You’ve all heard that millennials are basically the worst generation of all time—entitled narcissists who care about nothing but finding new apps to sext with. But this is all a lie. The worst people in the entire world are old people. From now on they should be called by their rightful title: the Laziest Generation.
The New York Times’ Ashley Parker reports that Lindsey Graham is not the only sitting U.S. senator who doesn’t use email in the year 2015. John McCain and Chuck Schumer don’t either; Orrin Hatch uses it “not very much.” What’s worse is that these men are unashamed. “Maybe once every four months, I do one email,” Schumer told the Times with “evident relish.” This is the eye-roll of an entire generation. Every single day, from fancy offices in Washington to humbler ones across Middle America, boomers and their Silent Generation elders are preying on millennials: stealing time from them by refusing to learn technology and therefore making extra work for everybody else.
Millennial underlings hear statements like Schumer’s—essentially “I don’t use communications technology”—every day from their old overlords. They’re always delivered smugly, with a little wink, with the implication that the speaker is above the silly trends of modern life and the obsessions of status-conscious young people. This is bullshit. The truth is they are lazy. They are lazy and they are afraid that if they actually started using the same tools as everyone else, they would be exposed as less productive and less good at their jobs.
When an old person refuses to send an email, it doesn’t mean the work goes away. It means two or more millennials have to send, oh, six emails to work around the problem. Bill Clinton says he hasn’t sent email since he left the White House—yet he’s on Twitter. That doesn’t mean there’s no WJC email traffic. It just means that one of his servants is using email to do things like verify his password for him.
The New York Times notes that this email opt-out is happening in “a building that still employs staff to press the elevator buttons for the senators.” And yes, it’s especially galling coming from Congress. (What does Congress say to everyone else who doesn’t change with the modern economy? Something like: “Sorry blue collar workers who failed to adapt by not iterating or living in China or whatever—you’ll just have to learn to be poor!”)
But this problem is not just one for elite politicians who don’t have to fear getting fired, thanks to creative gerrymandering. No, this is an epidemic. Older workers who refuse to learn computers are torturing millions of millennials every single day.
A Pew Research Center report from 2014 revealed some particularly frustrating attitudes held by the folks who’d have you believe they’re the second-greatest generation. It’s likely many of those surveyed—65 and older—are retired. But the report still reflects what many discover when working with older people:
- 79 percent of older adults who have the internet say that “people without internet access are at a real disadvantage because of all the information they might be missing.”
- But of older adults who do not have the internet, only 48 percent say people without the internet are at a disadvantage.
- And 35 percent of older adults without the internet disagree that not having internet is a disadvantage, while 18 percent of them disagree strongly.
Old people don’t understand why they need to use the internet until they use it. (Elsewhere Pew has found that yes, the internet is a good thing.) It is an unknown unknown. And what Schumer, 64 years young, doesn't know is clear when he says his staff prefers he call, because "If a Type A personality like me emailed, I’d be bothering them all the time." Yes. And the messages would be organized and manageable, a convenient little list of things to do in a double-checkable text format.
What’s infuriating about the Laziest Generation refusing to use technology is that they insincerely try to sell it as a charming personality quirk, a bonus that makes them so much more fun to work with. You know what old people say? They say (and I’m slightly paraphrasing here), “I just don’t like using vital digital communications tools because I have so much authenticity.” Like Chuck Schumer! He told the Times, “I like to communicate by talking directly to people.”
You know what that’s like? That’s like a farmer saying, “I just don’t like the new hay balers even though they can bale 60 tons of hay in a day. I’d rather use the old machine and a few humans to do less than 1 ton a day. For the face-to-hay interaction."
In 2011, Ben Smith argued that an AOL email address was actually a status symbol. “Now that my mother has switched to Gmail, virtually the only people I email at AOL accounts are bigshots—people who were already so important by the time the various new fads (and technical advantages) arrived that they couldn't be bothered to switch, and had nothing to prove to anyone,” he wrote in Politico. Smith named several famous email users, such as Dick Morris, the controversial pollster, and Tina Brown, then of the Daily Beast. Perhaps Brown’s AOL address was a sign that she was a true visionary; perhaps it was a reflection of the internet savvy of a website news editor who ordered staffers to print out the whole site and deliver it to her in a three-ring binder.
Either way, Smith is now the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed. Whatever status or charm he may have found in dinosaur tech at the personal level, he clearly did not find appealing at the media company level.
Email is a tool. The internet is a tool. Humans use tools, it’s what separates us from, like, manatees. We are already more machine than man. The oven is your external digestion machine. Gore-Tex is an external skin device. And Gmail is one piece of your brain. Use it.
This article has been updated.