This post originally appeared on the U.S. Naval Institute Blog here.
As a millennial, I am easily triggered. I often lack the emotional self-control to react appropriately to disturbing opinions or information, especially those that run contrary to my well-established worldview. As Captain Peter “UGH” Ryan so eloquently argued in his recent article “Technology: The New Addiction,” my addiction to my smartphone and social media have sapped my ability to handle the challenges of everyday adult life. In fact, he notes my egregious rate of personal technology usage (PTU) has made me more likely to commit suicide and beat my children (I must admit, I did not see any evidence of causality between PTU and these behaviors in his article, but I long ago lost the ability to think critically about the things I read online). So, you won’t be surprised to hear that I was uncontrollably outraged when I read the September 2018 USNI Newsletter email, titled “Dead Reckoning, Video Game Addiction, New Navy Uniforms, Ship to Shore: September 2018.”
First of all, Captain Ryan’s article is about technology addiction, not video game addiction. This may have been an innocent editorial mistake, but it comes across as tone deaf as your parents yelling “hip hop, doo wop, bee bop a loo bop, whatever it’s called, just turn it down!!” If video games were the problem, I think we’d need to look further back than my generation (and question why we’re integrating Xbox controllers into our combat systems). No, the problem is much broader, and Ryan argues convincingly that PTU has caused younger generations to become more isolated and less resilient. As a whiny snowflake, I understandably crumbled into a puddle of tears upon reading this assessment. Of course, now I have to question the wisdom of a commanding officer ordering his entire crew to join Twitter and follow the official command account, or the Navy relegating almost all engagement with families to Facebook. Hmmm . . . Captain Ryan goes on to lament that we youngsters prefer to be glued to our screens rather than interact with the opposite sex. I’ll bet this seems odd to older generations, so it must be bad, right? Perhaps there’s a concern of population decline? Come to think of it, whenever my ship hits port most sailors head straight to the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot. Maybe we should go back to the days when sailors all headed to the nearest bar and other “establishments!” I bet that would improve our health!
Another article that flew straight over my technology-addicted, entitled head was Captain Dave Kurtz’s article “First Impressions of the Navy’s Test Working Uniform.” I particularly enjoyed this perspective from the generation that so marvelously has managed Navy uniforms for the past decade. His best point was his argument against the Navy’s stated intent to satisfy “a desire on the part of sailors having served less than ten years for an untucked uniform, as they wear their civilian clothes.” On a personal aside, I’ll have you know that, as a millennial, I refuse to follow your suffocating rules and tuck in my shirt under any circumstance, even in military uniform. I don’t respect the need to look presentable, ever. That’s just, like, your opinion, man. It’s the same reason we want beards, man buns, and uniforms that actually fit women (in decreasing order of likelihood). Returning to Kurtz, he argues that “majority rule is not the best route.” Well said. Then, in the very next sentence, he writes “As we can see from the pictures and comments on Navy Times . . .” Wait, what? Internet comment boards are not just majority rule, they are mob rule. Then again, Kurtz is not a millennial so he doesn’t spend 18 hours a day on the internet like I do, so he may not have realized that.
These articles reminded me of another nugget from our senior leaders: we’re not tough enough. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson tells sailors they need to get tough. The Commander of Naval Surface Forces issued a force-wide message titled “Toughness.” Fleet Forces Command even called out toughness in its comprehensive review of the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) collisions. Then, in a follow-on internal review, the surface Navy found that only 16 percent of the most newly-qualified officers in the fleet could pass a basic skills test (I wonder how many commanding officers would pass the same unannounced test?). My issue is that “toughness” is being used a dog whistle to place blame on younger generations. Wait, I’ve got it! We’re all worthless and weak! But . . . why are we focusing on the individual toughness of our most junior officers and sailors as the problem? Isn’t it a symptom? Not that I know anything about toughness as a millennial, but I’ve heard it is the byproduct of a system, such as physical conditioning or team training. Maybe we need to focus on the system that produced those of us who lack toughness and competency? Maybe we need to critically examine the generation of leaders who were responsible for cultivating and developing that system? Maybe we shouldn’t take a report on two incidents that resulted in the deaths of 17 sailors, and PUT FREAKING ARTWORK ON THE COVER?!? Ah, who am I kidding? What do I know, I’m a millennial.
I need a safe space.