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Millennials: More than just an Instagram filter

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In an article for El País, columnist Antonio Navalón questioned whether millennials had a social or political vision for the future, and if they had created anything more than Instagram filters. In an open letter to the columnist, Maria Garcia Blanes answers his burning questions. 

The term 'millennial' refers to people born between the 1980s and the year 2000. As time goes on, it is becoming more and more ingrained in our vocabulary as a word that is used both to celebrate innovation and to apportion blame. 

Those who remain nostalgic for the good old days are hell-bent on proving that technological innovation has been our downfall; they claim that millenials have a toxic and co-dependent relationship with social media, which has lulled us into laziness and even stupidity. 

In the most recent case of millennial-bashing, which has attracted a lot of attention in Spain, columnist and businessman Antonio Navalón wrote an article for El País in which he slams the entire generation born in the last three decades. In his rant, he claimed that "the only thing that matters to [millennials], are the number of 'likes', comments and followers they have on social media." He questions whether it is even worth writing for "a generation that lacks the ability to listen." 

By focusing the debate on the question of technology, Navalón shows himself to be incapable of finding any advances or promising projects lead by young people. The future in our hands seems rather apocalyptic in his view: "If millennials do not want anything and they are the future, then the future is heading nowhere," he claims. Absolutely everything millennials represent seems to be regressive to him; he even goes as far as to argue that millennials have no sense of civic responsibility, but are responsible for Donald Trump's rise to power.

His incendiary article led to many fellow journalists rushing to the defence of young people. 'Antonio Navalón' became a trending topic on Twitter, his Wikipedia entry was hijacked, and finally, he decided to retract his statements publically via - drum roll please - Twitter. 

In spite of all of this, we wanted to heed Navalón's request, and answer his questions. Above all, we wanted to clarify that, in contrast to his inflammatory claims, millennials do indeed know how to listen. "I would love to find out about one single millennial idea that wasn't an Instagram filter or a mobile phone app," he bemoaned. Your wish is our command, Antonio. We'll share with you not only one, but many millennial inventions. 

Millennials on the move

If I take a quick look around me, I could tell you about Pau, a 23-year-old musician and audiovisual student who participated last year in the Erasmus+ programme and went to study in the city of DarmstadtGermany. There, she met other musicians who also shared her concerns for the struggles of refugees arriving in the country, and she decided to run a charity to raise money for the cause. "What we are most proud of was that we brought together many different cultures: Vietnamese, Turkish, Kurdish, Syrian, Spanish, German, etc. The original idea was to raise money, but in the end, it was more about coming together through music and trying to help make refugees' integration into the country better. The most beautiful thing to see was the fusion of cultures and the bonds being formed between local musicians and musicians who had just arrived in the country." 

Or maybe I could tell you about Luz, a 25-year-old illustrator who uses social media to draw attention to the objectification that women experience. Under the pseudonym @LubaDalu, she works on themes such as intersectional feminism, politics and society through her artwork, which she shares on her Instagram account. "I started to share my work on social media due to speed and ease of access; all you need is a mobile phone and internet connection, which are two things I have access to. I am driven by a strong need to get involved in changing the inequalities that dominate our society, and I am a strong believer that change starts through education and sharing," Luz explains.

I could also introduce you to Dafne, one of the many millennials who merges her academic pursuits with her activism. She fights for LGBTQIA+ rights, greater cultural freedom, and feminism. She also financially supports and contributes articles to media channels she identifies with, and follows an environmentally friendly diet. "As I said, once you start to engage with the world around you, the natural transition is to start doing more," she argues, in reference to the growing number of ethical and social causes she fights for. 

When asking for a concise description of our generation, it becomes clear that millennials are rather hard to pin down. "It's really difficult for me to think of a concrete adjective to use. I could say that I know people who use social media to widen their social circle and organise [themselves] offline, and others who are interested in software and the hacker movement, and some who use the internet to stay informed and develop a more critical understanding of what is happening around them. I have also seen millennials collaborate with other generations, learning from each other and helping each other." 

"Glocal" action

An example of intersectional and intergenerational collaboration comes from Lucía, a young publicist who, with four other friends, created SaveDreams - a local platform set up in Ibi, a town with no more than 20,000 inhabitants. The platform hopes to continue to grow in size and, up until now, it has organised concerts and events to raise funds that are later given to associations such as animal protection agencies, Alzheimer charities or support centres for people with disabilities. Although she does believe that we are addicted to social media, and that it makes us a little bit lazy and stressed,  she assures us that "we are a daring generation of non-conformists; we can see this in the number of young people who have gone abroad to create a life for themselves, like our grandparents did." 

It was not through creating a life for himself that motivated Albert, but rather a desire to protect the lives of others. After studying environmental sciences, he decided that the academic world was too far removed from direct action, so he left to go the Faroe Islands with Sea Shepherd to protect marine life. In his case, he escaped the daily grind by working to protect whales, which is a tradition that takes place every year on the Islands.

Now that he is back in Spain, Albert is in charge of promoting campaigns led by the organisation on multiple social media networks. "The value of having people who are motivated enough to want to travel thousands of miles to defend the lives of innocent animals is remarkable. These people are able to spend time with the population there and tell stories of what they had seen and felt. Although it is true that millennials are addicted to social media, as a social media coordinator, I think that without these networks, we would not have been able to spread our message to as many people as we have," Albert concludes. 

So, what do millennials want?

As you can see, Antonio, it does not appear that these young people have no interests they care about. So, what do they want? For now, we hope that people will stop talking about our generation using vast generalisations, and painting us all with the same brush. If we dig a little deeper, what we really want is to treat our planet with greater respect, establish increased social justice at a local and global level, attain gender equality, and even blur the boundaries of gender itself. 

This is our project: to act and to live in the real world. Using networks and the virtual world as tools to make our voices louder. My generation does not need yours to write our story for us. As you can see, we are the authors of our own story.

Translated from ¿Qué quieren los millennials?: respuesta a Antonio Navalón