geny1The Who have never been more apropos. Over the past decade, the amount of new books (a quick Amazon search for Generation Y yielded over 7000 results) profiling Generation Y has soared, sparking a new industry of those who base their careers pontificating over Generation Y, explaining the feelings and beliefs of the new generation to large corporate audiences for a hefty fee. Stereotyping Generation Y has become a new industry unto itself, and anyone with the platform to say something seems to have something to say about Generation Y, either negative or positive.

We have been described as dumb (in The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30)), depressed (in Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before), great (in Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation), or just simply as taking over (in Generation We: How Millennial Youth are Taking Over America And Changing Our World Forever). Can all of these contradictory views of generation Y can be true?  Does the lack of consistency between the views of generation Y show that these books and profiles are quick to stereotype what is actually quite a large and diverse group of young Americans? And, most pressingly, do any of these views answer the question: what is Generation Y really like?

Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory University and author of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30), would have you believe that Generation Y, unless it gets its act together, could be the least curious and politically active generation in American history. “Generation Y is easily the most blissfully ignorant generation to come  around in the past 100 years,” he says, “and the fact that they spend so much time on leisure hours and their social lives is impeding historical progress.”

Lisa Orrell is trying to change this. A self-described “generational relations expert” and author of Millenials Incorporated, Orrell has spent much of her time working with and interviewing Gen Yers, and she doesn’t see many of the negative stereotypes ascribed to them. “On the whole, Generation Y is a hardworking, loyal, and intelligent group of young adults that doesn’t deserve the scrutiny that has been put on them.” She says she understands that most discussions about generations will contain certain stereotypes, but that there are still defining traits of all generations that a majority of those people will feel a connection to. “The media finds it more exciting to be negative because it makes a better story, but the truth is that Generation Y isn’t more ignorant or lazy than any other previous generation.”

While the conventional wisdom would say that there has been more protest and civil unrest in previous generations—particularly in the baby boom generation—this view seems to forget that it was just as easy to ignore the political realities around you by cradling a bong and zoning out to Jethro Tull records in 1969, as it is to ignore the world in 2009 by uploading half-naked pictures of yourself on to Facebook and obsessively following the life of Robert Pattinson. According to Morely Winograd, a former USC professor and author of Millenial Makeover: Myspace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics, the idea of the typical boomer as a liberal, peace-loving, weed-toking hippie is purely a manufactured image. “The typical liberal boomer stereotype was completely fabricated by liberal boomers afterto buy prescription drugs without a prescription the fact,” he said in a phone interview. “If you look at the data, you’ll  actually see that baby-boomers were just as evenly divided between liberals and  conservatives. It just happened that the narrative of the boomers as hippies won out in the long run.”

The question that remains now is: where does it all go from here? As Generation Y begins to age and to show its contributions to society, will there be a bevy of prognosticators dueling it out, fighting each other over who was more prescient about the future world that Generation Y will encompass?  The only thing that seemingly everyone can agree on, is that Generation Y, with its record setting number of members (roughly 95 million, although itdepends on what years you use), is going to do something big, and that whatever it does is going to have an impact on how the world works for a long, long time.

“Generation Y is going to be the next great hero generation,” says Winograd. “I don’t know what it is specifically that they’re going to do, but they are going to dominate the future, and I think they’re going to do something great.” Even Mark Bauerlein can’t entirely disagree. “Generation Y has the potential to do something great. They first just have to get their heads out of the sand.”