It’s extremely common nowadays for millennials to lament that they were born in the wrong generation; that they wish they came of age in some past decade when the music was better and the technology was simpler.
Browse through the music or fashion-related videos on YouTube, and sooner or later you’ll have seen dozens of comments along the lines of “I’m 14 and I was born in the wrong generation.” From Pink Floyd to pompadours, the phrase comes up over and over again.
However, these yearnings are extremely shortsighted; they fail to take into account so much about the times we live in that have improved quality of life tenfold.
The legitimate concern of cost of living
One legitimate concern to the ‘wrong generation’ dilemma that hardly comes up: our rapidly inflated cost of living. Recent surveys indicate that 48 percent of Americans believe millennials will have to face more serious financial difficulties than their parents. Millennials may be the first generation to earn less than their predecessors over their lifetimes. Only 23 percent believe young people could hope for a better standard of living with regard to concerns over job security, homeownership, and retirement finances.
Graduates and high-earners are the most pessimistic. Almost 60 percent of graduates believe young people will have a worse standard of living than their parents, and a similar number of high-earners feel the same. Low-income earners are less pessimistic, but still notably so, with 44 percent believing that the future will be more economically difficult than the past.
Nostalgic for a time they never existed
Millennials with retro tastes in music express longing to be able to see long-dead artists perform live, or to follow their favorite band’s escalation to fame in real time. They wish so much to have been alive to see the people, performers and things they fetishize about past decades. Conversely, the saying is also used as a pejorative to express discontent with the quality and format of contemporary entertainment popularized by other millennials.
But when people say these things, they aren’t considering the full implications of living in the past. The sentiment is overly dramatic and hopelessly naive. Quality of life has never been at a higher level for a greater percentage of the human population.
Malaria deaths have fallen globally by more than 50 percent in the last 15 years and continue to fall due to increased awareness and aid funding. Many endemic diseases such as Ebola and guinea worm disease are on the way to being eradicated. Child mortality worldwide was the lowest ever in 2016, lower than any other year of record, which is indicative of better health care across the board. Literacy rates are increasing worldwide, and the literacy gender gap is steadily shrinking. The rate of personal bankruptcies is down in the U.S. and has fallen every year since 2010. Global poverty also has fallen with more than 200 million fewer people living in absolute poverty than five years ago.
Technology has advanced at an astonishing rate in our time and continues to do so. Smartphones, broadband internet, and video chatting are bringing people together in ways that were impossibly futuristic to previous generations. Our generation has grown up with the first generation of home media such as VHS and DVD and has come of age in time to experience the rise of streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu, a library of media reaching decades into the past, accessible at the click of a mouse.
In a way, the ‘wrong generation’ ennui experienced by millennials is a luxury brought about by the prevalence of online streaming such as Youtube and Netflix, which give us faster and easier access to previous generations’ media than they had to their own predecessors. Kids in the 70s couldn’t have fed a longing for a 40s aesthetic and music unless they sought it out at secondhand shops and record stores, but now we can stream all the 50s music, art and movies we like to our personal computers in seconds.
Not only would millennials not want to shed the conveniences of modern tech given the opportunity, but were they to, they would lose their impetus to do so.
Viewing the past through rose-colored glasses
When we remember the past, we tend to pick and choose the elements that we want to focus on, like music or cultural movements or dance crazes. Nobody nostalgic for the ’80s pines for living in the heart of the AIDS epidemic. Nobody who yearns for the aesthetic of the antebellum south is nostalgic for having a life expectancy of 37.
Additionally, the discrimination and harmful stereotyping that has hounded mistreated social groups and sexual/racial minorities for much of history have only just begun to wear down. When people think about living in another generation, they think about experiencing it from the best socio-political circumstances, which is missing the forest for the trees. It’s always great to experience life at the top of the socio-political pyramid, but few people ever do, and their experiences aren’t reflective of what it’s like to live in that period.
While contemporary times may feel like something of a raging dumpster fire to some, it’s important to remember that quality of life has never been better across the board for a greater cross-section of humanity.
Daydreaming about seeing your favorite band perform live in their prime or living in a time period when your favorite things were on-trend is an idyllic, yet dangerously short-sighted, idea. We have our share of generational problems, but ultimately our version of the world is arguably the best version ever available for humans to live in.
And ultimately, these things come in cycles. It’s only a matter of time until the next generation of youth swears that they were born in the wrong generation and wishes they could have seen Beyonce perform live in her prime.
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