WAs I scrolled through a long photo dump of a friend’s recent paddleboarding excursion in Cornwall, I was hit with a wave of existentialism. The toxic dopamine highs from social media that once shook my soul were now gone. In its place was a heavy shame. “This place used to be sexy and fun,” I thought as I opened, closed, and then reopened the Instagram app. “How pathetic it is to be a millennial social media addict.”
Given that the definition of a “millennial” includes both a 28-year-old Gigi Hadid and a 42-year-old Pitbull, it would be reckless of me to generalize the status of an entire generation. But due to painstaking research (scrolling until my eyes bleed) and my age group’s alleged propensity to turn literally every passing thought into a narcissistic melodramatic essay for the nation, I can officially declare the millennials over. Reduced. We have no place online in 2023.
I felt the first pangs of this digital shift during the pandemic, when I gave in and synced my soul with TikTok. I had abstained from voting for a while, thinking it might just be a blip, some temporary platform for dancing tweens and sexual predators. While I wasn’t completely wrong, it turns out that the Chinese app had longevity and an algorithm far more sophisticated than I had encountered before. In a matter of hours, it knew what I wanted and didn’t want—from niche musical preferences to dietary requirements and advice for incredibly specific physical and emotional ailments. I was amazed by it as a thriving ecosystem – one that was led and curated by the generation that succeeded my own.
But while catering to my fringe interests, I quickly realized that this app was too hostile for any of my demographic. Millennials were mocked by their younger users for using the laughing emoji or doing a crash zoom, for liking Harry Potter or being addicted to caffeine. Even the experience of being on the app felt out of my comfort zone – like walking into Vegas on a bachelor party, no sense of time passing, how to get out, the lights glaringly bright or flashing ominously, the drugs too hardcore for a Tuesday Evening.
Millennials didn’t invent the internet. It was boomer Tim Berners-Lee. But millennials created and curated much of Web 2.0 and the platforms that have dominated the last 20 years: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder and Bumble. Although I rarely post, I’ve been a loyal lurker, evolving in silence as the internet does: from the early romantic escapades created on MSN and music forums, to lusting after hipster hairstyles on MySpace, to fanatically following x- ranked bloggers on Tumblr and beyond.
There’s been so much creative, subversive content created by Millennials over the past two decades, but we’re largely remembered for pioneering much-maligned ways of communicating: like punctuating tweets with “This.”, “That’s it. That’s the tweet.”, or “Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.” We’re even aesthetically associated with a kind of breezy numbness—our allegiance to Pepto Bismol’s “millennial pink” or “ankleppen” For example, because our voice and style were so dominant for such a digital story, it has been difficult for us to subtly assimilate into a new domain.
However, this problem is not just a matter of aging off the internet: social media is not some house party that you avoid from the moment you start considering orthopedic shoes or linger too long in front of boxes of Tena Lady. Instead, it’s a very specific millennial conundrum. TikTok continues to be the fastest growing platform, pioneered by Gen Z’s absurdist humor and irony. Facebook has become a haven for Boomers and Gen X – with its users 19 percent more likely to share content than any other generation. They are active: engaged, creating communities and conversations. The once college-centric networking site remains Britain’s biggest social media platform, powered, at least on my feed, by 58-year-olds broadcasting their political grievances, nostalgic photos and hot takes on the new Orbital album. I used to visit Facebook with a kind of arrogance, assuming everyone there was a luddite who missed out on the fun. Now I visit Facebook and feel a pang of jealousy – that there are so many socially active friends, welcoming kind users who write enthusiastically, often about Orbital.
Twitter, meanwhile, when our networking event, our speed dating space, our standup special, is now our apocalyptic wasteland. I still see us rambling on, as if a funny one-liner could give us the validation we need to climb our professional quagmire or help us meet the love of our lives, but it’s pointless. Since Elon Musk’s tenure, I walk in and am immediately confused by its algorithm; not sure why I can only see Tweets from people I’ve never heard of, posts about upsetting topics I’ve never dealt with before. It is the opposite of TikTok; so lacking in intuition that I feel like clapping my hands and suggesting we just “let it go” and watch Netflix instead.
So where are millennials destined to go? Instagram may have supportive communities (especially when it comes to parenting), but overall the platform feels like a strange, artificial universe. There’s a tragic sense that everyone is still playing along with a game that ended long ago—the one where we all pretended our lives were relentlessly awesome and our skin was naturally so smooth. All the old hot girls I used to obsess over have had babies or become doulas or business women and their brands are too well-educated to reveal any grit or dirt. Sometimes they post about their cellulite and tell you “not to believe everything you see on the internet”, but a few hours later it’s back to the bikini pictures and sunset handstands. Zoomers see through it. Boomers couldn’t care less. It’s just us millennials—staring at long-distance photos of bike rides or some sort of newly domesticated tedium involving homemade chips or the aforementioned paddleboarding, longing for the adrenaline rush of logging into 2006.
Is it Substack? Do I launch a Substack on my shed renovation? Or different ways to make tofu fun? Hopelessly devoted tofu? I didn’t have enough hot takes for Twitter, let alone 800 words a week for six subscribers, four of whom will never open the email. Reddit is a viable option – in fact millennials are its biggest users in the UK, but the interface makes me uneasy and I go online to stare at people I vaguely know rather than want to Deadpool spoilers and cat memes.
As I play over the internet, unable to satisfy my need for a peak of the noxious digital buzz, I realize that maybe I’m not the problem. The social media that I grew up with is not what it used to be. It no longer holds that voyeuristic thrill that attracted me in the first place—the one that made me feel excited, fascinated, as if I could see someone else’s life in an unfiltered, uncurated way. I don’t want content creators to show me their Arket moves. I want uploads of 58 pictures from a house party that reveal the unflattering side profile of a popular person I’ve always been jealous of. The internet was once an unauthorized porthole into someone else’s life, rather than a proud declaration of their existence that could spark enough engagement to land a sponsorship deal.
On top of the readily available millennial ridicule and lack of community, it’s clear that I’m no longer compatible with how these platforms and their users now operate. If so, maybe it’s time for me, and the rest of my anxious, internet-savvy generation, to do the most credible thing we’ve ever done: log out for good.
At least until we’re ready to upgrade to Facebook. Or Tena Lady.
“Is This OK?: One Woman’s Search for Connection Online” by Harriet Gibsone available in stores now
#Uncool #scroll #internet #hostile #millennials