In defense of millennials and our love of experiences, or Love In The Time Of Coronavirus.

“Millennials only care about experiences,” white-haired marketers with brows furrowed in disapproval are fond of reminding us. But admitting as much, so what ?

“Millennials don’t want to own vehicles, they want to rent apartments instead of buying houses, they want to travel instead of being burdened with ownership of objects, and they want to “do it for the gram” as a pretext for exploring the world.” And… ?

In critique after editorial after “think piece” – too numerous to count, much less individually cite – yet each in its own paternalistic first-order thinking sort of way, we’re deceived into imagining that our youthful thirst for experiences is somehow evil, counter-productive, narrow-minded, or at the very least pretentious. But is it really any of these ? Or are old people just jelly that no one wants their dumb old shit ?i

As someone who’s smack dab in the middle of this generational category and just spent the last five years limiting his intercontinental travel to start a family, buy a house, grow a business, and generally do what is pejoratively called “adulting,” I’ve been fucking chomping at the bit to get back out into the world and to experience the globe’s stunning diversity of cultures first-hand again.ii Biding my time, and because I’ve already traveled quite a lot in my life thank you very much, I’ve more recently indulged in the trappings of materialism because that’s what’s been available to me. Had I the choice, whether the invitation or any other plausible pretext, to hop on a plane to Bangkok or Beirut tomorrow, I’d be there!iii Alas, a young family precludes such indulgences, at least for me, so I’ve largely traded experiences for materials goods over the last half-decade. Gladly, even, because it was better than nothing! But why would I want to impose those trade-offs on my peers before they’re ready ?iv

The world is complex, messy, busy, and demanding. With creativity and salesmanshipv being prerequisites for success in any 21st-century industry, how is buying a $250`000 brass movement F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Résonance or a $90,000 Stallman Studio painting going to foster that ? We’re much, much better off spending our post-university time bargaining in bazaars and scrapping in souks the world over, learning languages, meeting people, absorbing other cultures, and expanding our horizons physically and pharmacologically. Goodness knows many of our parents did their damnedest to bubble wrap our childhoods, so we have a lot of making up to do when it comes to personal growth and development!

Even art, my current passion, whether in a museum, in our homes, or on our wrists, can wait.vi Being young and spongey to new experiences can’t. Investing in ourselves is the only rational investment for young people. We’ll have plenty of time to invest in “ownership” and whatever else later. Assuming that millennials are in school until they’re 25 years old, it’s totally fair for them to take the next decade to focus on experiences. Once they’re 35, a little older, a little wiser, and a little less energetic, they’ll be ready to settle down and start families. If they live in sane (ie. affordable) cities, they’ll even be able to buy a house, a car, and maybe a decent watch. By 2031, the youngest of our generation will be at this stage. Then we can can all move on to harassing Gen Zs!

Until then, get out there and live your life. One experience at a time.
___ ___ ___

  1. While “continuity” is wonderful, makes old people feel all warm and fuzzy, and is generally necessary for certain “Tribes” (ahem), it doesn’t also follow that the material objects your old ass lusted after, whether a ’68 Stang or a Les Paul guitar, must inherently mean something to your children after you’re gone. If they can associate those objects with you personally, then perhaps, but if you’re just collecting heaps on heaps of shit, don’t be surprised if it’s all just a bunch of disposable scrap metal, ready to be pawned off by your kids at the earliest opportunity.
  2. 2020 was going to be my big year back on the road again! Alas, then came COVID-19… I’m still mourning the loss of my planned trips to Calgary, Jasper, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Los Angeles, Paris, and London over the next four months(!), but then again who knows! Maybe after the initial panic subsides, we’ll come around to the fact that coronavirus is just another common cold virus with higher infectiousness and higher fatality rate than usual but at least one that only seems to target those of advanced age and with pre-existing respiratory problems (and other co-morbidities) and thankfully not the Spanish Flu of 1918 with demographic focus on those aged 20-40, ie. the current “Millennials”!!

    But even if the death toll isn’t detrimental, our social and economic interventions may prove iatrogenic, like an overcrowded night club fire that kills 8 people with smoke inhalation and 150 people during the stampede for the exits. But how can we know a priori whether we’ve gone too far, or far enough ? The precaution principle would have us take the most extreme measures available to slow the spread, even if infections are inevitable, to ensure that health care facilities can best cope with the influx of patients. The dose makes the poison!

  3. Pandemics notwithstanding.
  4. Articles like “On selling luxury watches to Generation Y/Z” (archived) penned by “Anonymous” over at The Open Caseback so utterly miss this point. The point isn’t that the watch industry’s story-telling ability is lacking, it’s that kids are poor! Or at least don’t have tens of thousands to spend on a watch when they barely have a few thousand to improve themselves.

    I’m still a fan of The Open Caseback, but not every author that writes there is equally strong. Mike’s recent piece entitled “Why are independent watchmakers so popular in Japan?” (archived) was first-rate and corrected some of my previous misconceptions, but 25-year-old “Anonymous” still has some work to do.

  5. Not to mention virulent self-promotion.
  6. Even though ownership is itself an experience, one that I’ll staunchly defend the value of to my death, it’s not the same as travel. Or drugs. Or just being young and in love!

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