One of my innate strengths is my ability to communicate. I can read an audience and body language to subtly change and better deliver my message. I will quickly add an identifier to a word because I can read in someone’s eye they might need clarification. I am known for tossing in clever ad lib to fit the mood of an audience. I have spoken to new Americans, professional and trade groups, urban, suburban and rural communities, grade school kids, seniors, auditoriums of strangers. Making it worth your time to listen to me and making a connection is so rewarding. And because good communication is essential to me, I hope some American millennials can help bridge my understanding of a common interjection among your demographic: “I wasn’t born yet.”
This has become a legitimate concern for me because, in spite of my quick ability to insert ques, interjections and clarifications, the “I wasn’t born yet,” remark has become a frequent but random utterance from millennials that, frankly, is halting. I might understand it better if this wasn’t so random and used as much about innocuous trivia as it is for a major historic event. I see it on social media, hear it on talk radio and TV and I’ve been in enough situations where someone says it. If you haven’t noticed it before, you will now.
Look, I don’t want a Cool Hand Luke situation. (Google it.) I want to understand what a millennial means when he or she says this. I know not to use medical jargon with a kindergarten class. I know not to share intricate home construction nuance with people who are not DIY wired. I know not to delve into the subtle flavor blends in vegan cooking with a butcher. But if I have to parse every conversation with a millennial within his or her relevant time span, the innate communicator in me will be greatly encumbered. So with the “I wasn’t born yet” comment, do you need immediate historical context so that we may continue? Are you at a point of such frustration in our exchange that your remark encompasses everything said? Does interjecting, “I wasn’t born yet,” mean you are curious, confused, ignorant, disinterested, dismissive, insecure, rude, needing to feel relevant or requiring special attention, self-absorbed or do you consider nothing I have to say of value? The difference between saying, “I don’t get that reference, what does that mean or could you explain that?” and, “I wasn’t born yet,” is the discussion turns from the subject to that singular individual. You may think this is a distinction without a difference but it’s not.
From the receiver, it sounds rude or snarky, at best. If you mean it literally, then why not use the converse, “I was already born,” by which you would mean you know absolutely everything about everything post birth or that is all you care about. Saying, “I wasn’t born yet,” means I must explain the most recent reference but also it makes me question whether you possess any intellectual curiosity about things you haven’t lived, learned or experienced. Is that what you mean? That is what this broad statement implies.
Of all people, millennials should know there is nothing you can’t research or learn with a click. Of all people, millennials should be familiar with recording devices and, like yesterday’s Vine or your morning chai tea pic on Instagram, every post, game, movie, TV show, song, event, text, selfie, crime or what you are reading now are from the past and recorded for all to experience. If I reference a movie from 1939 you haven’t seen, saying, “I wasn’t born yet,” suggests the only way to know that movie is to have seen it the day it premiered. The Wizard of Oz premiered in 1939 but I’ll bet a lot of American millennials are familiar with it. I am, too, even though I wasn’t born yet. I have heard hundreds of thousands of remarks that might not be within my first-person experience, familiar to me or from something I know because I read, saw or heard the recording, but I am able to remain engaged by mentally navigating, researching later or ignoring the remark. And just because I know something and a millennial does not, how is “I wasn’t born yet,” a distinguisher? Do you actually assume that if someone knows something you do not, the only way for the person to know it is if they saw it live? That is what you are implying and your listener is inferring. And that’s why I find it rude.
I love movies but when someone says a line from a John Wayne movie I might say I don’t like John Wayne or don’t watch westerns because I don’t. But it would not occur to me to say, “I wasn’t born yet,” because the film still exists for anyone with the desire to see it. It’s been recorded. I possess intellectual curiosity for many things and if I want to know about something or see something from the past, I find it and experience it. Don’t millennials? I’ll bet most millennials have seen part of an I Love Lucy episode. I saw one this morning. I Love Lucy? From the past. The Wizard of Oz? From the past. George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Jesus? From the past – for everyone alive today!
Maybe this phenomenon is a result of Internet immediacy, which you have had since birth and you can’t help yourself. But that doesn’t make it sound any less annoying or any less derisive.