Are millennials uprooting our (supposed) communal society? Are they really a sadder, lonelier, more narcissistic, and greedy generation?
Long answer—it’s complicated.
It is (slightly) understandable why, given contemporary statistics, many folks believe the younger generation of today to have these base characteristics.
- Loneliness appears most frequently and disproportionately, in adults younger than thirty years old. In a national survey, it was discovered that these people reported experiencing considerably higher levels of loneliness than almost any other age group.
- Currently, in the U.S., for every 1,000 individuals, about seven are getting married. It is the lowest marriage rate in the last 150 years, at least. Additionally, about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the country will go on to obtain a divorce, and each marriage thereafter only depletes in its odds of enduring.
- Approximately a third of all people residing in the U.S. say they have never interacted with their neighbors, this is a striking comparison with statistics from the 1970s, where roughly only a fifth of people had no interactions with neighbors.
- Most people in the U.S. have only two close friends, despite the high numbers of friends on social media sites. Years ago, most people reported having at least three close friends in their lives.
So, why are young adults overcome with feelings of missing others and feeling left out regularly? Why do people in our society crave relationships only for them to wither away to failure? What is the cause for our aversion to interacting with the people that live in the same communities as us? How can we claim only two people as confidants, comrades, or friends when our world is, now, more than ever, globally connected and ever increasing?
It would seem as if, despite the incredibly innovative and seemingly connective technology we have in this day and age—such as the smartphone, video messaging, and the internet (specifically social media sites such as Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter)—there is a deep disconnect.
These questions along with a perceived societal disconnect have spurred many ideas and theories in attempts to seek out answers.
The theory of Hyper-individuation, a term coined in the book, "Nations of One" by Lena Ericksen and Marc Shimazu, is particularly interesting, as it is one of the more fleshed out theories thus far. Though, it has significant faults and assumptions deeply embedded in its foundation.
Hyper-individuation (HI) is defined as a frame of mind, or attitude, in which an individual identifies their self as the most central of any and all things, extending beyond ones intrinsic and instinctual sense of self-sufficiency and survival.
In a society fueled by rapid consumption, the hyper-individuated person still manages to see themselves at the center.
The authors argue that hyper-individuation is essentially a result of a Western “supply-side economic structure,” wherein demand is deliberately generated to offset steadily increasing supplies.
Additionally, Ericksen and Shimazu outline some of the principal socioeconomic forces that maintain HI. Including:
—How work is no longer traded for other goods and services but instead for wages
—General and widespread accessibility to potential workers or service providers
—And, the ease of exchanging money for their subsequent services.
Societal consequences of Hyper-individuation are said to include rampant loneliness, a perpetual increase in homes that house just a single person, and a deterioration of neighborhood bonds and communal ties.
There are three developmental paths of hyper-individuation: initial Hyper-individuation (iHI), developed Hyper-individuation (dHI), and finally, transcendental Hyper-individuation (tHI).
The first phase, iHI, is marked by an individual expressing themselves through consumerism. Ericksen and Shimazu propose that “the indispensable link between the iHI person and the world beyond the self is advertising.”
The initial Hyper-individual heavily relies upon ads to assess what is standard and expected. They need to know what is ‘hip’ and what is trending. They need to belong. So, purchasing a certain brand of food at the grocery store, owning a popular smartphone, or even wearing the “in” fashion styles result in feelings of belonging among the iHI.
The second phase, dHI, occurs when an individual tries to bring purpose and significance into their lives. The developed Hyper-individual struggles to find this meaning and seeks it out via drugs, empty relationships, or money.
And lastly, tHI, or transcendental Hyper-individuation, is a phase in which the individual has an understanding of the self, relative to a grander perspective. The tHI has an appreciation of other individuals, the arts, religion, science, etc. in regards to finishing their self-awareness and the world that may lie beyond.
The origins of Hyper-indviduation, Ericksen and Shimazu assert, are primarily a mental state that does not require any explicit learning or socializing to implement the mindset. In other words, you are born with it.
Being a Hyper-individual is the norm now in modern society, along with being greedy and coveting wealth. The authors go on to note that in traditional societies, concern for others was a learned behavior, however, it is conveniently left out in which societies that overt consideration for others was reinforced.
Although individuals’ feelings of loneliness has been on the rise, it is ridiculously speculative and insultingly vague as to whether or not there is a decline of community—and which community at that, as critical race theory, gender schema theory, queer theory, and Marxian class theory, along with the theory of intersectionality, can provide answers as to why a certain community may be on the downfall and the causes of such declination.
Also, the average number of people per household has been decreasing consistently, albeit extremely slowly, since the 1960s. With that mind, over the past 44 years of census taking, the household average has been 2.71 people.
Additionally, the authors suggest that money is all the Hyper-individual necessitates to live and that it is often seen as “one of the few objective indicators of a person’s qualities—money supersedes attributes like fidelity or honesty.” However, is it truly shocking as to why the HI, or anyone living in an imperialist, capitalist society, considers money so important?
Without it, a person is not afforded even the basic essentials to life, such as water, food, shelter, even air, let alone its commodities and luxuries. Admittedly, human greed can produce vicious consumers that are only concerned with objects and materials; while what they consume and the means in which they are able to do so may vary, these people have always existed in some shape or form.
Furthermore, the reasons Ericksen and Shimazu insist as to why the HI is concerned only with the self is precarious. They offer that because the current economic system (capitalism) remains non-personified, individuals began to foster attachments to themselves rather than, for example, Father Time or Mother Nature, like our ancient human predecessors. It can be countered, however, that individuals lost interest (and belief) in the personification of entities long, long before the facelessness of the market forces came into play.
Hyper-Individuation can perhaps provide some insight as to why relationships are short lived, why so many are so lonely, why friendships are fleeting, and why there is an intense need to feel a part of something bigger than yourself—but it is not the end-all-be-all, at least, not without more intense, quantitative data to support it. It would behoove future researchers to study Hyper-individuation much more closely, and in locations not predominantly consisting of young adults so as to better witness how HI affects the U.S. population as a whole.
Moreover, the subtle digs at the younger generation—whom the authors concluded are more likely to fall under some spectrum of Hyper-individuation than older generations—will only hinder the cause. Too often, the generation gap prevents so many from seeing that the youth, particularly young adults, are not alone in their misdeeds, immorality, attitudes, and loneliness.
Annual surveys of drug use and abuse among those ages 13 to 19 show that use of amphetamines and cocaine is dropping. However, substance abuse, particularly of alcohol and prescription drugs, among adults sixty and older sixty is a growing epidemic. It is estimated that seventeen percent of these adults have struggle with substance abuse.
But, even as the number of older adults suffering from addictions and abuse climbs, the situation remains swept under the rug. Similarly, besides young adults, older individuals have the highest rates of loneliness and feelings of abandonment. Both these age groups could fall under developed Hyper-individuation, but, interestingly enough, the authors choose only to focus on millennials. Why?
Furthermore, using the African American community as an example, the racist and disproportionate policing of neighborhoods in the 1980s (under the guise of the War on Drugs) resulted in many arrests of Black men and women, but more so Black men. These arrests bolstered a bustling prison industry and resulted in demand for more prisoners to fill the increasing amount of prisons being built.
In turn, more Black men are arrested, taken away from their families, and upon release, are more susceptible to crime—allowing the cycle to continue, even generationally. So, is it fair, or even factual, to say that the reason for the deterioration of the (Black) community is due to selfishness and consumption?
Taking into account the detrimental effects of racism, white supremacy, sexism, colonialism, classism, and homophobia could assist in filling in the social gaps that HI cannot solely account for.
Millennials are not the end of our society. We are the beginning.