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Feeling the Burn

Feeling the Burn

January 5, 2019 1:49 pmComments are Disabled

It’s worth taking a minute to read this wonderful new piece that has been making the rounds on social media. The author’s analysis of millennial “burnout” points to a relatively simple explanation: that the reason we millennials have so much trouble with small, easy, but ultimately time consuming or analog ‘life tasks’ is because we’re spending so much of our mental energy focusing on, among other things, working ourselves out of debt.

I know the errand fatigue she’s talking about. I had a credit card I needed to cancel for a full year; when I finally did it, it took ten seconds. I still pay an obscene amount for my server costs because I haven’t bothered to switch the hosting provider yet. I have more than once decided not to return something and donated it instead due to the effort. And, when I registered to vote in New York, it took me six months to print, sign and mail the form.

Where this piece loses me, however, is this notion that millennials are in that much of a different situation than previous generations. Even if we are working harder given the recession- and student loan bubble-driven debt hole we started in, surely we have to do so much less, and at much less cost, than previous generations in the same boat.

For instance, within my short lifetime I remember spending real, committed time and effort doing a whole lot of things that, say, Gen-Z kids wouldn’t understand today:

  • picking up the phone and calling to reserve, and then wait for a taxi, which could take up to an hour to arrive
  • calling a hotel to make a reservation
  • filling out a job application by hand
  • reading the TV guide to find episodes then remembering to turn on the TV at the right time to watch
  • going to different stores to shop for the right components for a hobby project
  • going to the bank to get money out
  • driving to the video store to rent a movie for the family to watch, and having to choose the movie based on what was written on the box

Of course, this is just from my own memory. Every earlier generation will have a longer list.

All of these things have been replaced by online, automated systems that make millennial ‘adulting’ surely the easiest adulting ever in history.

It is for this reason that now it is easier than ever to see the contrast between the way things are and the way things ought to be in some areas that haven’t yet been made this efficient. I can order an Uber in ten seconds, but it still takes me a minimum of 30 minutes to register to vote in New York State (there’s no online registration). I can have my laundry picked up and returned the next day pressed and folded without leaving my house, but to file a health insurance claim and hear back could take weeks.

Perhaps part of the millennial ‘burnout’ malaise is encountering tasks that should be easy and efficient, but aren’t. And because they aren’t, we (perhaps with an air of entitlement) just aren’t going to bother doing them until the situation becomes critical.

This is why this piece actually excited me, because I believe that all these great innovations to our time that millennial problem-solvers have brought to our own problems (travel, event planning, dating, entertainment) we’ll soon bring to much bigger problems that still need to be solved, and are a complete mess from an efficiency, cost and effort point of view.

When millennials hit their 40’s and 50’s and start having chronic back pain, how quickly will healthcare will be solved? When millennials’ kids start applying to colleges and the astronomical student loans that go with them, how quickly will higher education be solved? When millennials start retiring, what will senior homes turn into?

So we may be burnt out, but it’s the kind of burn out that’s going to lead to real progress. Like every generation before us, we will solve the problems as they come up. And I’m sure we’ll do great.

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