative, one would assume that society may in the future try to correct itself by embracing collectivism. Whether the preceding change will happen, however, depends on whether GenMe members will be dissatisfied with individualism, enough to champion the need for a collective lifestyle in the future.
Twenge, Jean M. Generation Me. New York: Free Press (Simon & Schuster), 2006. Print.