The Millennial Death Spiral

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By Constance Watson | 2:58 pm, April 25, 2017
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Make no mistake: “Netflix and chill” is now the modern mating call. The art of Netflix and chill is simple and unsubtle. To the uninitiated, the idea is that you hook up in front of an film and perhaps order takeout if you’re lucky.

On the surface being young and fun never seemed so easy. Netflix and chill promised to consign excruciating dates and awkward silences to the past. Teenagers regards kissing somebody in a nightclub and other traditional rites of passage as remarkably outdated. For millennials in search of the ideal, things never looked so good.

It couldn’t last, however. Netflix and chill, once indicative of the generation of lazy click-tivists who wanted easy access to instant pleasure, is fast being replaced by a new standard called “Netflix and die.” Many millennials (the generation of people born between around 1985 and 2000) no longer look to the future. Instead, they spend large proportions of their days on their mobile phones, increasingly insular and terrified of their uncertain future.

We can’t be certain exactly how long millennials (also known as Generation Y) spend looking at screens. But anyone who has recently spent any time in a city can affirm young people are hugely dependent on their cellphones and look and feel anxious without them. (In 2015, the Pew Research Center found that nearly half of all millennials felt they “couldn’t live without” their smartphone).

Shockingly, a more recent report conducted by Bank of America found that 39% of millennials claim to interact more with their smartphones than they do with actual humans. In 2014, it was estimated that millennials spend over two hours per day on their devices, which that can only have subsequently increased.

I can vouch that these studies aren’t being cooked up by technology-fearing luddites intent on naysaying the young. Here I am, a millennial (just), staring at a screen with frequent pointless ‘breaks’ in order to check Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and allowing myself to be sucked further and further into the Internet’s various galaxies with no particular purpose and no recognizable outcome.

While previous generations worried about settling down and achieving financial security, too many millennials have become fixated on Wi-Fi connections and spending time on Snapchat rather than with their family.

So what will be the effect of ‘Netflix and chill’ giving way to ‘Netflix and die’?  I suppose the optimist views the rise in smartphone dependency as contributing to the boom in Silicon Valley, where gaggles of geeks, pregnant with ideas, still flock to code websites and apps to make life even easier for Generation Y.

But the more pessimistic among us realize that millennials are faced with becoming poorer, depressed and commitment-phobic. The media doesn’t help,  running articles with headlines such as  “Millennials are entitled, narcissistic and lazy—but it’s not their fault: Expert claims ‘every child wins a prize’ and social media has left Gen Y unable to deal with the real world.”

Yet this is rooted in truth. The American Psychological Association has found that Generation Y falls victim to higher levels of—and more frequent cases of—stress than any other generation. It also found that 12% of millennials in America have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder (which is defined by the UK’s National Health Service as “a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe” and by the Mayo Clinic as “distress about making decisions,” and  “worrying about excessively worrying.”)

Millennials are suffering phobias, post-traumatic stress disorders and social anxiety at twice the rate their baby boomer parents did.  Web Psychology recently found that one-in-five millennials has called into work sick due to depression and anxiety. (It should be noted, though, that while more young people are prescribed drugs such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and beta blockers, advances in medicine mean that doctors have become more aware than ever about how to diagnose mental illness.)

Social media—with its endless capacity to allow users to show off—is, of course, contributing to the “Netflix and die” phenomenon. Glamorous holidays, expensive health foods, luxury goods… the list of ways to brag about your lifestyle is endless.

It’s affecting millennial manners too. Recently I complimented a twentysomething who works in IT on his birthday. “Happy Birthday,” I said. “It was,” he replied. It’s a small thing but his elder ancestors would have thanked me or gone out of their way to not express smug satisfaction at turning a year older.

Celebrity culture (epitomized by the Kardashians) only enhances the madness in the way that it makes other people’s lives look attractive and exciting and our own existences dreary and pointless by comparison.  Turns out there is nothing like tech-driven awareness that our pursuits are failing to bear fruit to make us less motivated!

“The equation ‘Happiness equals expectations minus reality’ rings true for us,” Lydia, a UK-based 21-year-old university student, explained to me. “The Internet boom hit hard while we were going through our pubescent neuroses.

“Constant exposure to airbrushed lives leads to depression,” she added. “The invasion of the Internet into our daily lives leads to a superficial connectedness and total isolation.”

Lydia cited video games, pornography and selfies as things adding to our misery before depressingly concluding: “The social life of males and females has diverged extensively. All of this is why many in my generation are keen to curl up in a hole.”

The Netflix and die problem is only going to get worse. So what can we do?

Get a prescription to the drug called “life.”

To do this, we need to make a concerted effort to put down our cellphones (not, like, forever, but for a short while each day) and look up at the world around us—interact with others, debate opinions, read more books and realize that life isn’t really that bad after all.

In fact, when it’s good, it’s the very best.

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