For Amanda James, the shopping crisis began when it was time to return to the office.
After 18 months of working from home, James, who works in alumni relations at the University of Kentucky, wanted a few new tops to refresh her work wardrobe. But after scouring her go-to stores from the before times, she came up empty-handed.
“I was looking on Macy’s, I was looking on Loft,” James, 35, told Insider. “I felt like I was going through the old favorites and nothing was coming up.”
James’ issues finding work clothes mirror a growing frustration among millennial women who are unsure where to shop after months of working from home. As life returns to normal in some ways, women who’ve purchased only loungewear or athleisure for over a year – if they’ve shopped at all – are trying to refresh their wardrobe before they head back to the office or attend parties or events.
But many retailers still haven’t totally recovered from months of pandemic disruptions, and the ongoing supply chain crunch means there are simply fewer clothes to buy right now. Those issues, combined with a societal push to shop more sustainably, has made shopping for cool, trendy, or fun options extra-challenging.
“I really haven’t bought any clothes for the past year-and-a-half and would like a few things that I’m comfortable in, that I feel good in, that I think are cute to wear out,” James said. “And I have been striking out on that.”
‘Crop tops everywhere’
The phrase “I don’t know where to shop anymore” has been circulating among my own friends, family, and coworkers for months.
I decided to pose the issue to my Instagram followers, who are mostly millennial women, and received a slew of responses – in my very unscientific poll, 85% of respondents, all of them women, said they’re having trouble figuring out where to shop. And when I asked where they’re shopping for affordable clothes right now, one friend immediately responded: “When you find out, let me know.”
What James pointed out – and something I and my fellow millennials friends have noticed as well – is that it just doesn’t feel like there are many options for women in their late 20s to mid-30s.
“It’s crop tops everywhere,” James said.
That experience lines up with data from retail intelligence firm Edited, which explored the brands that are popular with Gen Z versus millennials. While sportswear brands like Nike and Adidas reign supreme with both cohorts, and ASOS is popular as well, that’s where the similarities ended.
Millennials’ favorite brands include Glossier and Veja – who make makeup and skincare products, and higher-end sneakers, respectively, and don’t sell clothes – and two affordable, if generic, clothing retailers: Everlane and H&M.
Gen Z, on the other hand, favors Urban Outfitters, PacSun, Boohoo, Missguided, and PrettyLittleThing – fast-fashion brands that make ultra-trendy and affordable clothes, shoes, and accessories. A visit to the current homepage of Missguided, for example, shows models in backless leather shirts, silky slip dresses, and crop tops.
This generational divide exemplifies the challenge of shopping as a millennial: While Gen Z may be able to rely an ever-rotating selection of interesting, if disposable, clothes, millennials seem to buying either athleisure or basics.
Seeking out better options, not more options
A new focus on sustainability may be one reason why millennials don’t know where to turn, as Aoife Byrne, senior womenswear analyst at Edited, wrote in the report.
“For cash-strapped teens, many find it hard to resist the allure and convenience of fast-fashion,” Byrne wrote. “Millennials with higher disposable income are more likely to have the resources to reflect their beliefs through their spending.”
But shopping with the environment in mind unfortunately comes with a higher price tag, and finding that balance between affordability and sustainability is starting to lead many women to seek out professional guidance.
Liz Teich, a commercial and personal fashion stylist who runs a blog called The New York Stylist, said she’s seen a major influx of new clients heading into the fall, especially as many people return to the office or finally have weddings to attend or vacations to take. Plus, the pandemic realigned how we shop – primarily online versus in stores – and for a lot of us, it’s a challenging adjustment.
“I had somebody today say, ‘I forgot how to shop. I don’t know where to go. And I look in the stores and it doesn’t seem like there’s anything there that I like,'” Teich said. “People don’t know how to shop anymore because we’re so used to going to the mall or going to stores.”
Teich said that other women have simply shifted their values during the pandemic, making a pledge to spend their money, like Byrne highlighted, with brands that prioritize values like the environment or equality.
“I’ve been finding that a lot of people just don’t know where to shop because people are more conscious of how they shop,” Teich said. “People are more invested in purchasing from sustainable designers or more conscious brands or independent designers – diverse, women-owned businesses.”
For women facing a shopping conundrum right now, Teich recommended a range of companies that focus on higher-quality pieces, many of them with an emphasis on sustainability: M.M.LaFleur, Goldie, Grey State Apparel, Dôen, August the Label, Love the Label, and Merlette.
As for the price point, Teich recommended slightly reframing what we shop for and why.
“In the past, we’ve been going to more things so we needed more outfits – we were seeing more people, so we needed more options,” she said. “Now, I think people are looking for better options instead of more.”
Whiny, self-obsessed, not politically engaged enough – the accusations directed at millennials by older generations seem endless.
Millennials, or anyone born between 1980 and 2000, often get painted as pampered do-gooders with a naive worldview, whose priorities extend only to getting sabbaticals and being allowed to work from home.
That said, decades of disregard for the climate, unfair policies and structures being implemented between the generations, and questionable ideas concerning success in the workplace have left 18 to 38-year-olds with a heavy weight to bear.
Twenty-one young people from Germany told Insider of the problems the baby boomers have created and perpetuated in Germany and how they can be solved:
‘Let’s stop talking about what’s gone wrong.’
We’re hurtling towards the edge of a cliff at full pelt – it isn’t for the sake of science that we’re trying to figure out the quantity by which sea levels are set to rise; it’s about survival.
Together, with more than 67,000 other children and young people from our Plant for the Planet initiative, I’ve committed myself to combat the climate crisis. And yes, perhaps the older generation is listening to us but are they doing enough?
The climate crisis is the greatest challenge of our time. The CO2 clock is ticking. What must we do and what can we do right now? Well, we can massively reduce our CO2 emissions. And we can plant 1,000 billion trees to absorb a quarter of man-made CO2. I’d say to the older generations, to company bosses, and to politicians: “Let’s stop talking about what’s gone wrong or what’s going wrong – let’s plant trees together and save our future.”
‘It’s older people who get to call the shots on pensions – yet they no longer have to cough up.’
Most baby boomers will be retiring soon, which will put considerable pressure on our pension system. There’s a massive disparity between the number of working people and the increasing number of pensioners for whom those working people are footing the bill.
I think a simple and logical solution would be if everyone had to work for a period of time during their later years. And retirement should be linked to life expectancy. I’m skeptical about who decides what’s what when it comes to pensions. You only find older people sitting on the Pensions Commission, who no longer foot the bill themselves. We younger people have to hand out payments but aren’t given a say.
‘The biggest problem the baby boomers have left us isn’t that they haven’t grown out of their crap.’
The biggest problem the baby boomers have dumped on us isn’t that they haven’t grown out of their crappy habits: it’s the state they’ve in which they’ve left the future of our pension system. Pay-as-you-go financing, which has been successfully practiced for decades, will come under increasing pressure as more baby boomers leave the workforce and begin receiving benefits from the pension fund. This news comes as no surprise but politics has, so far, failed to make provisions for that day, when it comes.
Fewer contributors and more beneficiaries mean great challenges will be posed for the statutory pension for a good 15 years. How these challenges will be managed isn’t just a technical question. In fact, some are taking the opportunity – through scandalous inaction – to slowly chip away at the principle of solidarity when it comes to pensions and to privatize them. If all employees became contributors, we could increase contributions slightly and, if necessary, avoid shying away from tax subsidies.
‘We’ve inherited the baby boomers’ workaholic attitude and taken it to the next level.
The notion that Generation Y has no interest in professional success and thinks of the home office as synonymous with doing nothing is certainly not new – and unfortunately, it’s firmly rooted in the minds of many among the older generation. I actually believe we’ve inherited their workaholic attitude – always better, always more, always higher – and that we’ve taken what the baby boomers did and pushed it much further.
Whether among friends, colleagues, or in reports in the media – no other generation linked with topics such as burnout or partly unpaid overtime as often as ours. The demands on our generation when it comes to starting a career are enormous. You’re expected to have five years of professional experience after completing your studies as well as to nearly have finished your Ph.D. Of course, you can’t solely blame the baby boomers, but they’ve always stressed the importance of establishing a career and reinforced that it was the key to a successful and happy life. Although we’ve taken on this attitude, we’d actually do a lot better to leave it behind. Generation Y continues to work a lot, but having a private life is much more important than money: leisure and downtime shouldn’t be overlooked.
Our generation is on its way to achieving the ideal work-leisure balance and to putting the baby boomers’ workaholic madness to rest.
‘Too much emphasis on progress and performance is a key problem we’ve inherited from the older generation.’
A serious problem we’ve inherited from the older generation is this fixation on progress and performance. In our tireless efforts to push boundaries, whatever the cost, there’s usually little room to address the often serious consequences. There’s no doubt about it: constant growth and development do pay off and, as a species, we have to take certain risks every now and then in order to move forward and survive. But pushing boundaries mustn’t become the objective itself nor must it come at the cost that it currently does.
In order to steer us into a desirable future, we need those in decision-making positions to be sharp. They need both the courage to change yet the informed judgment to pick up on warning signs too. To ensure we don’t continue to deplete our resources, we need a clear plan that takes into consideration the effects of our actions. Otherwise, we’ll leave our future generations with more – possibly even more serious – problems than those we have inherited, whether they be nuclear waste, the bees dying off, or climate disasters.
‘Our education systems barely differ to those of the previous generation – and neither has the emphasis on grades and targets in the world of work, unfortunately.’
I’m firm on the notion that we owe much to those who came before us. Especially the generation born in 1968, who revolutionized so much and helped break down so many structures.
But one area in which far too little has happened in recent decades is education. Our education systems have barely changed from those of the previous generation – and neither has the emphasis on grades and targets in the world of work, unfortunately.
At the age of 10, our children are still “sorted” into schools – not based on their individual talents, but purely according to their grades. Applicants are still assessed according to their qualifications on paper far too often, and not by what they actually know. And academic degrees are still worth more than emotional education.
I still remember the look of horror on the faces of my first boyfriend and his parents when I announced I was leaving high school as soon as I legally could, to follow my heart and become a childcare worker.
But I think I learned more life lessons through doing so than I could have ever done at university.
And that’s exactly what our generation so urgently needs: lessons in life. More and more tasks are being taken over by machines and artificial intelligence. The skills Generation Y needs in professional life today are not obedience, authority, and academic knowledge, but empathy, flexibility, and problem-solving.
Our generation must adapt quickly to new circumstances, because the job you did yesterday may look quite different tomorrow. And the office is no longer about sitting at a desk from nine until five; it’s about working at a time and place that maximizes one’s quality of work, based on the individual.
That’s why I’m committed to ensuring our future generations get better human and digital education, so they make our world more human and each individual person can be as he or she is – and thus achieve their own best performance.
‘Those who monopolize most of the power are, on average, much too old.’
Today’s prosperity is probably the greatest legacy of the previous generation. We should definitely be grateful for it. But it’s not as though it’s being passed down to younger generations without its drawbacks. The downside is that his focus on prosperity means few provisions have been made for the future and we haven’t adapted to our current challenges.
Those who monopolize most of the power are still, on average, far too old. Our generation is still trapped in a gilded cage. At some point, young Germans are going to escape that cage and find that the country is no longer at the top of the list of industrial nations.
This power needs to be handed over to the younger generation at an early stage. We’re ready to take on the responsibility and start restructuring things.
‘The older generation knows little about what constitutes a healthy and balanced diet.’
The abundance in food and convenience have featured heavily in the kitchens of the post-war generation. Where meat had previously featured rarely on the dining table, it was almost a compulsory, everyday part of meals in the 1950s. But it had to be simple, fast, and cheap.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that this kind of practice can’t go on indefinitely for future generations.
Due to this abundance and a lack of true appreciation for food, some among the older generation have little idea about what constitutes a healthy, balanced diet. What’s more, over the years a lot of marketing-driven pseudo-sciences – which, simply put, is often wrong and sometimes even dangerous – have persisted.
Questions like: “Where do vegans get protein from if they don’t eat meat?” or the myth that milk consumption is good for the bones (when the opposite is true) are still firmly anchored in their minds and will only be shifted with a lot of effort.
We try to set a good example and show that vegan life is anything but boring, that we don’t just live off salad or tofu – that the kitchen can be a place to have fun. We’re trying to show that cooking with friends, either alone or in pairs, is not another tedious chore; it’s the best thing you can do.
‘Politicians must take us and our ideas seriously.’
The baby boomers, our parents and theirs, have been instrumental in ensuring we grew up with high living standards. I’m grateful for that but we’ve also inherited a few problems, one of them being the pension situation. Like many in my generation, I don’t assume I’ll be provided for in old age. The level of baby boomers being paid for by us is ever increasing while there are fewer of us to foot the bill. It’s great that people are living longer but the subsidy for the pension system is already the largest item in the German budget.
At the same time, less and less is being invested in the future: for example, in education, and in infrastructure. My generation is outnumbered. But those who focus only on large voter groups are putting the future of our country at risk in favor of short-term electoral success. Politicians must take us and our ideas seriously. Ultimately it will help not only one generation but the whole country.
‘We know humanity has power over the Earth’s biophysical systems, thanks to our predecessors.’
For some time, we’ve known humanity affects and has control over the Earth’s biophysical systems more than any other force of nature – knowledge we’ve attained only thanks to our predecessors. It is both a blessing and a curse for our generation.
Never before have so many people been able to inhabit our planet and never before have commodities like regular holiday flights been so easy and readily affordable.
At the same time, hurricanes, floods, and heatwaves have threatened to destroy (and, in many cases, have destroyed) the lives and homes of millions.
My personal goal, through a more responsible approach than previous generations, is to help our generation ensure this power sticks around long term, instead of putting it at risk by inviting irreversible climate disasters.
‘Older generations aren’t prepared to take risks.’
Setting up a business in Germany is far too complex; it should be more straightforward. Other countries are well ahead and we should be moving on as soon as possible. The tax system in Germany is also massively outdated and makes it extremely difficult for those looking to get started with a business.
Start-ups could be much better supported with tax reforms so the start-ups could focus more on taking care of their business. Singapore has attracted startups from all over the world with its simple control system and has become the hub of the crypto scene. Our political structures are also too slow to change and aren’t able to keep up with innovation. Things have to change on this front.
A survey by U.S. News showed Germany was in first place in the “Entrepreneurship” category, ahead of Japan and the USA. It’s clear Germany is at the forefront despite the clear room for improvement.
Work has also changed: people used to stay in the same job their whole life, which is why it used to be feasible to work without constantly developing and learning. Today we seem to switch jobs every year or two. I think it has a lot to do with the Internet.
We always need to be ready to learn new things and take risks. And many opportunities and possibilities arise with the Internet if you’re open to it – cryptocurrencies are something I’m currently heavily involved in and open to, and I realize older generations aren’t.
There’s a conflict simply because older generations always advocate stability and safety over risk-taking, which they aren’t prepared to do. I can only speak for myself but if I’d never taken risks, I’d never have learned. We have to learn through trial and error that you can’t make money from anything and everything. Failure has become a valid part of working life, even if older generations still don’t want to admit it.
But older generations are starting to accept the start-up scene for what it is: it’s fast-moving, involves risk-taking, and isn’t always lucrative.
‘The older generation has left European peace in a fragile state.’
The rapid rise in greenhouse gases, the dramatically worsening climate crisis, the question of nuclear waste disposal, the irreversible death of countless plant and animal species – these are just some of the many consequences of failed climate and environmental policies from previous generations. Because they haven’t relied on sustainability, they’ve dumped the consequences of and responsibility for their actions onto future generations. We’re now having to face a mammoth challenge together: to keep global warming below two degrees to give future generations the chance to make mistakes.
As for Europe, our younger generation has inherited the task of establishing European peace, a project which the older generation has left in a sorry state. The continually rising rate of youth unemployment within the EU, austerity policies, Brexit – all of these things have greatly weakened the notion of the “European community” and reinforced right-wing nationalist and populist forces in Europe. I myself have close ties with Greece, and over the years I’ve witnessed the destructive effects of austerity there, and have also seen growing disillusionment towards the EU. We have to stop this in its tracks and do it now because lasting peace between us all is the most basic of prerequisites for taking on the many challenges ahead and finding solutions for tomorrow.
Where justice and gender equality are concerned, the older generation has set us on a path of clear progress, particularly as regards legal equality between the sexes. While we have to defend this success, we also have to continue fighting for 100% equality between men and women, whether in family and work, pay or pension, and the end of sexual violence towards women and girls.
‘Digitisation is largely a generational issue.’
Being digital means being online, networking, being open to new business models – and being young. It seems to be a largely generational issue: older people are less likely to be online than younger people, which is a pity because digitization opens up many new possibilities, especially for people who are aging. It can simplify and enrich everyday life. I hope people of all ages will greet digitization with open arms and optimism, but obviously not without a healthy dose of skepticism. Networking is at the heart of the digital world and could contribute to a better level of understanding between young and old. And it would help us learn much more from older people and vice versa.
‘Pension plans are a big disappointment.’
The subsequent drop in birth rate as a result of the rise of the contraceptive pill among the baby boomers is exacerbating demographic change. This has resulted in a shortage of specialists and labor in all areas of the economy. We young entrepreneurs and managers in particular are suffering from this as employers. Moreover, our country’s pension plans are a huge disappointment for our generation and an attack on intergenerational justice, particularly in view of demographic changes. The question of billions of funding for the “maternal pension” that’s been proposed in Germany remains open.
What can be done to increase employment rates and to mitigate the consequences of demographic change, as well as the pensions package? We need to look at options for flexible retirement. The statutory retirement age should be done away with. And working time law needs to be fundamentally reformed.
‘Climate change presents us with challenges that will dictate the opportunities of future generations.’
We’ve inherited a lot of problems to do with CO2 in the atmosphere. Climate change today presents us with a task – and how we manage this task will directly determine the opportunities available for future generations. That’s why I’m fully committed to limiting climate change as much as possible. We will only succeed with a market-based climate policy in which politicians set clear targets for reducing emissions. Other bans and regulations are unnecessary and provide false incentives. If we succeed in building a global emissions trading scheme with ambitious goals, which is as broad as possible for all economic sectors, I’m convinced we can limit global warming to an acceptable level.
‘We’ve been left with a society that revolves around profit rather than sustainability.’
We have much to thank the previous generations for: no generation has grown up as carefree and with as many possibilities as ours. However, it’s come at a price: we’ve been left with a society that revolves around profit rather than sustainability, where material prosperity counts more than individual happiness.
My professional field, science, is set up for the short term: there are many temporary contracts, focusing on trendy topics. But this profit-focused society has left its mark everywhere. The environment is riddled with pesticides, exhaust gases, plastics, and much more. People are stressed and it seems they would sooner pop pills than demand the time to live more healthily. Hardly anyone stops to breathe.
We, all generations together, can define new goals and break out of this established cycle, that’s exploiting human and environmental resources. Instead of sitting passively in front of the television and getting worked up about company bosses, we should all be taking responsibility and consuming both more sustainably and consciously. And we should be asking ourselves from time to time what actually makes us truly happy.
‘We’re still teaching as though we’re in the 19th century.’
Living in the 21st century, teaching 19th-century style: this is what seems to be at the core of our schooling.
I’ve tried myself to fend this off with learning methods that combine critical thinking and communication with creativity and teamwork, as well as the use of digital media. My students shouldn’t just be learning content and facts; they should be learning how to obtain new facts, how to share work effectively and efficiently, and how best to absorb and apply what they’ve learned. In this way, they develop openness, a willingness to learn, and also a certain degree of independence. The teacher becomes more of a companion for learning and a moderator.
My school is open to digital media and supports me in my creative work. I almost always use QR codes or get foreign-language authors, into the classroom via Skype.
Yet, due to a lack of technical support, training, time, and security, few teachers can organize something like this on their own initiative. On my page “Toller Unterricht” I publish lots of my ideas as well as tried and tested lesson plans, with materials included.
Politicians have made promises to digitize schools. In addition to the lack of qualifications teachers have, there also seems to be a lack of equipment. I’m glad my school has some projectors and smartboards I can use for my lessons, but some don’t even have Internet access.
Data protection is currently being taken to ridiculous extremes: new data protection regulation makes the use of private computers difficult, so some are being advised to use paper and pen. This won’t work within the frame of a digitization strategy for Germany in 2018.
Therefore, comprehensive reform is needed. Only then can we equip all our students with the skills to prepare them for life and learning in the 21st century.
‘It’s as if the parents think schools are responsible for raising children.’
The older generation has paid far too little attention to sustainable development. Sustainable development means empowering children to form their own opinions and encouraging them to act sustainably. Sustainable development means the current generation is developing, not compromising the next generation, but actively considering it. Children haven’t been sensitized to this at all.
I think there’s a very different tone in schools now. I get the sense that kids are becoming less and less respectful. Manners are disappearing and, unfortunately, you rarely see a boy holding the door open for a girl. It’s as if parents think schools are responsible for bringing children up.
Some children are only interested in who has the latest, highest-end mobile. The children who do not have a say in this are outside the picture – and I think that the generation above us is responsible for instilling different values.
‘We’ve inherited a toxic political style from the generation before us.’
We’ve not inherited generational conflicts; we’ve inherited a toxic political style from the generation before us, which has dealt little with political change or shaping the future and has been more focused on how everything can remain as is. One only has to look at how Merkel’s government dealt with a climate crisis and how it’s always been ignored and fought against by one commission or another. This political style has disappointed our generation and rightly so: it’s clear to young people that a little isn’t enough to answer the hard questions. For example, how can we still find well-paid and permanent jobs in 20 years’ time in spite of digitalization?
‘The older ranks of conservative politicians are afraid of change.’
As an activist for a united Europe, I’m always reminded of how much of the older ranks of conservative politicians fear change. While young people are almost unanimous in their commitment to a united Europe, the older generation is still resistant to it, although though the United States of Europe has been on the agenda of previous German political figures such as Franz Josef Strauss himself.
While old politicians are practicing against the left by remaining on the right, today’s young people are already focusing more on the spirit of the European Parliament, namely by looking for solutions.
In the 21st century, it is no longer about just having ideas, but about collaborating for a shared future. For example, the campaign #FreeInterrail – a free Interrail ticket for all Europeans as soon as they turn 18 – was devised by the youth for the youth. Ideas like these will secure our peace and cohesion in the long term.
Think WASPy dinner parties, country clubs, and summer sailboat vibes. Over the last year, Gen Z and millennials have cultivated an “old money” aesthetic that romanticizes the aristocratic upper-crust lifestyle, and a certain form of privilege untouchable for many.
It says a lot about what people disliked about the decade we just left behind – and what we want the next one to look like.
The aesthetic first gained a foothold among Gen Z, who took to TikTok to share “old money” inspiration: polo, croquet, lush gardens, and Italian villages. These scenes became inspiration for both fashion and decor: riding boots, Gucci crossbody bags, floral wallpaper, and lots of vintage. Meanwhile, millennials picked up leisure-class hobbies like sailing and golfing during the “solitary leisure” days of quarantine.
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In some ways, it’s a rejection of the casual, new money looks of the 2010s, on display both by Instagram influencers and the hoodie-wearing millennial billionaire class. In other ways, it’s a practical consequence of how a supply shortage and a lockdown changed the economy in ways that will be permanent. And in still another sense, it’s an expression of escape: away from the traumatic events of the young 2020s and toward a nostalgia for another time.
Old money fashion is aspirational
Oxford shirts, tennis skirts, and tweed blazers are taking over social media. Gen Z is plastering Ralph Lauren campaign ads from the ’90s and vintage tennis photos all over TikTok and Instagram – and they’re spending big to recreate the looks.
Vox’s Rebecca Jennings first reported on the “old money” aesthetic in fashion, writing that Gen Z lusts after “the unapologetically pretentious Ivy League-slash-Oxbridge fourth-cousin-of-a-Kennedy country club vibe.”
TikTok users have rediscovered prep and are driving the trend, Morgane Le Caer, content lead at Lyst, told Insider. The fashion search platform has seen increasing demand for preppy styles. Over the week ending on September 24, searches for leather loafers were up by 28%, pleated skirts by 16%, Peter Pan collar shirts by 23%, and pearl necklaces by 29%.
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The trend is also referred to as “dark academia” or “light academia” depending on the setting, La Caer said. “It embodies the socialite lifestyle represented in culture by shows and films such as ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley,’ and is the perfect opposite to the ‘California Rich’ aesthetic that was made popular by the Kardashian family,” she said.
It’s also a response to the casual outfits that typifies the new millennial billionaire class: Dressing in the polished way of a northeastern socialite is ultimately a rejection of the tech CEO’s hoodie and sneaker ensemble.
Old money on the walls
The old money aesthetic has also made its way inside homes.
The posh look first took root in form of the “grandmillennial” vibe that some millennials gravitated towards pre-pandemic, rich in porcelain figurines, English antiques, chintz wallpaper, and brocade curtains. They were seeking décor inspiration everywhere from English country houses to neo-preppy brands like Rodarte.
This maximalist vibe was a response to the minimalist, neutral trends that have reigned over Instagram’s early days. It picked up during the pandemic as millennials and Gen Z eschewed mass-market home decor for vintage furniture, partly a result of supply chain issues and partly as a quest for sustainable and stylish items, Insider’s Avery Hartmans reported.
But the pandemic also morphed the desired look into one with old money vibes. Look no further than The Wall Street Journal’s recent advice on decorating with “old money tastefulness.”
Both trends have the same classic appeal, said Alexandria Kochinsky, who runs a grandmillennial inspo Instagram account as well as a home organization service, but how they manifest in fashion and decor has an important distinction.
The grandmillennial aesthetic, she told Insider, carries the air of a sophisticated parent or grandparent, whereas the old money aesthetic is slightly preppier and more appealing to a younger audience.
“Old money is about projecting an impressive born-into-it wealth, whereas grandmillennial can be more sentimental and approachable,” she said. “If I were to personify the two, I’d say Blair Waldorf is a good example of the old money aesthetic, and Zsa Zsa Gabor is grandmillennial.”
Old money leisure has taken over
Country clubs, yacht clubs, and old money hobbies like golfing and boating have enjoyed a pandemic boom.
During quarantine, these pastimes replaced the group activities typical of social leisure, like amusement parks, concerts, and crowded bars and restaurants. And they continued to remain popular even as the economy reopened, especially as people grew wary of indoor activities again during the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
US boat sales hit a 13-year high last year, per the National Marine Manufacturers Association, with younger first-time boat buyers leading the way. Online resource Discover Boating saw site traffic increase by 90% year-over-year through May among those ages 18- to 24-years-old, with millennials comprising the largest number of visitors overall. Experts expect the upswing in interest to last for a long time.
A similar story is unfolding out on the green. Golf play in the US increased by 14% from 2019 to 2020, according to Golf Datatech, the largest uptick since the industry market research company began tracking the data in 1998. Even spending on golf equipment is on the rise, with retail sales up by nearly 50% in June, July, and August compared to those months two years prior, per data from The NPD Group.
Millennials in particular are feeling the pull of the game. In a study by global consulting firm GGA Partners and Nextgengolf, 60% of them said golf became more important to them during the pandemic. It found that millennials are also more willing to invest their time and money in the country club lifestyle, favoring private clubs – a key part of the old money lifestyle.
The old money aesthetic is a search for nostalgia
The rise of the old money aesthetic is a tale of aspiration, but at its roots is a desire for nostalgia. Research has shown that, in moments of instability, we are more likely to feel nostalgia.
It explains why nostalgia marketing has reached a fever pitch during the pandemic, why the wealthy have turned to collectibles as a hobby, and why Gen Z sent the world into a Y2K craze. The old money aesthetic is just the latest nostalgic trend, reminiscent of a time when WASP culture dominated.
A return to these classic vibes is a backlash to everything that characterized the past decade: the tech billionaires, the influencer class, and even the experience economy.
But younger generations have lost the ability to escape the tech of the 2010s. They are taking this inspo to the same platforms that spawned the very trends they’re rejecting. And, ironically, they’re aspiring to the looks of inherited wealth while lambasting actual generational wealth as income inequality rises during the pandemic.
As author Kurt Andersen wrote in his 2020 book, “Evil Geniuses,” which explored how changes in the postwar economy increasingly encouraged a turn toward nostalgia after the 1960s, “It is ironic how digital technology – newness incarnate, the essence of the present and future – has reinforced our fixed backward stare and helped mesmerize us into cultural stasis.”
At its core, though, the rise of the old money aesthetic signifies a search for a different time period than the one we were just in, an escape from the trauma of an unprecedented time.
Kyle used to be a HENRY, short for “high earner, not rich yet.”
Now, the 34-year-old tech worker, who didn’t want to publish his last name for privacy reasons, is well on his way to building wealth thanks to the world of remote work.
He spent the last five years hopping around the tech scene as a big data specialist in California after finishing his PhD. He was earning $120,000 at his first job in 2016, according to a pay stub reviewed by Insider, and increased his salary at his next company after moving to the Bay Area.
“My personal anecdote is that some people are too ensconced in the patterns of their current lifestyles,” he said. “Sometimes, it has nothing to do with material cost.”
He said his money typically went to sky-high rent, $2,500 in student loans a month, and putting big-ticket items like furniture and kitchenware on his credit card. He was caught in a vicious debt cycle.
After spending a few years paying everything off, he said, the pandemic hit. It opened up a game-changing opportunity: He landed a new job with permanent remote work and a base salary of $175,000, per his pay stub. It enabled him to trade in the Bay Area for his hometown of Phoenix last September, shedding his HENRY lifestyle.
“I was able to more than halve my living costs,” he said. Whereas he typically saved of $5,000 to $10,000 a year while living in California, he added, he socked away $80,000 last year. “Work-from-home offers an unprecedented opportunity for young people to break out of the debt cycle.”
Confessions of a former HENRY
Kyle said he can’t imagine going back to work in the Bay Area after the pandemic.
“Looking back, I can’t believe how unreasonably expensive everything was,” he said. “The cost didn’t seem like much of an issue at the time since I was able to get by on a tech salary, but I was certainly priced out of upwardly mobile asset accumulation like homeownership.”
A friend of his, he added, has been struggling to a buy a home in the area for over a year, and recently lost a bid for a townhouse after putting in an offer at $60,000 over asking price.
Boxed out of the housing market, Kyle said he spent $4,300 a month renting a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in the Bay Area. He finally became a homeowner after moving to Phoenix, one of the pandemic’s migration hot spots, where he pays $1,043 a month for his mortgage on a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom house.
His other monthly costs have also dropped immensely since moving. Based on his bank statements, he estimated that he was spending $3,700 a month in addition to rent in the Bay Area, which now looks more like $1,500 a month in Phoenix.
Kyle said he still pines for California, missing the food and social activities, but doesn’t miss the cost of living and the traffic.
“For those with work flexibility, there is a huge financial opportunity to be had from migrating to lower-cost-of-living metros,” he said, adding that it’s still hard to convince people otherwise.
But Kyle points out that everyone views utility – an economics term referring to the degree of happiness that comes from consuming a product or service – differently.
“Measuring cost of living (or lack of savings) without measuring utility is telling only half the story,” he said. “I managed to increase both in the last year, but for others it is still a strict trade-off.”
Camila Da Silva has worked at some of the world’s largest tech companies, but the 36-year-old has spent the past four months working 10-hour shifts as a waitress while searching for a job in London’s tech sector.
Da Silva is from Brazil, where she previously spent two years at Microsoft – as a business program manager, leading their Blacks at Microsoft leadership development program – and nine months as a Facebook contractor, alongside other roles.
She wanted to expand her career in tech, so came to the UK in 2020 on a scholarship to start a masters degree in Digital Society at the University of Edinburgh. She has applied for about 30 positions since she graduated in early 2021. “I’ve been in so many interviews I can’t even count anymore and everything was no,” she said.
Some of the positions she’s applied for in London are equivalent to her past experience in project management and as an analyst. But she told Insider that she has now become so desperate she’s started applying for assistant positions, and even internships.
Insider spoke to three millennials who, like Da Silva, have decided to retrain in order to pursue careers in tech. They say they’re struggling to land even junior positions despite their experience.
Despite having more work experience, older graduates can find themselves pigeonholed by recruiters, who might not take into account their previous experience if it doesn’t map to the specific role they’re applying for, Ian Storey, director of Hays Technology, a recruitment firm, told Insider.
“It’s the most candidate-led market I have seen,” Storey said. When the market is so “buoyant” it can lead to higher wages – but also greater competition for roles, he added.
Another London-based job-seeker told Insider that “the fact that you’re applying for internships when you graduated 10 years ago is not an easy pill to swallow.” He said he did not want to be named because he was still job hunting.
He is 33, and has experience as a sound engineer and running a family property business. He said he relied heavily on tech in both roles, but wanted to formalize his qualification through a masters degree in data science, for which he has completed his final project.
“I read about people upskilling into tech but in reality, it is turning out to be a lot more difficult,” he said. Internships he was considering applying for have closed during the pandemic.
In one interview, he said he was asked, “‘You’re my oldest son’s age, why do you want to change roles?” It was the most unpleasant job interview he’s had, he added.
Barbara Costa, 42, is in a slightly different position – she doesn’t have experience in tech. Originally from Brazil, Costa has a Bachelor’s degree in social anthropology, and spent 18 years teaching English as a second language to adults in London. She also worked in ethnographic research.
She recently upskilled, graduating with a masters degree in human computer interaction design from City University in London in July 2021, and is now looking for a role in UX (user experience).
She has two children and a part-time job, and so hasn’t applied for many roles because she has been so busy. However, she is trying to build her portfolio through pro bono work for a charity.
Any roles she has applied for have been graduate roles – despite the fact that she has been told by recruiters and friends who work in the industry that she is qualified for more senior jobs.
“I think it’s all about confidence as well, so I’m building myself up,” said Costa.
All three people remain confident that they will land a role later this year despite their initial difficulties – even if they admit it’s unlikely to be their ideal job.
“My fear and anxiety is every day I wait, I am getting older, ” Costa added. “The longer I wait, the less time I’m going to be doing the job that I want to do.”
The 40-year-old and the 24-year-old are the talk of the town right now.
The oldest millennial, who turns 40 this year, has the most spending power. They’ve mostly recovered from a decade-long struggle following the 2008 financial crisis, and they’re spending on the biggest purchase of their lives: houses.
The oldest Gen Zer, who turns 24 this year, has more sway in consumer behavior. A decade before they replace millennials as the largest spenders, they’re already seen as tastemakers, a role every generation takes on during this life stage.
Everything from your buying choices to your lifestyle choices are likely being shaped by the oldest members of these generations.
Meet the people shaping the world you’ll live in for the next decade, or two.
As millennials age and their incomes grow, their spending power is only set to increase. Just look at the wave of coming millennial spending power in the chart below. The 40-year-old leads the way.
While they were some of those hardest hit by the Great Recession, many have made wealth-building strides in recent years. In 2016, their wealth levels were 34% below where they should have been, but as the economy improved and they neared their prime earning years, they narrowed that deficit to 11% in 2019. The pandemic’s economic shutdown also enabled the wealthier cohort to sock away even more money.
That means they’re the ones doing a whole lot of spending on big ticket items, like housing. Most 40-year-olds have a mortgage, making them the tip of the generational spear that is leading the pandemic housing boom. Not only is this homebuying spree injecting needed money into the economy, it’s reshaping the real estate market. Migration out west and to the Sunbelt has been an economic boon for bigger cities in the region, while the “Great American land rush” has seen millennials snap up nearly every starter home on the market.
But there’s also something to be said for the 40-year-old millennial who can’t spend very much because they haven’t financially recovered from the Great Recession. Many are still burdened with debt, like student loans. The affordability crisis they’re facing may trigger policy changes such as wiping out student debt, which lawmakers are currently debating.
The 24-year-old Gen Zer has influencing power
As the oldest millennial has entered middle age, the oldest Gen Zer has become a trendsetter.
This is the life stage when a new generation enters the spotlight because they’re old enough to begin exerting influence, Jason Dorsey, who runs the Center for Generational Kinetics, a research firm in Austin, Texas, recently told Insider.
At the center of this cultural shift was TikTok, which blew up during the pandemic. By September 2020, the social media app grew by 75%, expanding into intergenerational use and signaling the growing influence of Gen Z in leading consumer behavior – the same way millennials did with Instagram.
In a little over a decade, Gen Z will be taking over the economy. Gen Z currently earns $7 trillion across its 2.5 billion-person cohort, according to Bank of America Research. By 2025, that income will grow to $17 trillion, and by 2030, it will reach $33 trillion, representing 27% of the world’s income and surpassing that of millennials the following year.
With this kind of influence, Dorsey predicts the generation will continue to shift and drive conversation for the next 15 years.
But boomers are now breaking tradition. They’ve surpassed the Silent Generation, per the Times’ data analysis, holding the most real estate wealth of any generation for the past 20 years. While this peaked in 2011 at about 49%, boomers still hold 44% of real estate wealth in 2021, compared to 31% of Gen Xers, the next richest generation. By this token, Gen Xers should have held the most real estate wealth as of 2017, but they’re still far behind.
It’s a sign that boomers are “aging in place,” Kolomatsky writes, a growing concept that the pandemic has exacerbated. It’s partly because some boomers are cautious of nursing homes in a Covid era, he added.
But it’s also because people are wary of putting their houses up for sale. Gay Cororaton, the director of housing and commercial research for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), previously told Insider that some owners haven’t been listing their homes as a pandemic safety precaution. Others are wary of putting them on the market for fear of being unable to find an affordable replacement to buy, she said.
Rather than engaging with a scorching real-estate market, many boomers are investing in remodeling instead. With the value of homes going up nationwide, they’ve became more willing to spend on remodeling than past generations, fueling a home improvement boom.
Their willingness to stay put is also worsening the housing crisis of 2021, fueled by a rush for homeownership in a remote work era. A sudden crunch in the supply of lumber, combined with chronic underbuilding since the Great Recession, has coalesced into a historic housing shortage. If boomers don’t move out of their homes to retire in line with their predecessors, the supply will just worsen.
Housing prices have reached record highs, sparking cutthroat competition and heated bidding wars rife with all-cash offers and higher down payments. While this has pushed many aspiring homeowners away from the housing hunt, it’s been especially bad for millennials, many of whom are looking to buy a home for the first time.
Millennials have found themselves facing their second housing crisis in a dozen years. “Now that they have economically recovered and are looking to buy a home for the first time, we’re faced with this housing shortage,” Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin, previously told Insider. “They’re already boxed out of the housing market.”
Boomers aren’t helping matters. The longer they hold onto their houses, the harder it will be for other generations to build wealth through real estate.
I was sipping a Moscow Mule in the corner of an East Village bar one night when a sense of déjà vu came over me.
The room was a sea of spaghetti straps, claw clips, baguette bags, and bright colors, catapulting me into my teenage past – more than a dozen years ago.
Confused about how these trends became cool again and when I aged out of my favorite bars, I looked down at my frayed skinny jeans and wondered if I should find new spots that attracted an … older crowd. My peers feel the same, taking to TikTok to cry about feeling old and outdated in their favorite NYC haunts.
At 29, I recognize my youth, but am also painfully aware of the cultural gap between a late 20-something and an early 20-something, especially when they’re divided into two generations: millennials and Gen Z.
I would know – I’ve been writing about millennials for the past two-and-a-half years, so I’ve been particularly attuned to how generational conversations changed during the pandemic.
Between last spring’s lockdowns and this spring’s economic reopening, we’re all a year older than we once were. But the lost year of 2020 accentuated the starkness of the cultural shift as a new generation enters young adulthood.
Millennials, many of whom suddenly became known as “geriatric” or “cheugy,” are no longer cool. Gen Z has taken over as the ‘it’ generation.
The oldest millennial is now 40
Millennials began to lose ‘it’ status when the oldest turned 40 this year. While the youngest millennials are just 25, the vast majority of the generation are no longer in their 20s. A term even popped up to describe the oldest cohort, much to the internet’s chagrin: geriatric millennial.
This homeowning millennial isn’t the avocado toast-loving, Instagram-obsessed, living-with-their-parents millennial that the world has learned to love and hate. That title now goes to Gen Z, except they’ve swapped out avocado toast for oat lattes and Instagram for TikTok.
The world has noticed it all. After all, the fascination with young people is not about any particular generation, but about whoever is driving trends and influencing consumer spending. Now, it’s Gen Z’s turn to take over the economy as their collective income reaches $33 trillion. (It’s set to surpass that of millennials in 2031.)
It’s a natural evolution, Jason Dorsey, who runs the Center for Generational Kinetics, a research firm in Austin, Texas, told me. “At around this age and life stage, the next generation sort of takes the mantle as the ‘it’ generation, because they’re old enough to really start to exert their influence.”
Society feels like it finally understands millennials, he added, switching their focus to the generation that remains a mystery. That leaves Gen Z “shifting and driving much of the conversation,” which he predicts they’ll do for the next 15 years.
Awakening from the pandemic to a cultural shift
Pandemic or no pandemic, everyone turned another year older in 2020. But a year at home heightened the millennial-to-Gen-Z cultural transition.
Digital bonding helped many of these new trends take root. Gen Z, already digital natives, had ample time to scroll on their phones during quarantine. They connected with one another, Dorsey said, as many underwent the fortifying experience of moving back home during the pandemic at a similar life stage.
At the center of this cultural shift was TikTok, which blew up during the pandemic. By September 2020, the social media app grew by 75%, expanding into intergenerational use. It signals the growing influence of Gen Z in leading consumer behavior, much the same way millennials did with Instagram.
TikTok became the place not just for dance videos, but for Gen Z’s jests at millennials and exploration of fashion trends, from tie-dye loungewear to baggy jeans. They’ve made their way to the streets, explaining why I came out of the pandemic feeling the need to update my wardrobe.
It’s all part of growing up
The downfall of millennials as the ‘it’ generation is symptomatic of the inevitable – getting old. It’s the natural evolution of generations, with one always superseding another as everyone ages, much the same way millennials overtook Gen X as a hot topic around the time social media emerged.
Millennials are having a difficult time reckoning with getting older. As my 29-year-old roommate said when I mentioned I was writing this piece: “That’s so sad!” followed by a deadpanned, “I’m not into this article.”
I, too, lamented to my therapist about how my world is going to end when I turn 30 this year. Overly dramatic, sure, but my peers and I are grappling with a major life transition that we may not be ready for – not the fact that Gen Z is making fun of us.
“It reinforces to many millennials that they themselves are entering a new life stage, whether that’s marriage or kids or buying houses or seeing friends doing that,” Dorsey said, describing it as an uncomfortable adjustment. “There’s this real sense of getting older, heightened when the new generation who are now adults is telling you that you’re older and outdated.”
Aging comes with societal pressure to settle into major life events like buying a house or having kids. Many millennials feel stressed that we’re unable to do so because of all the economic pills we’ve had to swallow. We’re also confronting the fact that our parents are aging, too, as we worry about their health risks during the pandemic.
The pandemic has forced millennials to grow up. While still young by many measures, we’re old enough to ponder existential life questions while also questioning past choices – whether a financial regret, or our skinny jeans.
Coined by psychologist Anthony Klotz, the trend involves millions of Americans dropping out of the workforce throughout the economy as it reopened more and more. Over 3.6 million people quit in April, May, June, and July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But a certain cohort is leading the way.
According to a recent analysis by the Harvard Business Review that looked at 9 million employee records from more than 4,000 companies, midcareer employees are driving the quits. Resignation rates are highest among 30- to 45-year-old employees, increasing on average by more than 20% over the past year.
That means its mainly older millennials and younger Gen Xers who are making the Great Resignation so, well, great. Other research backs this finding up.
In late July, a Bankrate survey found that more than half of Americans in the workforce – including a disproportionate number of millennials – planned to look for a new job in the coming year. In August, a study by Personal Capital and The Harris Poll found that two-thirds of Americans surveyed were keen to switch jobs. More than a quarter (78%) of millennials felt that way, as did 47% of Gen Xers. Two-thirds of millennials agreed that “Now would be a great time to make a career move.”
Former Insider reporter Tanza Loudenback recently spoke with several millennials who were quitting their jobs during the pandemic, and then Loudenback herself left Insider to freelance full-time.
The reasons for the resignations are plenty, per the HBR: Employers may be less inclined to hire less experienced workers, creating more demand for mid-level workers; this cohort may have postponed switching jobs until some of the dust settled from the pandemic’s economic effects; and the pandemic has caused some to reevaluate what they want in both their job and in life.
The geriatric millennial
Smack in the middle of this job-resigning cohort is the “geriatric millennial,” a term popularized by author and leadership Erica Dhawan to describe those turning ages 36 to 41 this year.
She said that geriatric millennials are unique because they straddle a digital divide between older and younger generations in the workplace, which enables them to serve as a hybrid role in the workplace by bridging communication styles – teaching traditional communication skills to younger employees and digital body language to older team members.
For example, she said, a geriatric millennial would know to send a Slack message to a Gen Z co-worker instead of calling them out of the blue, which they might find alarming. But they would also know to be mindful of an older co-worker’s video background and help walk them through such technology.
By straddling the generational divide, she said, “they can cater to the needs of different people and have different degrees of understanding of the digital world, but also they have a patience for the digital world that maybe future generations won’t because they don’t know a world without it.”
The geriatric millennial ultimately holds a lot of sway in the workplace right now. Being able to act as a generational bridge gives them a unique toolset, making them an asset to any employer seeking to create a cohesive and communicative environment. And with many quitting in droves, they have the power.
Author and leadership expert Erica Dhawan never expected the term “geriatric millennial” to go viral.
A self-identified geriatric millennial (which she defines as elder millennials born in the early 1980s), Dhawan told Insider she first heard the term at brunch with friends and related to it. But when she wrote about this micro-generation’s influence in connecting older and younger generations in the workforce for Medium this past spring, it quickly went mainstream and divided the Internet.
While many, like Dhawan, related to the term, others were offended by it.
“I think that the fact that the word ‘geriatric’ carried such a negative connotation really also has the question: What’s wrong with being old?” she said. “The way that individuals reacted, I think should encourage all of us to start a reflection on how we view older members of our society.”
Dhawan said she’s spent a decade investigating, researching, and finding new ways to encourage collaboration and communication in the workplace, which she explores in her new book, “Digital Body Language.” She said that while interviewing American workers, she found that some micro-generations were “impossible to ignore.”
She said that geriatric millennials are unique because they straddle a digital divide between older and younger generations in the workplace, which enables them to bridge communication styles.
The hallmarks of this micro-generation aren’t meant to exclude younger millennials who may have experienced them as well, she added.
“What it’s really meant to do is pinpoint a specific moment in time where the digital tools were primitive and where we were coming of adulthood,” she said. “We can look at all millennials as being the same, but there are differences based on our experiences at different life stages.”
Meet the typical geriatric millennial, according to Dhawan.
You were born in the early 1980s, making you in your mid-to-late 30s or early 40s.
Dhawan defines geriatric millennials as those born from 1980 to 1985. That means they’re turning ages 41 to 36 this year.
But age is just one component. “Micro-generations are not simply just the years you were born, but, the strongest indicator is really how you use and engage with technology,” Dhawan said.
You remember PCs, the days of early dial-up, and MySpace.
Whereas younger millennials don’t know a world without digital tools as a primary form of communication, Dhawan said, geriatric millennials remember when they were very primitive.
“They were the first generation to grow up with a PC in their homes. They joined the first social media communities on Facebook and MySpace. They remember dial-up connections, collect calls, and punch cards,” she added.
They also remember things like Napster for burning CDs, as well as the regular flip phone. “Those that are maybe two to five years older than us know truly a world of, you know, mobile phones and never had to memorize people’s phone numbers for landline,” she said.
But you also feel comfortable on TikTok and Clubhouse.
While geriatric millennials are fluent in the early days of the internet and digital technology, they’ve also been able to easily adapt to newer forms of digital media, like TikTok, which may be unfamiliar to older generations like baby boomers and commonplace among younger generations like Gen Z.
“This is a unique cohort that straddles digital natives and digital adapters,” Dhawan said, adding that they’ve spent the same amount of years in both analogue and digital forms of communication, making them fluent in both.
Despite your digital skills, you’re also aware of the importance of personal communication.
Geriatric millennials also remember the importance of traditional body language, Dhawan said. “The lean-in, the direct eye contact … those are critical traits, even in our digital world.”
That means they’re comfortable with communication styles of boomers and Gen Xers, she added, while adapting to the the communication style of younger, digital native millennials and Gen Z.
“It’s critically important to keep adapting to the times while, remembering the importance of physical, face-to-face communication,” she said.
You act as a bridge in the workplace.
Dhawan believes that being skilled in both digital and personal forms of communication enables geriatric millennials to serve in a hybrid role in the workplace.
For example, she said, a geriatric millennial would know to send a Slack message to a Gen Z co-worker instead of calling them out of the blue, which they might find alarming. But they would also know to be mindful of an older co-worker’s video background and help walk them through such technology.
“They can help straddle the divide,” she said. “They can teach traditional communication skills to some of those younger employees and digital body language to older team members.”
She likened the geriatric millennial’s role to being a translator, akin to learning a new language in a new country. “They can cater to the needs of different people and have different degrees of understanding of the digital world, but also they have a patience for the digital world that maybe future generations won’t because they don’t know a world without it.”