Gen Y has been called the "self esteem generation," and for good reason: a recent study found that we prefer receiving self-esteem boosts (such as compliments) over sex, food, and money. Maybe that's a good thing, considering many are broke and living at home. A feature on the predicament of twenty-somethings in New York Magazine on Sunday laid out these statistics:
Nearly 14 percent of college graduates from the classes of 2006 through 2010 can’t find full-time work, and overall just 55.3 percent of people ages 16 to 29 have jobs. That’s the lowest percentage since World War II, as you might have heard an Occupy Wall Street protester point out. (Not coincidentally, one in five young adults now lives below the poverty line.) Almost a quarter more people ages 25 to 34—in other words, people who should be a few years into their independent lives—are living with their parents than at the beginning of the recession.
There's a disconnect here, right? On the one hand, our generation has shattered all records for high self-esteem, according to the traditional measuring methods. On the other, it sure doesn't look like most of us are actually achieving very much, by traditional (ie, cultural) standards. So how are we filling that gap? I believe, in many cases, the answer lies on the internet.
So you pushed yourself through high school to get into a good college. You pushed yourself through college to get your degree. You come out on the other side only to find a recession in full-swing, and a million other 20-somethings just like you chasing down the same scant jobs there are to be had, with [mostly irrelevant] degrees flapping uselessly in their hands. The normal sources of self-esteem aren't available to you. You're not bringing home a big paycheck. If you do manage to secure a job, it probably isn't very fulfilling. It's starting to look like you aren't that special after all.
Enter virtual achievement and artificial self esteem. Virtual achievement: Okay, so you're not bringing home a big paycheck, but you can get to level 42 on Farmville. You can have 800 friends on Facebook. Your Klout score just went up by 2 points. Artificial self esteem: Okay, so your job (if you're lucky enough to have one) isn't fulfilling and you don't feel like you're making a difference. But if someone retweets you or +1's your blog post, you feel important and seen.
I'm not saying this is unequivocally bad. Low self esteem wreaks havoc on motivation, so if social networking keeps you feeling good enough about yourself that you get up and look for a job every morning instead of dissolving into the couch, that's great. On the other hand, I'm concerned that this type of activity could actually supersede real-life action and achievement. I think for too many people, it already has.
Image courtesy of GOIABA