The problem with “The Problem With Generation Y and Millennials” – A response to Jason Calacanis

I told myself a while ago that I would pay close attention to what Jason Calacanis said; the guy’s as close to tech as you can get and he’s got his brain in lots of different pies. Now, unfortunately, he occasionally offers opinion in some of the pies that he has no business talking about. By “occasionally”, of course, I mean “always”. That’s not a reason to stop reading him, mind you. The last major example, and there are many, was his rant (read: hissy fit) about the “Middle East” and other geopolitical realities that he understands merely by dint of being the Tesla Roadster’s most high-profile cheerleader.

I’ve written before about Calacanis’ misguided attitudes online, especially in regards to the way that he spends his money, and I know that I’m not alone in criticizing him. Normally, I would just bitch to a few other techie friends, but this time it’s personal. Here’s a section of a Calacanis Rant (we should trademark them) where he describes Millennials as  generation whose members have “never lost in their lives”:

I am 26.5 years old. Do I count myself as a Millennial? Yes. I’ve blogged about Millennials and the internet before; it’s something that’s important to me. If blog posts can take the temperature of my generation, I would swear for half of the time that Gen Y is the most selfish, self-involved, and low-achieving group ever; and for the other half that Gen Y is the last, best hope for mankind. Which is it? I’m inclined to think that it’s a mix of both. Jason Calacanis, who is 39 years old and thus not a Millennial, is not of the same mind. He says that we’ve never lost, that we are in fact losers, and that all the great dreams that we have are junk because we are morally and spiritually and imaginationally bankrupt. Watch the video again – his sputtering is positively 19th-century.

Here’s a few observations about Gen Y that he may have missed while he was raking in cash and offering free iPads for new followers (http://twitter.com/Jason/status/11647997218 – on a serious note, this is a neat contest idea) while speeding down the road in his Middle East-less Tesla (let it be known that I would gladly pimp such a vehicle, given the chance):

1. Yes, Jason, Millennials have lost, big time. You cheerfully made up a statistic of 80% of Gen Y people being losers. I’ll cheerfully say that 20% of us were led to believe that participation was, in fact, important, and that winning was secondary to being in the game. Here’s the thing: 80% (another made-up number) of us lost, and lost often. Now, we’re set adrift in a jobs market that is going to affect our long-term income [negatively] forever. Even the 40% of us who were endlessly told that we were winners no matter what don’t seriously believe that. You’d have to be crazy to think that we’re that dim. We know that participation is not the key to “winning”, however you define it, but we do know that being a part of something is sine qua non for being productive and worthwhile.

2. Gen Y has “No motivation, no killer instinct, [and they’re] all on some kind of antidepressant drugs, and they cry in their coffee all day, and they don’t want to win.” We  need to have a killer instinct because Gen Y has more motivation than you think; we know that we’re going up against other people who have used the internet and the information age to democratize the field of information management. We do cry. We don’t all drink coffee. We have to want to win because it’s the only way for us to succeed and outlive the previous generation (unlikely for the first time ever – thanks Gen X for dragging your feet and forgetting to tell your parents to give a shit).

3. Gen Y has a “good worldview, you want to save the planet, that’s all noble…being successful, making money, and being powerful will let you do more good in the world.” Mr. Calacanis, of all people, should know how much impact we can have, even without high levels of “power”, in a world as interconnected as ours.

4. Jason is so angry about the mystical 80% of Gen Y who are screwing up this country, but he’s also angry for them because they are “so stupid, and so lame.” Thanks dude. Super professional. We’re pretty angry, too. We’re angry that people like you, who don’t know who we are, think that you know what we’re about. Keep telling us. We love hearing about how sucky, yet potentially powerful we are.

5. We are losers. Jason has a new mission in life – he wants to take the 80% of Gen Y “losers” and turn them into the 20% of winners who have tech startups that he covers (for his daily bread) and change the world. Awesome! Start spending money to empower Gen Y social entrepreneurs instead of being an angel investor for tech startups whose social benefit is unknown. Help us help you. Here’s a quote from a Millennial friend of mine who works every day with young people focused on social change: “Perhaps he’s [Jason] spent too much time in the tech world.  I invite him to the ground floor to meet grassroots activists working their asses off, harnessing technology to do something useful instead of spewing nonsense.”

6. All of our jobs are going to “Eastern Russian countries”. Again, he’s a master of the geopolitical landscape. (Note: this is a cheap-shot. I also make mistakes when I’m talking quickly without thought.)

7. My mom and dad are “gonna die” and I therefore have no inheritance because they bought nice cars and went on fancy vacations. I cannot even begin to describe the anger and frustration that I feel with this portion of Jason’s rant. I grew up on a farm in northern Illinois. My mom and dad don’t, never have, and never will, make lots of money to buy nice cars. They have never gone on vacation. I watched them make sacrifices to send me to college and I made sacrifices of my own. I’ve never stepped on anybody to get where I am, and I don’t intend on starting. Don’t you goddamn try to tell me about who I am and where I came from.

In short, Gen Y suffers from an overabundance of opinion on both sides. One says that we’re destined for failure because we’re disconnected from reality. The other side says that we can’t possibly fail because we’re digitally empowered and we understand the world between us. I’m seriously inclined to believe that most of us (Jason’s magical 80%) live somewhere in between. We recognize our limitations but we know that we can do a lot to move beyond ourselves and change the world. Maybe do us a favor and stop telling us what we’re about – let us figure it out like your generation had to.

Jason even goes so far as to tell me about my tombstone – the only trophy that I’ll ever get for participation: “It’s not even going to be that big when you get it,” he says. Like many other Millennials, I plan on living forever through the good works and kind deeds and responsible life that I live.

I don’t need your stupid trophy.

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