Generation Me. The selfie generation. The snowflake generation. Millennials are categorised as self-absorbed, narcissistic and overly sensitive. If you Google the word millennial right now, you’ll be met with a plethora of articles and think-pieces on how millennials are totally fucked. We’re a useless generation - can’t hold down a proper job, can’t repay our student loans, can’t move out of our parents’ homes and, by and large, suffer with mental health issues that we can’t afford to treat. 

A 2017 study showed that millennials check their phones 150 times a day and 61% of Twitter users are millennials. We are able to communicate in a way that has never been accessible before and we are the first generation to come of age on the internet. I first had internet access at home when I was twelve. We always had computers and internet access at school, so it was something I grew up with, but specific websites were often blocked at school and so being able to go on the internet at home was a game changer.

I started high school just as the rise of Facebook was happening and (as embarrassing as it is to look back on now, so much so that I deleted my old Facebook account and made a new one when I started university) it felt incredible to be able to see what people at school did when they left to go home. Which apparently mainly consisted of playing Pet Society and going to the local park. Facebook filled this incessant human need to be connected, to stay connected and to know what your peers were doing. It answered the question of ‘am I normal?’ and allowed us to feel validated in everything we did because people would like and comment and engage. It was instant gratification and millennials had been raised to crave just that. We are the ‘everyone gets a prize’ generation and in adulthood we still want that prize for just taking part in life. 

I have younger cousins, born 5-10 years after I was, who cannot remember life without the internet. They were basically born with iPad in hand. Whilst most people’s initial reaction to that would be an unnerving feeling that all Black Mirror episodes are definitely going to come true at some point in the near future, I think it’s incredible. Generation Z are the first generation to not have any sort of concept of the internet not existing and that’s a big deal, probably an even bigger deal than millennials coming of age on the internet. Generation Z were born on the internet - literally. There are birthing videos on YouTube, ‘mummy bloggers’ sharing every waking moment of their children’s lives and Instagram accounts basically dedicated to other people’s kids. But we’ll have to wait at least 10 years to hear generation Z’s introspective reflection on how that’s affected them.

"If I felt awful I could Tweet about it, turn it into a joke, and I knew people would like it. It felt like a form of solidarity."

Most of the older generations view the millennial need for online validation as overwhelming bad, they see it as vapid, self-absorbed and frankly, damaging. But online validation saved my life. I set up a Twitter account in October 2014 and I mainly used it to make light of my suffering; inspired by the Twitter account so sad today and the beliefs that a) it was okay to be vulnerable online and b) if it’s your depression, you can joke about it if you want to. I found solace in the likes, replies, direct messages and retweets. If I felt awful I could Tweet about it, turn it into a joke, and I knew people would like it. It felt like a form of solidarity. In September 2015 I started university, and like most freshers, I felt unbearably lonely. Despite that overwhelming loneliness, thanks to Twitter, I almost always felt validated. I knew that if I turned my depression into a joke online it would not only help to vent my problems, but it would also help others to find comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone. Soon I began to receive Twitter DM's from people saying things like, ‘Just randomly felt the need to say your Twitter is literally one of the best. Ur tweets are consistently GOLD and it makes me happy. Bless you.’ 

This message in particular made me think that if I can make other people happy with my Tweets, that is enough reason to live. In a minuscule way, it gave me purpose.

I also received the slightly weirder, ‘Honestly, I am drawn to you. Not superficially sexually but I saw your tweets and I believe in you’ which was still a welcomed message because, at this point in my life, all validation was good validation. I needed people to believe in me. 

Twitter meant that I could connect to people when I was struggling to in a real-world way. All I had was my laptop in a tiny self-contained student flat but for a while it felt like that was all I needed. I’d found a community of people who cared about what I had to say, who cared about my wellbeing, who could relate and laugh along with me about the unavoidably shit parts of life.

Most of the boys I’ve dated started a conversation about how much they like my Tweets - simultaneously flattering and damning because how could I tweet about how sad I was when they inevitably hurt me (spoiler alert: I did anyway.) I’d created a brand for myself. So much so that when I travelled 200 miles down to London to go to a gig at Tuffnell Park Dome, a girl approached me and asked if I was ‘that girl that always Tweets about getting drunk and being sad at uni’ - I tentatively said ‘yes’ and she hugged me and told me that she loved me. Online validation was slowly becoming offline validation and I was starting to gain a concrete sense of self.

"Being a 15-year-old girl is universally hard. But you can times that by one-hundred when you’re a 15-year-old girl who doesn’t own a mobile phone and spends her weekends in her Grandma’s spare room writing poetry and painting because she’s read one biography on the Brontë’s and now thinks she’s a tortured artist."

Another site that was absolutely pivotal in my coming of age and finding a sense of self was Tumblr. Too young for MySpace and too old for Snapchat, when I made a Tumblr account in 2011 there was already 33,313,876 users. The microblogging website gave a voice and a community to those who felt like outsiders. Being a 15-year-old girl is universally hard. But you can times that by one-hundred when you’re a 15-year-old girl who doesn’t own a mobile phone and spends her weekends in her Grandma’s spare room writing poetry and painting because she’s read one biography on the Brontë’s and now thinks she’s a tortured artist. I was often content with my own company, thinking I didn’t need the companionship of others, but when I wasn’t getting invited to parties, I think I only convinced myself that that was the case because there was no other option. This is where Tumblr came in. Anyone born between 1992 and 1998 can remember the edits, the gifs, the fanfiction, the aesthetically pleasing photos of sunsets and log cabins, men with beards and vampire weekend audio files in which Ezra Koenig sings in French. It felt like home. I could curate myself. Was I into Doctor Who, Grizzly Bear or pictures of cats with galaxy backgrounds photoshopped in? It didn’t matter because someone else would also be into it too and I could decide what version of myself the world saw. The gifs and aesthetically pleasing images for many Tumblr users were a front, a means by which they could find common ground with others and discuss bigger things like their feelings! The illustrative sunsets and animals were just thinly veiled teenage angst. I started to use Tumblr as if I was keeping a diary the only difference between Tumblr and a diary was that about 1,000 people were reading my Tumblr blog. 

Looking back through my Tumblr archives now is torturously sad. 

I wrote this aged fifteen:
“im hopeless and i cant convey emotions so instead i lock myself away in the hope that the problem will be gone but of course it isnt and i cant keep running away. so instead i sleep only to be abruptly awakened at 4 in the morning by the exact problem i was trying to sleep off but now all my emotions are both amplified and heightened by my tiredness.”

I don’t even remember hurting so much at fifteen but I do think it was paramount that I had the opportunity to share how I felt, to hear others and to be heard.

I wrote this aged eighteen:
“I’m sick of boys texting me asking how I am when they obviously don’t care how I actually am they just think they might have a chance of getting with me, I’m sick of boys saying how they’d ‘bang’ me, I’m sick of boys pretending they care because they can get something from me in return, I’m sick of not feeling safe and cared for, I’m sick.” 

That last text post really got to me when I re-read it three years later. Six people liked that post and one person replied with, “it’ll get better.” I knew people could hear me. I wasn’t just shouting into the void and receiving nothing in return. Instead, my pure unadulterated thoughts were being recognised and that has never stopped being liberating. 

Empty, vapid, narcissistic and shallow - that’s what millennials are, right? I don’t think so. In my experience we are much more than that - we are empathetic, sensitive to the needs of others, caring, tolerant, understanding and kind. We might take selfies and shout about our feelings online but in this world of dystopian uncertainty, where Donald Trump is president and Brexit is actually a thing that’s actually happening, we deserve that voice. We deserve a platform in which we can support one another when seemingly, the rest of the world isn’t. We deserve to be validated.