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Let me tell you what I think: What defines our generation?

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No one ever said getting older was easy. God knows Cher never did.

The Backstreet Boys are now The Backstreet Middle-Aged Men, Justin Timberlake has been replaced by Justin Bieber, Furby is considered passé yet still creepy, and the Spice Girls have all had “spice boys and girls” of their own.

As these former `90s pop culture phenoms are relegated to “Remember when?” status, continually replaced by the newest thing to hit the market, and deemed beloved relics of our childhood, I can’t help but to wonder, what defines our generation?

With names like “The Greatest Generation,” “Baby Boomers,” “Flower Power Generation” and “Generation X” floating around, where do we fit in?

Our generation seems to have more names than Diddy. Monikers for those born loosely between the late 1970s and early 1990s are: the Baby Boomlets, the Boomerang Generation, Generation Y, the Millennial Generation, iGeneration and Google Generation.

Most experts agree that the most defining characteristic of our generation is the pervasive ubiquity and reliance on technology.

Dr. Larry Rosen, author of the Mental Health Technology Bible said about Generation Y, “Technology just is for them. It’s part of every aspect of their lives.”

We’re connected at almost every time of the day whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter, texting or emails. But with this constant connectivity and influx of technology comes the question, how do we as Generation Y primarily use this powerful resource?

“Young people use it for entertainment. The whole flash mob thing illustrates two things: It’s telling you that you have this technology, but you can also use this technology to do something cute where everyone dances together,” UMKC professor Ricardo Marte said. “We don’t get those messages that we can use technology for empowerment; we can use it for entertainment.”

One of the most popular ways to connect is through Facebook, with more than 750 million worldwide users who spend 700 billion minutes using it each month. But are we really connected?

“If you think it’s about casting a wide net, then what is a friend? Is it someone who posts something about Farmville that you’re going to ignore, or is it someone who informs you about a surgery they had, or their deepest fears or desires?” Marte said. “What does it mean to have 1,000 friends?”

I’m not saying Facebook is evil; in fact, I’m a chronic status updater. It’s just that if we’re going to be defined by our rampant use of technology, you wonder if it could be used more meaningfully.

The Arab Spring in the Middle East has shown us that it can.

“First, Facebook and elsewhere online is where people saw and shared horrifying videos and photographs of state brutality that inspired them to rebel,” Rebecca J. Rosen associate editor for The Atlantic wrote. “Second, these sites are where people found out the basic logistics of the protests — where to go and when to show up.”

In the Arab Spring, social media was used to further a revolution.

The protesters took innovation and combined it with passion and a cause worth dying for, and took what had been used to define them to create their own definition.

Across the ocean here at home, are there no more causes? Are there no more reasons to unite and make a change? Well, people are still starving and dying, and bigotry and hate still exist, so I would say no. So what’s stopping us?

“I think people do help in bits and pieces, it’s just not as organized. I don’t think they’ve found a big cause because I think they’re waiting for something big to happen,” Marte said. “Kind of reminds me of the John Mayer song, ‘Waiting for the world to change.’ Right now we’re being the thermometer and not the thermostat.”

I’m not saying everyone has to give up their lives and join the Peace Corps, and I know too many wonderful young people to ever feel hopeless about our generation. I believe that when so much is made possible through technology, and that capability has been used to define us, for a generation with so many names, I’d rather be known as the generation that made the world better.

tsheffield@unews.com

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1 COMMENT

  1. This generation has never attended school without the dark cloud of school shootings hanging over their heads. Whether it would be fear of fellow students or fear of outsider attackers, these millennials went to school knowing that it was a place where someone might do them harm.

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