"…that the digital options available to this generation are so interesting and engaging that no one really had time to notice or care what others said of it."
Mostly this, only it's more complex than simply "digital options". A better, more complete description is that we have such fine control over our own identities that we don't need to resort to big, poorly-defined memes like generational labels. Most of the people my age that I spend time with are too busy pursuing their own American Dream to worry about what our parents call us. For my peer group, identity is constructed around personal taste (art+music+film/use of recreational time), professional (or non-professional) employment, kinds of education, and what each of us wants to accomplish in our short time here.
It's a pretty extreme hypothesis to put in a comment, but I think that we're interested in authoring our own stories and destinies. I put responsibility for this at the feet of our educational system: it tests and tests and teaches us to work for test scores, with the message that once in college, we'll figure out what we want to do with our lives. Well, the kids that went through that system are starting to go through college, and we're saying to each other that, "this system is broken, and we need to fix it".
We can't claim any responsibility for our new president's victory, but it rippled across my entire social life, reigniting a fever for self-determination among me and my friends. Our new president exemplifies the principle that here in America, if you set your mind to it, you can do anything and be anything. That's an insanely powerful image to send to a generation of youth (not to mention the whole school-debt forgiveness promise. We haven't forgotten that, and won't).
So in answer to your question, "who gets to define and design this generation?", let me establish a framework. Social networking tools let us define ourselves in a much more complex and nuanced language than English. Not to mention that we have a lot of "designing" to do to replace the broken ideals and morals of the Boomer generation.
Here's what Noah said:
First off, I like Ben's answer.
Second, I offer another hypothesis: Generations are dead. Thanks mainly to technology, the people I know and converse with today on a regular basis range in age from 18 – 60, but they all feel like my generation inasmuch as we share similar beliefs, interests and ideas. The idea of being associated with a group of people because we happen to be the same age seems more ridiculous than ever in the face of this truth.
It's not that I don't recognize that being born around the same time means you share a certain set of experiences that shape you, I just don't care about them that much.
At the end of the day, it's me (as a marketer) that needs a name for my generation, not me as a person/member of said generation.
Beautifully said, both.
I am especially enthusiastic about these comments because they seem to me consistent with the chief conclusion of the book I published in May.
It is possible we are witnessing the creation of a global self and an expansionary individualism. The global self is curious and catholic in searching out new definitional options, credulous in trying them on, mobile in its incorporation of diverse and improbable materials, adroit in its embrace of several at once, skillful in managing the portfolio of selves that is the result, and sturdy enough to live with the ideational and emotion turbulence that must ensue. Most of all, it is imperial. The global self is a presumptuous self, seeing itself as a master of its own fate, as the author of its own circumstances, as the rightful inventor of the self. It claims all experience as its province, all definitions of the self as its domain. The global self looks like the early modern Dutch, Spanish or English courts, taking on and using up anything in its reach.
Brier, Noah. 2008 Comment on Millennials: Who Gets to Define and Design this Generation. This blog sits at the intersection of anthropology and economics. December 8, 2008.
K, Ben. 2008. Comment on Millennials: Who Gets to Define and Design this Generation. This blog sits at the intersection of anthropology and economics. December 8, 2008.
McCracken, Grant. 2008. Transformations: Identity construction in contemporary culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Available at Amazon here.
See Noah's blog here.