All of them without batting an eyelid said it was okay. That was 17 years ago, and they were 19—20 years old. As an old-fashioned senior professor from the Philippines, I was shocked but did not show it. I didn’t realise it then, but my students were part of the 75—80 million young people in the US we are now calling the millennial generation. At the time, they were already sending emails, chatting online, using cell phones, desktop computers and the Internet.
Fast forward to 2017. A few weeks ago (15 November) young Australians were celebrating wildly, dancing and cheering in the streets, after the country voted to allow same-sex marriage. History had come full circle it seemed. Will this signal a movement towards widespread legalisation of same-sex marriage, which only a generation ago had seemed so unthinkable?
Whether we senior citizens like it or not, more young people now inhabit this world and their values are changing. They are the millennials, the largest such generation in history. Some 1.8 billion out of the 7 billion global population — and they love smartphones.
Who are the Millennials?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, millennials are those born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, with some definitions stretching a bit to include those born in the early 2000s.
They are also called Generation Y, coming after Generation X — those born between the early 1960s and the 1980s. Advertising Age was one of the first to coin the term ‘Generation Y’ in 1993 but the term did not catch on.
Time magazine (May 2013) has cited a decade of sociological research to say that Millennials "want flexible work schedules and more 'me time' on the job". The Time magazine called this group the “The Me Me Me Generation” — "They're narcissistic. They're lazy. They're coddled. They're even a bit delusional.”
Another interesting generalisation is that this generation may be having less sex than any other generation before it, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) in 2016. 
However, attempts to generalise about an entire generation is futile. The truth usually lies somewhere in between. Discussion of American millennials tends to focus mostly on white youth from suburban areas, ignoring immigrants and minorities.
Are the first-world millennials lazy and do they carry around a sense of entitlement? Not really. They are very much involved with social issues.
Millennials, according to surveys by Fusion, are fighting for social issues like gender equality, diversity in the work place, gender identity, transgender rights, same-sex marriage and the environment.
Millennials and science
“Whether we senior citizens like it or not, more young people now inhabit this world and their values are changing.”
Born into the space age, it’s no surprise that millennials have a love affair with science. To quote Elise Andrew, founder of the web publication “I F*cking Love Science”:
“This is how most millennials feel about science — curious and awestruck. And they can’t get enough of it. They’re reading about science at their jobs and in their free time, in peer-reviewed journals or on Wikipedia. But what makes millennials’ interests different from the scientific interests of every previous generation?”
“They are intricately and consistently connected via social media. They’re less likely to be affiliated with a religious institution than previous generations,” she added. 
Andrews’ web publication, “I F*cking Love Science “, launched in 2012, currently has over 18 million likes on Facebook. In comparison, Popular Science has 2.8 million likes and Scientific American has about two million. The publication’s millennial founder, 28-year-old Andrew, has never worked with mainstream media.
It is no surprise that millennials and new technology are seen as twins. The millennials were born when personal computers, the Internet and mobile phones were becoming widespread and proliferating each year.
Andrew noted: “The rise of social media has also blurred the lines between high-brow and low-brow science . . . When millennials get excited about science, they post it on Facebook — and when they see a gorgeous photo of deep space on Twitter, it can open a new avenue of scientific exploration . . . one issue that millennials will likely put their talents toward solving is climate change." 
Google search will show that most millennial research has been US-focused. How do the Asia-Pacific millennials compare?
There are 600 million millennials in the Asia-Pacific region, and they are not homogeneous. These 16—34 year olds belong to countries in the region that range from Third World to First World. 
China’s Generation Y has been portrayed, like the American millennials, as “molly-coddled, self-absorbed, over-privileged, politically unengaged brats”. They have been raised as only children after China’s one-child policy was introduced in 1979 and enjoyed opportunities unknown to their elders at a time of unprecedented prosperity.
But Eric Fish, author of China’s Millennials: The Want Generation, disagrees, saying that “definition short changes a diverse 250 million-strong group who are themselves now facing major hurdles as their country’s astonishing economic boom loses steam.” 
He thinks young Chinese today face problems and “most daunting of all is the looming responsibility of caring for their elderly parents, without the help of siblings, while possibly raising families of their own”.
Chinese millennials also face issues similar to those of their counterparts in developed countries, like lack of job opportunities. Nearly 7.5 million graduates from Chinese universities last year could not find jobs in a sputtering economy. Meanwhile, Chinese millennials are becoming more outspoken about the problems of their society, a situation that is likely keeping China’s leaders worried.
The other Asian giant, India, has at least 600 million millennials. India’s Generation Y is better educated and has a higher disposable income. This means more opportunities to travel, work and study abroad, and to buy their own homes. They are optimistic and their aspirations match those of America’s baby boomers. 
Among South-East Asia’s 200 million millennials, ecommerce is the name of the game. It is getting a lot of attention in markets like Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, with the majority of shoppers naturally being millennials.
A recent survey reveals 83 per cent of Indonesian and 79 per cent of Filipino millennials look to starting their own businesses online. 
In the Philippines, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of stay-at-home workers. The country’s online freelancers earned more than US$207 million in 2010—2014. Poster persons for millennials
Mark Zuckerberg is arguably the best poster boy for the millennials. We have come to a point today where we can look back on our lives as two distinct periods — pre-Facebook and post-Facebook.
What Zuckerberg and his classmates at Harvard started as a social network for their friends has today become the biggest website in the world of 1.5 billion people, or 20 per cent of the world’s population. And 33-year-old Zuckerberg is now worth US$46.7 billion.
As poster girl for the millennials, I nominate 20-year-old Malala Yousafzai. This Pakistani girl was shot point blank in the head by the Taliban for daring to espouse education for girls in her country. She survived, the embodiment of courage, continued with her crusade and jointly won the Nobel Prize in 2014.
So, move over Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and Jurassics. The Millennials are here.
Crispin Maslog is a Manila-based consultant for the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication. A former journalist, professor and environmental activist, he worked for the Press Foundation of Asia and the International Rice Research Institute.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.