It was with some misgivings that I met Shalom Gauri, a second year, Bachelor of Arts student at St Joseph's College, Bangalore. In my experience thus far (and I'd be considered a Millennial myself if you go by the cut-off years adopted by Pew Research, conversations with those who are significantly younger (>6 years) can quickly turn awkward because either I “just don't get it” or there's not that much to talk about really, because... well, Snapchat... read and burn.
Fortunately, Shalom is not on Snapchat. She is on Instagram and admits that she “wastes time” on the app when there's nothing else to do. She relies on WhatsApp for communication and for updates about routine college assignments. Yet, not once did she check her phone for messages during the 45 minutes we chatted on a weekday evening. Net result: a conversation with a 19-year-old, who gestured, laughed, inflected, paused, mulled and maintained eye contact throughout, on subjects that ranged from time spent on screen, news and fake news to striking friendships and how her grandmother has a raving social life in an apartment complex in a city in Kerala.
And this, precisely, is what I had wanted to find out. Here’s a generation that is frequently called out in varying degrees for their short attention span, muted drive at the workplace, being immersed in their screens, general disinterest in their immediate environment, inability to strike real conversations and meaningful relationships, employing a vocabulary with words not in the dictionary, constantly needing motivation and so on. Is our collective juvenoia – feeling the practices of one's generation are superior compared to those followed by the younger generation – a reminder of the reasonable generation gap that exists between generations or an inability to truly comprehend the younger generation – born in an information age unprecedented by the standards of even two decades ago? And what does it really mean to be a youngster these days? Is the world of a Millennial indeed an unhinged universe entirely unto its own?
Shalom was uninhibited. “I wouldn't say (that my generation is) misunderstood or misrepresented because we have the space to say what we want to say, to express ourselves.” Home-schooled by her mum until class tenth, she went to an international school where “all the kids knew exactly what they wanted” i.e. go abroad to study and had it planned to the T. “In college though, kids are not so sure [about what they want to do in life].”
The 19-year-old says she has some idea of what she wants to do. Currently pursuing English, journalism and psych (psychology), she wants to get into journalism. Reading the newspaper though is painful, she says, speaking for her entire class. “We flip through it now and then… they nag us about it in class… to actually see what it looks like. Before exams, everyone (classmates) is flipping through newspapers at home.” Reading a newspaper is difficult, she explains, mostly because there’s richer, more diverse and more interesting information online. She reads news online and via her Facebook feed. It was through a post by a student from the University of Hyderabad that she learnt about the student protest at the Tata Institute of Social Science, over the withdrawal of fee waiver for SC, ST and OBC students. Long form too is part of online reading, partly because of the journalism course she is pursuing. “We read a lot of long form, like articles from Caravan (magazine) – all online,” she says.
Is our collective ‘juvenoia’ – feeling the practices of one’s generation are superior compared to those followed by the younger generation – a reminder of the reasonable generation gap that exists between generations or an inability to truly comprehend the younger generation – born in an information age unprecedented by the standards of even two decades ago?
Online reading involves navigating a sea of blatantly incorrect information, so how does she steer clear of fake news? “Actually, I did once share a news item on Facebook that turned out to be fake,” she says. “It was something that happened ages ago, which was reported as if it had happened recently. A friend pointed it out and said ‘look, this is fake’. And so I posted that the article I had shared is fake. So there are people in your circle, who will point it out or direct you….”
In hindsight, the existence of fake news didn’t rile the teenager. She conceded that she should’ve been able to tell that the article was fake – there were signs. “I was amazed that I fell for it… because I felt that I should've double checked that... because when I re-read it, it was like I could've actually found out. And the fact that it wasn't reported in the other sites that I follow, or by other journalists, should’ve been a red flag,” she said and added: “I think fake news exists for all kind of reportage, including in our own city. So even though we are using it for information, we are not really absorbing that opinion... we know something happened, and then it’s on us to find out more.”
(Juvenoia is a fortnightly column that sneaks a peep into the minds of 'Indian Millennials' – born after the liberalisation in India and before the first iPhone released. Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)