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Millennials more than a 'selfie generation'

Prevalence of narcissism is not unique to today's Millennial generation

The term “millennial” has taken over the mass media lexicon. Every other day, there is a new article or quiz asking,  “Why are millennials so narcissistic?” or “How millennial are you?” In her book, “The Narcissism Epidemic,” Dr. Jean Twenge asserts that as a generation, millennials are more self-absorbed than any other. Her research is based on studies of college students conducted over a 27-year period, and the bulk of her data comes from a 40-question survey on narcissism. Twenge’s findings show that there has been a 30 percent increase in narcissist behavior over the years. But these results don’t take into account the fact that more and more is being expected of young adults and college students. Now more than ever before, every choice a 20-something makes has to be about what will get them to the next step or how today’s actions will influence tomorrow’s outcome. Such high levels of expectation are bound to intertwine with some degree of narcissism. So are millennials a little more self-absorbed than generations that came before? Well, yes, but with reason.

Millennials have not had a collective experience that draws them all together — young adults in the 1960s had Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement. The anti-war movement continued into the ‘70s, the Space Race and the Cold War dominated the ‘80s and everyone loved the ‘90s. But what happened after that? The bubble burst, the economy tanked and it was every man and woman for themselves. Millennials grew up in a society based on arbitrary measures of self-worth and defining themselves. As children, they were told they were perfect and could do no wrong. As teenagers, they were expected to outperform their peers by miles in order to get into top colleges and universities, and now as 20-somethings, millennials feel like there’s no other option but to have a resume comparable to Mark Zuckerberg’s. As a generation, millennials are emerging into a job market that is centered around self-branding, which can often mean beating out the competition at all costs. Being narcissistic or self-centered is one of the easiest ways to get ahead. 

Self-motivated competition has also spilled into the personal and online lives of millennials. They have developed a symbiotic relationship with technology: What they do drives its production and how technology evolves and adapts drives them. The onset of the front-facing camera fueled the desire to take selfies, and Snapchat’s front-facing flash may be the latest breakthrough in selfie technology. Millennials are the first to have access to technology that perpetuates narcissistic behavior, but that doesn’t make them anymore narcissist than generations before. They enjoy instant gratification, and that’s because they’re used to it. The world can unfold in front of them on a 2-by-5 screen with the swipe of a finger. 

Being considered a generation of narcissists is almost a coming-of-age experience. Frida Kahlo used to paint pictures of herself, and baby boomers were called narcissists, with the ‘70s being declared “The ‘Me’ Decade.” The generational level of narcissism may have more to do with being a 20-something in general, rather than being a millennial.

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