Last December, I was invited to speak to the graduating Management seniors at my alma mater, the Ateneo de Manila University (yes we always use ‘the’ before the name of the school, probably just to annoy people). I was so excited to go back to the campus, walk around familiar halls, perhaps ‘blend in’ with some of the students and check if my anti-aging creams have been doing their job these last few years. When I got there, I was floored—the campus looked completely different, and despite the fact that I tried to dress ‘young’ (and hopefully still kinda look young), I stuck out like a sore thumb. It was the case of things being essentially the same, and yet different. There will always be wide-eyed college kids excited to get through their finals and see the world, chase after their dreams. And yet they now look and dress and act completely different from our generation, unintentionally wreaking havoc in workplaces and even at home, because people don’t know how to handle them. At the same time, I’m pretty sure they find it hard to understand why their elders (gosh!) think and act a certain way. So here’s a note to you millenials out there, especially the ones born in the 90s and onwards. Perhaps this can help you understand us Gen Y, Gen X, and maybe even Baby Boomers a little better. Here’s why we’re different and what it was like for us to come of age in a less techie world:
- We communicated in person. None of these online stuff. Back then, internet was only accessible when you went to the college library, connection speed was the pace of a snail, and there was a very noisy alien-sounding modem you needed to hook up to first. We had no mobile phones. Therefore, most of our communication was done face to face or via telephone so we were a lot more ‘in touch’ on a personal level. And when you were talking to someone, there were no interruptions, no gadgets to check while sharing a meal, no emails to respond to, no ‘likes’ to monitor. We just chilled out, spent lots of time together, laughed about random matters, and looked each other in the eye.
- We had time to unwind. Since there were no gadgets shackling us to their addictive powers, we could actually unplug ourselves from the world from time to time. We could take long walks around campus at night with just our thoughts. Go for a swim at the beach without thinking of the perfect photo to share on Instagram. We could go on trips abroad and have zero communication with people back home. We could pretty much ‘disappear’ from the face of the world for a while if we wanted to. Our minds had time to recover from the day to day grind. We woke up in the morning free from any messages, updates or comments, we went to sleep at night the same way. These days you can’t pry a cellphone away from a person’s hand and the ‘low battery’ notification can actually trigger anxiety attacks.
- We were more patient. There was no instant gratification in my generation. If we needed a book for school and it was borrowed from the library, we had to wait for it to be returned before we could use it. We got information from dusty encyclopedias instead of Google. There was no ‘Print’ button- we had to painstakingly typewrite reports perfectly or else we would have to start all over again. We had to wait for the guy we like to muster up the courage to call our house landline and talk to our stern-sounding fathers before managing to get a word with us. We had to wait for a sibling or whoever (the ‘party line’) to get off the phone so we could use it. We had to wait to receive letters from beloved cousins and friends living in another city. We had to wait for VHS tapes to be returned to the rental store so we could borrow them and watch our favorite movie, for cassette tapes to rewind in order to listen to our favorite song again. We had to wait for the photo studio to develop the pictures from that barkada trip to the beach, and we had no idea what the photos would look like. Most of the time, our experiences and memories looked far, far better than our photos. Today it seems to be the opposite.
- We had more stuff. Everything was tangible—actual books and magazines instead of a Kindle, photo albums instead of digital ones, real invitations instead of virtual ones, real greeting cards instead of happy birthday wishes on Facebook, CDs of our favorite artists instead if iTunes and Spotify, real toys instead of online games. As kids we played with jackstones, Chinese garter, plants, grasshoppers, hide and seek with other children instead of sitting in a corner with an IPad. I won’t deny that the way things are today is pretty cool and very practical. But old sentimental me still wants the stuff I can hold in my hand.
- We were more private. I know there’s this trend going on in social media called ‘TBH’ which stands for ‘to be honest…’ followed by what you think of the person or what you’d like to say to the person, posted for all the world to read. Well, in our day, we would write little notes to each other called ‘palancas’, and friendships were kept private. Fights, breakups, triumphs and losses happened in person and there was no mud slinging, bullying or shaming on social media to worry about. The most ‘shame’ one could ever get was in his/her own classroom, and not for (potentially) millions of people to see. Also, it was harder to show off since Catholic schools banned branded socks, bags, gadgets and there was no opportunity to post anything for people to see.
- We were quite romantic. With all the chatting going on in Viber, Whatsapp, Tindr, Snapchat and whatever other platform, plus the proliferation of vague relationships casually termed as ‘hanging out’, I’m really not sure what the rules of dating are for teens these days. But I know that our generation was pretty sweet. Girls expected to be courted the traditional way and boys were prepared to make the effort. We only ever met members of the opposite sex through relatives/friends, or chaperoned school activities like Intramurals or Family Day– and we would look forward to those events for weeks. Of course, that didn’t prevent people from doing all sorts of mischief with boyfriends or friends, but it was much much harder to carry out these shenanigans–and none of the consequences (teenage pregnancies, getting caught with drugs and the like) was considered acceptable.
- We were more mysterious. People couldn’t get any details about us through Google or accessing our social media accounts. They wouldn’t know what we looked like, who our friends were, whether we were single or in a relationship, what our interests were. They had to meet us and get to know us to get that information. And that created an air of mystery and anticipation that is quite difficult to achieve today. Long distance relationships were much more challenging and expensive to maintain because there was no Skype or Facetime, but those who chose it were really in it for real.
- We lived in the moment. We lived for the here and now and hardly ever thought about capturing or preserving moments. We did not take pretty photos of our food, we just smiled and ate. We did not think of magazine-worthy poses, we just relaxed and had fun. All of the ‘kilig’ and totally TV-worthy moments that happened to me as a teenager, from a slow dance by the beach, a pool with lanterns for my birthday or that surprise Valentine serenade, will be known by nobody else but myself and the people who were actually there. All I was thinking of back then was the moment itself, and not wondering if anyone was taking photos of me having a ‘moment’ or taking selfies of myself having a ‘moment’.
You millennials are very blessed to be living in this day and age of ultimate technology and information, and I know you will have talents and discoveries that will outdo and surpass all of your predecessors. Since I was born at the cusp between Gen X and Gen Y/Millenials, I do get you guys too, and occasionally even think like you. But sometimes I wish you had the kind of childhood, the kind of ‘growing up’ that we had. I wouldn’t say we always had it better, but it was a pretty awesome ride.