Facebook, Instagram and the IDF: Israel's Version of the Millennials

A recent Time magazine story described the 'Millennials' as lazy, entitled, and selfish – the Israeli millenials are not so different from their foreign counterparts: they're also constantly online, and chasing after self-realization and fame. But are they so different from the generations that preceded them?

Tom Baum was barely 19 when he interviewed for a job as editor and director of digital media at MTV, following a recommendation of a friend already employed at the company. His age did not deter the interviewers.

"They actually loved that I was young, cool and from Tel Aviv, as well as relatively mature for my age," Baum recalls. "I was accepted for a trial period and really put my best into it. When I want something, I'll do anything to get it." At MTV they probably also liked the fact that Baum was a Facebook user since the age of 15, and manages a popular Instagram account.

The Millennial Generation, also known as Generation Y, roughly encompasses those born in the 1980s and 1990s, in other words, those who came of age around when the Internet went mainstream. A recent cover story in TIME Magazine called them lazy, entitled, selfish – and savvy; a generation similar in some ways to those that came before but one uniquely shaped by these technologically charged and economically precarious times.

At work, Buam's target audience at work is between 13-17 years old, Justin Bieber or Demi Lovato fans. "This is a generation which has access to everything all the time," he explains, "If you posted something five minutes after it happened, they'll tell you it's old news." Buam is online practically 24/7, both for work and leisure, with the boundaries between the two long since blurred. He's been partying and clubbing since he was 13, and openly gay since 14.

"At 18, I worked in night life," he says. "I did everything, and now I've lost interest. Now I feel like doing something more significant. For me, working in an office with married 30-year-old women – it's no less than amazing. My goals? The sky is the limit. Higher education? I think it's very important. But it's so easy to find an amazing job and forget all about it."

It seems that the Israeli Millennial Generation isn't substantially different from its overseas counterparts: Israelis, too, are constantly online, change jobs frequently and hope to achieve self-fulfillment and fame, rather than executive positions. According to a 2011 poll carried out by consultation agency Tmurot, in cooperation with TheMarker, a quarter of Millennials, left their jobs in the two years preceding the poll, as opposed to 12 percent of other generations that took part in the poll. The most common reason cited was lack of professional development.

"I think it’s a stunning generation. Everything is so accessible," Baum says. "One of my friends is a cameraman for the TV reality show "Meusharot" [the Israeli equivalent of the "Real Housewives" reality show franchise], another friend produces a series. This is a generation that controls and does things, understanding everything at an earlier age. A generation that's seen a lot. The television industry is eager to employ young people, experiencing all this fast development."

The DIY generation

So what does a Millennial do when he's unsatisfied in his job? He simply establishes a business of his own.

Alex Nestar, a 19-year-old from Arad, lives in Tel Aviv and serves in the IDF. He prefers the big city. He studied in a boarding school in Holon until 12th grade and then had to return to Arad. "I had a suitcase ready during the last matriculation exam, and as soon as it was over – I got back to the center," he recalls, "my mother is already used to it, I've hardly lived at home recently."

Nestar has been glued to Facebook and Instagram since he was 14. "The truth is that it's sad, I have more friends on the web than in real life," he says. "There are people I know from the web but never met."

Nestar's dream was always to work in a large news desk. "I tried to get such a job, but they always told me 'Hey kid, go home.'" So Nestar simply established a news desk of his own with a partner his age, Yoni Wolf, doing the public relations. With a NIS 60,000 investment the two established Frogi, a news site for youth which Nestar says attracts some 60,000 and 70,000 visitors a month.

"It began as an attempt to gain experience before moving on, but now I hope it will remain my job," Nestar says.

So what kind of topics does Frogi cover? In other words, what are the Millennials interested in?

"Celebrities, things that happen in schools such as violence aimed at teachers or students," Nestar says. "International news is of no interest, unless we're talking about entertainment. We can write about the budget, if we focus on the sections relevant to young people. For example, if the budget will raise the prices of holidays in Eilat."

Yael Manrov, 28, and Tal Schwartzmann, 29, both from Tel Aviv, also fit in to the Millennial entrepreneur profile. The former is a law graduate but never practiced law, while the latter left her PR post to establish Maveze with two partners, a site that focuses on blogs targeting their generation. They define their audience as unloyal, individuals who wouldn't hesitate before jettisoning a job or a brand, hard to excite since they have already seen and done it all, easily bored, spending most of their time in social networks, and – most importantly – hoping to be famous and attract attention.

"They hope to stand out, be recognized and be told how great they are all the time," Manrov says. "That's the reason why Facebook is such a success, or maybe it’s the other way around – that's why our generation is like that. Half of our bloggers are still searching for themselves, most of them want to receive everything as fast as possible. Money, in contrast, is a side benefit of publicity. They feel that if they choose one thing, they'll miss out on another."

Entering an unwelcoming job market

Yet while the seemingly selfish preference of Israeli Millennials to choose self-fulfillment, leave their jobs easily, initiate start-ups and basically trust themselves, this should be seen in the context of an Israeli labor market that doesn't offer stability or possibilities for professional development.

According to data analyzed for Haaretz by the Planning, Research, and Economics Authority at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, 83 percent of the jobs offered in the Israeli job market in 2012 offered pay up to NIS 7,000, while 75 percent offered pay up to NIS 6,000. Of all job offers, only 3.4 percent called for university graduates; 32.6 percent were sales and services jobs, and 22.6 percent – unskilled jobs.

"If the situation was such that young people begin with a smaller salary that would steadily increase over the years, it would be bearable. But our analysis does not point to significant progression, or that the average salary increases over time," says Benny Pfefferman, the authority's head. "A large number of the jobs offered are in services and commerce where there isn't and won't be too much money. I'm not optimistic – this isn't a challenging or appealing job market for young people".

Unemployment among Generation Y is another worrying trend. According to the department's data for 2010-2011, 18 to 22-year-olds were unemployed for an average of 20.5 weeks – more than five months. In the 23-30 age group, unemployment reached 24 weeks. In contrast, a decade ago 18-22 year olds were unemployed for an average of 16.9 weeks and 23-30 year olds spent 21.5 weeks unemployed. Currently, about 16 percent of youth up to the age of 30 have been unemployed for almost a year, compared to 13 percent a decade ago.

"Such a long period of unemployment among people who are just beginning to enter the labor force is an occupational handicap that won't necessarily be solved in the years that follow," Pfefferman says.

It's the times that are a-changin'

Is the millennium generation really different from its predecessors? Shlomit Kaminka suggests that it's the times that have changed and not the current generation.

Kaminka was attending a conference devoted to Millennials. Panel participants consisting of Gen-Y members sat on the stage facing human resources personnel in the audience and listed their expectations of a workplace which consisted of, among other things, the need for individualized attention, flexibility, job satisfaction, a balance between work and home, advancement and personal development.

“Here was I, a baby boomer, sitting in the audience thinking: what about me? Don’t we of the older generation also require flexibility, individual attention and a balanced life? In what ways are we different?" says Kaminka, a senior lecturer at the Department of Behavioral Sciences at the College of Management Academic Studies and the head of a non-profit organization for management of human resources.

Kaminka formed an intergenerational team consisting of her son, Eyal Kaminka, a lecturer and senior consultant in management and Hilla Peretz, a senior lecturer at Ort Braude College and researcher of human resources management from an intercultural perspective. They conducted a survey among 800 subjects, from ages 14 to 70. The questions dealt mainly with work relationships and expectations of a workplace.

The results, which included input from four generations – baby boomers Gen-X, Gen-Y and Gen-Z (high school students), indicate there is more in common between them than differences. All respondents agreed or agreed strongly with the statement that they would “only look for work that enables me to pursue my hobbies and have a private life." A preference for working in teams was evident across the generations, and all expressed a preference for work that also provides enjoyment (79%-88%).

In response to a question about the need for flexibility, it was Gen-Y that was less interested. Responding to a question asking what survey participants would do if work did not provide things that were of importance, 84% of Gen-Y respondents said they would “give it another chance”, or “talk to a supervisor and wait for a solution" (80% of Gen-X respondents replied in a similar way).

“The main problem is that there is confusion between characteristics of the period and of the generation," summarizes Kaminka. “Everyone today is constantly running. These generations were born into new technologies, and this does not render them unstable. They are young, perhaps with more fire in the belly than their elders, but this is not a new phenomenon. All generations wish for human contact, meaningful work and recognition."

The new voice of social consciousness

Noga Ranel does not expect much from the job market. She is 20 years-old, lives with her parents in Tel Aviv, and is studying literature, journalism and general studies. The future frightens her a lot, she says.

“I know I will obtain a B.A. in literature and journalism and go work as a waitress," she says. "What does this path of finishing studies and finding work mean anyway? Then what? Working at a job that gives me only enough money to return home and watch TV?”

Ranel’s solution to these existential issues was to join a social protest group which focuses on public housing and social equality. As an adolescent, she used to go to demonstrations with her youth movement, Hashomer Hatzair, and did her national service with the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel.

Following the social justice protests two years ago, her interest in social activism grew. Currently, she is heavily involved in demonstrations and in “bringing relevant topics to public discourse” through Facebook, and through sending fax and email messages to Knesset members.

“One of the things I learned over the last 2-3 years was how to work in a group that makes decisions together. A wonderful thing that has come out of this activity is that I met and befriended many people who believe in the same course of action. Most of them are at least five years older than me."

Unfortunately, Ranel’s peers are not that interested in the struggle.

“Girls that graduated with me are now finishing their military service," she says. "They have no interest in fighting over rental prices. All they want to do is fly away and get high. I don’t understand it. Social awareness here is non-existent. This is the generation that is expected to drive the economy but instead, people think that if high-tech is the path to making a lot of money they should study computer sciences, instead of asking themselves why things are as they are. They are stuck on money and status. I wish that young people, aged 20-25, would select a topic that’s dear to them, be it the money in their pockets, the occupation, or whatever, and come out and declare that this is what they believe in and wish to fight for."

Despite Ranel’s disappointment with her peer group, one should remember that the millennium generation, including social activist leaders Daphni Leef and now-MK Stav Shaffir (Labor), is the one that drove the social justice protests of 2011, raising social consciousness and shaping public discourse in a way that still impacts our lives.

We are all Millennials

To some extent, according to Noam Manella, the social protest turned all of us into Millennials. Manella, an expert on current social consciousness, a lecturer and strategic consultant, started taking interest in Generation Y back in 2006.

“One can see the conflicting attitudes to this generation from the very outset”, he says. “Incidentally, calling young people self-centered and narcissistic has been around since the beginning of history. Young people create changes from below, and this threatens older people. The latter have been successful with the world as it is, so why change things? Now, with new technology, this is felt much more intensely."

“The millennium generation," he adds, “has created a new value system due to its disappointment with my generation and the world we have presented them with: a cynical, materialistic world with ever-widening economic gaps. This is a more global and tolerant generation. One often hears them labeled as devoid of feelings, but they are actually quite empathic. They have been the engine of the social revolution. Young people in Israel volunteer at very high rates."

The social protest, according to Manella, “started with the younger generation as a revolution of values, sweeping with it people from other generations as well. The social consciousness emanating from these young people has transformed into a consciousness of ideas. They have dismantled some of the axioms held by previous generations, such as the meaning of careers, or of life in general."

Manella quotes Manuel Trajtenberg, an economics professor at Tel Aviv University and the head of the Knesset committee established in the wake of the social justice protests to recommend government action, who, at a conference held last year, termed the social protest a “founding event”, adding that “this is an ideas generation, not an age-related one. I’m part of it along with my daughters."

From generation to generation

Obviously, generalizing concepts of generations overlooks the fact that they consist of individuals, not a compilation of statistics. Consider, for example, Amit Nathan, daughter of the deputy Cabinet Secretary and a high school student at the Hartmann School in Jerusalem. She spends a lot of time on Facebook. “It’s important since it keeps you connected," she says. “Every class announcement is made on Facebook." She also spends six hours a week at the Bnei Akiva youth movement and reads books at night.

Nathan has no interest in going on the "Big Brother" reality show, but might agree to join a quiz show. Would she like to become famous?

“That might be nice for half an hour or so, and then to stop, but that is not possible." Her ambitions for the future make her sound more like a member of Generation X, or even a baby boomer: She wants to be a judge. Her grandfather was a jurist and in fifth grade she took some law classes and is now hooked on the idea.

“It interests me and also helps people," she says. "Making money is important, but that will not determine the work I choose. If I’m bored all day, what will I do with all the money I make?”

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