November 18, 2013

Millennials don't knock

When students drop by the office for help, whether during scheduled office hours or not, I've noticed that they almost never knock.

Our door swings shut, so it's not as though it's open and I'm expecting a courtesy knock. I just hear the handle turn and then there they are, walking right in. And usually they don't make much small talk first -- just launching right into "So I don't know what to do on #5 here..."

Everyone born before the Millennials always knocks, whether they're other grad students, tenured professors, or secretaries. We haven't had too many early Millennial grad students come by, so the lack of knocking may belong more to those born around 1992 and after. As bratty and socially awkward as the early ones are, the later ones are noticeably worse.

Where did they learn his habit? Or rather fail to learn the normal habit? They certainly didn't enter the teachers' lounge at school before college, and most of them have never worked, let alone barge into their manager's office. And they generally don't sleep over at each other's houses when young, or even hang out much in their "friend's" houses as teenagers.

So they must've picked this up at home, more or less the only place where they've ever had to interact with others socially, and certainly when it's in an environment where there might be closed doors. But why didn't they at least pick it up at home?

Do helicopter parents maintain an entirely open-door home environment? That would help them constantly monitor their kids, and allow the kids to come complaining no matter when. Floor plans are a lot more open these days than in the '80s, typified by the new "great room" in the McMansions of the past 20 years. Or do they have closed doors, but just give their socially clueless kids a pass whenever they interrupt someone else's activity unannounced, rather than prepare them for the real world?

Beats me. Whatever the cause, though, it's yet another telling sign of how unsocialized this generation is. Each of these things is small in itself, but piled all together, you understand why their co-workers have been complaining about how entitled the Millennials are in the workplace and at school.


  1. It's interesting you begin the Millennials' sentence with "So." Over the last five years, I have noticed the ubiquitous "so" used to begin sentences, even when answering a question. It's as if the person using "so" is reengaging with their train of thought, ignoring the context of what the other speaker was saying. I think it's an extension of what you call the avoidant dismissive type. They use "so" in an almost impatient manner, as if "So, now that you're through talking, it's my turn to deliver my little speech." It's not real conversation.

    One hears this "so" all the time now. A Millennial entrepreneur was being interviewed on Bloomberg TV this weekend and started every answer with "so." He basically ignored the context and nuance of the questions and, android-like, reverted to "so" each time he spoke. It is a very off-putting habit, up there with (but not quiet as awful as) the "not so much!" that girls started using a decade ago and seems to be intensifying, like late-stage cancer.

  2. I was going to be playing a round of golf with my 14 year old nephew last month, so I called my sister's house to firm up arrangements. Much to my surprise, my nephew answered (Only because he had been waiting for my call, I think). Even more to my surprise, I heard someone pick up the phone, then... nothing. I finally had to say, "Hello?" to get him to talk. My sister later told me that that is probably the first time he has ever picked up the house phone.

    Now, I get that technology marches on, voice calls are for old fogeys, etc. But how does someone live in a house where phone calls are being made and answered for 14 years and not know at least that one says "Hello" when one picks up the phone? I mean, even my three year old will pick up his toy phone and imitate us by pretending to call his preschool friends. (and incidentally, I am hoping your cycle theory is correct and things will have started to turn around by the time he is a teenager in the the 2020s...)

  3. Marcus Marcellus, you've nailed what's irritating about people's use of 'so'.

    Having said that, spokespeople and PR people do about the same thing - just stating what they want to state - only, without the 'so'.

  4. "I heard someone pick up the phone, then... nothing."

    Could've been worse --

    so who is this?

  5. The impatient use of "so" right upon barging into the office is an inversion of another formally commonplace code -- assuming that the people you want to see are busier than you are, hence you ask if they have a minute to talk with you.

    Even if it's during office hours, where it's understood that we're available to see students, but may be engaged at the moment they show up at our door.

    Launching their stressed-out monologue with "So" is like, "So I'm literally way too busy with my schedule, but you people probably have nothing better to do, so this'll only take a minute of your time."

    Get the fuck out of our office, you presumptuous dork. Go back to your super-busy schedule of liking comments on Facebook and unlocking video game achievements.

  6. Silents knock? (Probably not too many of them left in your environment to test this out).

    I think it might be because Millenials don't really see a distinction in terms of how interrupting to privacy / their "cocoon" / whatever knocking is compared to just entering.

    It's like we'd think "If you're going to fucking start knocking on my door and interrupt me, and make me have to respond to you, you may as well, like, just come in a start talking to me. Basically the same kind of interruption, right? Only knocking wastes more of my time.".

    Whereas older people see a qualitative difference between the two, and are not as comfortable dismissing people with a "bit busy now thanks" the way a Millenial might be, face to face. Older generations think more like, "if there's eye contact, you're obliged to treat someone with more humanity" and so have to have a conversation, so have more of a need to enforce an artificial / de-humanizing boundary to protect their "cocoon" / privacy.

    Much to my surprise, my nephew answered (Only because he had been waiting for my call, I think). Even more to my surprise, I heard someone pick up the phone, then... nothing. I finally had to say, "Hello?" to get him to talk. My sister later told me that that is probably the first time he has ever picked up the house phone.

    I'm an early stage Millenial, and although I don't do anything like you've described, I always do feel a bit of dissonance in how, in a work environment, when I pick up the phone I think "Hello" or "Good morning" is basically enough, while older callers seem to expect a bit more "Hello, such and such speaking, what can I do for you?". Like, for some reason, the onus isn't on the person phoning to explain why they have chosen to contact me, introduce themselves before asking me to give my identity, etc.?

  7. Anonymous (4:18), can you flatter yourself a little more? I'm skeptical that people really examine or have good reasons why they do many things.

  8. Millenials don't knock, just like kids today don't say "trick or treat" on Halloween anymore.

    They maybe mumble the time worn phrase, but sometimes can't even muster that without prompting.

    When I went to college in the late 90's, early 2000's, you were expected to knock. However, some professors did hold open door policies.

  9. Anonymous (4:18), can you flatter yourself a little more?

    You thought that was flattering?

  10. When I was in college, a guy didn't knock on the door to my roommate's room. And he walked in on her changing, and she screamed at him.

  11. 4:18 - when I call a faceless corporation, I want to know who I'm talking to. Also, the "may I help you" is a minimum acceptable courtesy in an in-person business environment, so it's expected on the phone, too.

    I work in construction, and something we have to do sometimes is call planholders to see who is actually bidding a job. There a pretty basic script for this, because the person getting the call is probably getting a lot of them just before each major bid, and wants to spend as little time on each call as possible. So the script gives the minimal necessary information, and asks the question concisely. The twenty-somethings just won't stick to the script.

  12. Millennials who work in retail also don't say "thank you" to the customer at the end of the transaction. They usually just say something along the lines of "here you go". It's astonishing.


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