A Lonely Existence

Latchkey Kid

Once again, author David V. Stewart incisively unpacks the deeper spiritual and cultural implications of a recent viral post.

Though he blurs the line between Gen Y and the Millennials--understandable for SEO reasons--the clear differences come through in his video.

Note to Boomers who pontificate, "'Gen Y' is just a name Millennials embarrassed by the latter half of their cohort invented to differentiate themselves." Ys born 1979-1984 are not embarrassed by Ys born 1985-1989. The entire cohort is, however, confounded by Millennials.

Counterpoint: Only a Boomer would miss the deep and real divide between kids who grew up with ubiquitous internet and smartphones as opposed kids who grew up without them.
Generation Y are a generation that was raised by institutions, media, and each other. 
You're born, very quickly you end up in daycare or preschool, where you spend most of your time. Very early in life, you're spending most of your time not with your parents. You're spending it with peers, primarily, and peers are not the best guides for developing minds--although you can develop social skills with peers. And so you're kind of learning by blind rote. You're learning through trial and error how to operate social relationships, because you're not with an adult who's managing that stuff.
You go to elementary school; you spend all day in elementary school. Not only do you spend all day in elementary school, you spend most of that day parked at a desk where you don't want to be, doing things you don't want to do, not even interacting with other kids. Maybe you have to go to daycare after school. Then you get home, and you have to do homework. Comes down to it, you're only really getting to see your parents a couple of minutes a day, maybe an hour. You're not spending much time with your parents at all.
Is it any wonder Gen Y is defined by atomization and greater facility with forming attachments to things and ideas than people?

Another reason conflating Generation Y with the Millennial Generation is a category error: Millennials are the herd. Ys are the lonely crowd.
[My generation] was the first generation--while the Xers might've been the first generation raised in daycare, I feel like ours was the first one raised entirely in a completely materialistic and material-focused universe. 
In my early 20s I went to a Tridentine Mass, and I was awestruck by the difference between that and what was comparable in a Protestant church. Whereas in a Protestant church everything is focused on your immediate emotional state, not so in the Latin Rite. I never felt, till I saw that, like I was in a religious ceremony. The people executing that religious ceremony believe in what they are doing. They believe in the mystic nature of what they are doing. They believe in the sacraments. They believe in the dogmas of the Church. They believe in God. Everything is true when you're watching that. 
Unlike Gen Xers, who grew cynical as they watched familiar institutions fail, and Millennials, who never knew the old traditions and largely embraced the anti-culture, Ys ended up adrift with only secondhand accounts of a functioning society to go on.
We had to wake up at 6 AM, go to school, sit in a desk and repeat facts that we didn't care about. Go home, do a bunch of busywork homework, go to soccer practice, and go to bed.
And we played with our toys in the margins, and we played Nintendo on Saturdays, and so our nostalgia was for the Nintendo on Saturday; not for any meaningful experience. It was for the moments of meaning awash in a sea of nihilism.
That is why Scott's tale resonated so deeply with my Gen Y readers. Boomers, Jonsers, and even Xers have nostalgia for significant personal, familial, and spiritual experiences--or even a general time or place.

Millennials experience no profound nostalgia because they have no history. For them, it is always Current Year.

Ys have nostalgia for brightly colored pieces of plastic, flickering video images, and lavishly printed cardboard.
I think it's powerful for us because we had that entirely materialistic upbringing. It was a very wealthy upbringing. We were raised by the wealthiest generation ever, the Boomers and given everything. But what we weren't given was meaning. And what we weren't given were times spent with our parents and extended family that taught us things about the past.
For more of David's keen insights, watch his whole excellent video.

And for mech thrills torn from a classic 80s anime, read Combat Frame XSeed!

Combat Frame XSeed - Brian Niemeier

UPDATE: David has kindly invited me on his live stream tonight to talk Gen Y and nostalgia culture. Join us at 6 Central/8 Pacific!


  1. Ys have nostalgia for brightly colored pieces of plastic, flickering video images, and lavishly printed cardboard.

    Ouch. That cuts to the heart, and I'm one of the fortunate ones with a stable and loving family and a sound upbringing in the Catholic Faith. (Peer relationships weren't the greatest, though.)

  2. I almost don't want to watch David's video because just reading this partial transcript makes me want to cry.

    1. He nailed it.

      "Alone in a Crowd" is the best descriptor of Gen Y I've heard. There is this weird space everyone of my generation has with each other that doesn't really exist with the others.

    2. @Alex: Go ahead. We won't tell anybody.

      Not all tears are an evil.

    3. Not all tears are an evil, but these are. The past 20 years of my life have basically been an empty waste. And I HAD a great, traditional upbringing with a great family.

      There's a commenter, I think on the Gen Y story post, who said their big problem was their own laziness. That's been mine also. And I think it's a laziness born out of material excess and a complete and utter lack of challenge, danger, or urgency.

    4. Agreed Alexander. Laziness and fear of failure come from how we were raised. I used to say as a kid I was born in the most boring time period in history. Now that it’s become interesting, it’s an interior battle to try and engage it rather than turtle.

  3. Gen Y won't discuss the personal, they keep to themselves unless prodded. But if you bring up an event or product that existed before the 2000s they will talk your ear off. They don't have any real relation to the current age since everything they associate with it was destroyed. These are the people who will see the newest Ghostbusters or Star Wars and walk out with no real impression--it's just familiar to them.

    As opposed to this, the Millennials look at the past as something to be actively destroyed. This was neatly summed up by that cartoon strip of the dumb woman re-watching 90s cartoons and declaring they were problematic now. They are incapable of looking at anything outside of their narrow frame of reference.

    One looks to the past as a refuge, and the other looks to it as an existential thread. One keeps to themselves, and the other wants to reshape everything around them.

    You can try to conflate the two as the same generation all you want, but it doesn't wash.

    1. Not to get too political...and I apologize if that turns anyone off.

      But from your comments about Millennials ("As opposed to this, the Millennials look at the past as something to be actively destroyed.") and those of Brian's in the post ("Millennials experience no profound nostalgia because they have no history. For them, it is always Current Year.") I'm struck with the Millennial generation's inherently 'leftist' outlook/paradigm, even when they don't necessarily identify with the left.

      You guys are smarter than I, more taken with philosophical musings than I, and so this is probably nothing new to you. But I wonder at it: is it the just the leftist culture they were raised in? Devoid of any meaningful religion, while worshipping the shallow ideals of the modern era?

      I have no answers.

      - "This was neatly summed up by that cartoon strip of the dumb woman re-watching 90s cartoons and declaring they were problematic now. They are incapable of looking at anything outside of their narrow frame of reference."
      -JD Cowan

      For about a year, we had a woman join our Friday D&D game. She is an Assistant District Attorney (our group is largely Law Enforcement and Attorneys) and a millennial. One night, we got talking about the movie Christmas Vacation. We had some laughs. She wanted to watch the movie so a buddy let her borrow his copy.

      She hated it. Because, and I quote, "Chevy Chase was far too 'rapey'. And the whole movie was problematic. And she doesn't even identify as a leftist. She's a registered Republican.

      Needless to say, she wasn't a good fit for our group and didn't stay a member for very long.

    2. She--she didn't like ... Christmas Vacation?

      Is anyone else hot in here?

      I can't ... can't breathe.

    3. I notice many in Gen Y have default leftist assumptions, but they're only surface level. They won't fight if challenged on them.

      But I've also found that getting a Y to attend a funeral that isn't a direct family member is like pulling teeth.

      For those so steeped in nostalgia, they sure don't like talking about the deceased.

      Many are avoiding reality and burying their heads in the sand just hoping to get by. Part is probably laziness brought on by avoiding conflict for so long and the other is conflict avoidance in simply not wanting things to get worse yet again for them.

      But if they can crack that shell they will turn it around. It's just really tough to do, especially with a society that refuses to admit their existence and threw them away.

      And anyone who hate Christmas Vacation has to be someone who didn't grow up in the 80s and 90s. That's pretty much what it was like living at the time, albeit exaggerated for comedic effect.

    4. "And anyone who hate Christmas Vacation has to be someone who didn't grow up in the 80s and 90s."

      You're on a roll coming up with these Gen Y litmus tests. Even had Emmett not said she was a Millennial, the Christmas Vacation test would've found her out.

    5. The leftism is a result from the vacuum left in Christianity’s wake. Marx said it was necessary because true faith in God leads to people self regulating their appetites. The reason Millenials, whether registered R or D are leftists is they were fully raised to be feral and lack regulation. They don’t want sex confined to marriage, drugs confined to proper use, conception fully open to happening, deviancies not being accepted. How can one defend the Good, True and Beautiful if they reject it wholesale in order to appease their appetites?

    6. You're right about why Millennials strongly trend Leftist. And Leftism ultimately leads to the destruction of the truth.

  4. Brian

    As a Canadian Gen xers I'm not so much cynical as contemptuous

    I witness the consolidation the Quiet revolution and Vatican 2 during my elementary school years
    The results struck me as similar to the Chinese cultural revolution.
    Then came the Boomer derangement whereby they refused to make way for the subsequent generations while squandering the accumulated wealth...because... they're bestest.

    So the Millenial phenomenon is the logical result of the Boomer cultural revolution

    TL;DR regress, recover, restart


  5. Born 1987, I identify greatly with everything you've written about Gen Y, and yet, like M.L. Martin, I had (have) a stable and loving family, parents who, though they have a few Boomer faults like trusting the system and not teaching us practical things, spent loads of time with us, homeschooled and raised us in the Faith. And still, I'm an old maid, atomized, asocial, and easily overwhelmed with mournful nostalgia for nineties toys and cartoons. So it can't all be laid at the feet of lack of parental attention, I think.

    1. That's all well and good. But here's the real question:

      Animaniacs, yes or no?

    2. Anamaniacs!

      Anybody watch that in the last few years, able to say if it aged well? I liked it at the time but the intervening years bred skepticism. Something about Steven Speilberg and children, after all.

    3. Although there are many more period references than older Warner Brothers cartoons of the 50s and 60s (and Hanna-Barbera cartoons of he 60s and 70s), "Animaniacs" holds up pretty well.

      As do "Tiny Toon Adventures", "Pinky and the Brain", and (of course) "Freakazoid".

  6. Of course, much of my situation can be laid at my own feet, but there's still the Gen Y commonalities despite the parental attention and care.

    1. Remember, only half of Ys came from broken homes. But counteracting the influence of an entire culture is a herculean task--even for a good, faithful family.

    2. From my experience, broken homes don't make that much difference with Y. The ones that had stable families still suffer from the same nostalgic curse.

      The thing that probably hurt the worst was the lack of religious influence on their lives. They have no other frame aside from the material, which is objectively worse for them today.

  7. My path away feom millennial failures and selfishness was driven by - what else? - the Church, and how it helped me acknowledge and recontextualize my failures?

    To clarify: I flunked out of college. My excuses were none: I am reasonably smart, have a loving family, and experienced few hardships, yet was not raised to avoid them either. I failed because I was lazy.

    It wasn't the fault of the college system, or the school system, or any of that. It was me.

    I drifted in a panic for several years, not knowing what to do, making half-hearted attempts to better myself that repeatedly fizzled out.

    It changed only when I decided I'd been hypocritical long enough. On Ash Wednesday of 2018 I went back to Church, have attended regularly since, and received Confession for the first time in 6 years. I recontextualized everything: It was no longer about what I wanted to do, but where God wanted me to be. With that shift, it is almost eerie how easily things clicked into place.

    I graduated from online school in August and am currently in a Masters program for education*, with the goal of starting a Catholic school with traditional latin Masses.

    In the meantime I teach (basic) Robotics and work a 2nd job in retail when I'm not there.

    Is this particularly millennial? I don't know. Perhaps. But it is the most joyful I have felt since I left high school, the least guilty and the most fulfilled.

    *Please do not lecture me on the pointlessness of college or the problems associated with debt. I know about it all. My path is what works for me specifically; I advise everyone to go to Church and go to Confession, but advise nobody to follow in my footsteps on anything else. Judge your own circumstances accordingly.

    1. Praise God for your conversion/reversion! And update us down the road on that mission of yours (too many Catholic schools are themselves converged and are as clown world as their liturgy).

    2. Will do! I'm most curioualy if my situation is a particularly millennial one. But it does shape my attitude towards "Love yourself/God loves you the way you are!" nonsense.

      He doesn't love your damn fornicating, so stop it.

  8. I think part of the "material nostalgia" is from a generation raised with only pop-culture, no identity.

    I agree with the comment on "feely" churches. Completely worthless. For a Protestant that difference in the feeling of religion is usually tied up with the music - at least for me. I've always found churches where Christ, rather than immediate feelings, were central. But the music... not only are the old hymns rarely sung, when they ARE it is a crapshoot as to whether they'll have been UPDATED with NEW HIP music... from Boomerville. I walked out on one hymn being brutally violated to Bette Midler's "The Rose".

    1. I grew up with hymns as a child, and then as a teenager with a mix of hymns and "praise choruses." They were good Evangelical churches, because my folks are theologically conservative, and picky about finding churches where the Bible is preached faithfully, preferably with an expository or exegetical approach, but the fashion trends in Protestant worship music over the last thirty years have been unfortunate. Far too many praise choruses are dodgy as doctrine, insipid as poetry, and mind-numbingly repetitive. There's a beauty and depth in the old, old songs that you just can't find at Superfun Rockband Church.

    2. Protestants have better hymns--at least from the 20th century onward.

      Having heard twee, saccharine hymns all my life, I've just gotten numb to them. Good thing I bring my rosary to Mass.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. So I probably shouldn't share the link of SHOUT TO THE LORD as Led Zepplin would sing it?

      Led Zepplin SHOUT!

    5. Posting that non-ironically would merit a Witch Test.

    6. You haven't lived until you've heard a snare drum and tom rolls in the opening hymn.

      Rocking out for Jesus by giving me a migraine.

      Keep it for the hootenanny, kids.

  9. *central to teaching and the intellectual side of things.

  10. I wonder how the GenX/GenY/Millenial analysis applies to Third Culture kids, like Missionary Kids, Military Brats, and Foreign Service kids. I wonder because I am one, and don't quite recognize myself in the descriptions. I'm an Army brat, so some of my childhood nostalgia ties into having grown up in several places, including halfway around the world. I remember ThunderCats and Transformers and Robotech and the like, but what I really remember is growing up in different places with different friends and different weather. I particularly our trips to Koln, and Rothenburg ab Tor, and Bavaria, and the Roman ruins at Trier, and watching the Burning of the Castle from the banks of the Neckar River. I still sort of miss my childhood friends from Germany, however. I suppose I and my sister were profoundly blessed by my parents' decision that Mom would stay home with us and more blessed because she's a competent teacher. The education system was already failing, but Mom could at least cover history and literature at home. I bet a lot of other milbrats had two working parents, though, and were just as latch-key as described. I guess I would need to talk to my fellow GenY cousins to see how things were for them growing up, and then ask our GenY cousins for good measure. Was home really home, or were they left to entertain themselves because some of my aunts and uncles chose to work? I think the other set of Army brats in my family could probably say Home was really home, but I wonder a bit more about my cousins who grew up Stateside, as true civilians.