In what countries do young people stay the longest at Hotel Mum? Have a look at European youngsters.
Almost two years ago the US photographer duo Alan Winslow and Morrigan McCarthy, owners of the "Restless Collective" company, started out on an adventurous journey to examine their generation's way of life around the globe.
They have travelled – mostly by bicycle – from Alaska to Argentina, through Western Europe down to Morocco and are currently on the road in the United States interviewing young adults aged 18-32 about their prospects in life. The project also invites young people to submit a self-portrait and answer questions online. The interviews and portraits along with breath-taking landscape shots were then assembled into the Geography of Youth multimedia project. We talked to them about their experience.
Morrigan, Alan, you have travelled around the globe to interview young people. Some of the questions you have asked were intended to reflect how young people feel about their position in life along with their feelings and opinions about adulthood. What was the idea behind these questions?
Morrigan: It began because we saw that some of our friends were moving back in with their parents, some were having children of their own, some were going to war, and some were starting companies. We found it interesting that they were so all over the place, and we were curious to know if this was happening all over the world.
Do you think there is a generation of adults who do not define themselves as such? How do you define youth?
Morrigan: For this project we defined youth as the Millennial generation. This way we will be able to look back later and say 'this is the story of a specific generation of people.' Youth is hard to define and changes on an individual and global basis.
Morrigan: We are asking people between ages 18 and 32 to answer the 12 questions that we have been asking people around the world. They can write whatever they like in response to those questions and that part gets published.
How have you found people who want to participate in your project? Or have they found you?
Morrigan: It has been a sort of a mix. Usually we just meet people on the street or in businesses. We find them wherever we can. We've also experienced great hospitality from complete strangers in our travels.
In Europe a lot of people say that this particular generation doesn't want to grow up and take responsibility, get jobs and start families. Do you see a particular difference between the US, Europe, and all the other countries you have travelled through?
Morrigan: We haven't found that this generation doesn't want to grow up and take responsibility. Instead it seems to us that what it means to be an adult is changing. People want to get older and still be traveling or having the same adventures that people traditionally have when they are younger. People want to do these things their whole lives, and at some point there is some sort of reconciliation between doing that and taking on what we traditionally consider "normal adult responsibilities" like having children or having a home. I think that across the board we see the definition of adulthood changing.
Is it justified to place all these people in a separate group – do they really have so much in common?
Morrigan: We were worried about that when we began, because it is such a large range: we have been interviewing people between the ages of 18 and 32 and that's a big span. But we've found that there are some major themes that unite people. I think the most obvious of these has been optimism. We are a generation of people who enjoy and are good at problem solving. I also think that Millennials in general know that there will be a lot of hard work ahead, but are capable of coming out okay in the end.
Alan: There is a willingness to use not necessarily just the traditional working models but to find new avenues for creating work.
So in fact this generation is able and willing to take on even more responsibilities, not only for themselves and their families but in a wider context, and probably also to work harder?
Morrigan: Yes, I think so. I think Millennials are willing to work differently, not necessarily harder than previous generations, but to work in a different way. Young people seem to be very interested in doing something for the greater good and more interested in contributing to society than they might be in taking care of themselves and having families and owning things. It's more important to be doing something that you consider to be good work than it is to accumulate possessions.
Morrigan: One of the most surprising things for me has been how much I have learned about myself by traveling this much and by speaking with other people my age. There is something about being around strangers and being somewhere new that makes you really form a firm self-identity. I think at the beginning of this project I would have said that I did not consider myself an adult, and now I think I do.
"There is a lot of pride in our generation for the places we come from."
Morrigan: Yes, I think there are some. As I said, working towards the greater good is the biggest one. Millennials value creativity, original thinking, and information sharing. These are some of the touchstones for this generation.
Besides all the similarities and things that unite Millennials, are there issues that divide people in all the countries you visited, something that probably cannot be easily reconciled?
Morrigan: There is a lot of pride in our generation for the places we come from, which is interesting. For example, we met several young people in Italy who were moving elsewhere because jobs were hard to find in Italy. They were moving to China or elsewhere to work and they were passionate about that and happy to do so. But they were also incredibly passionate about moving back to Italy because it is their home and their country. In most of the countries that we visited, we saw that people really care about their roots and where they are from. Even if they love to visit and experience new places, having a home and being proud of that home is also important.
Alan: The countries that we have visited have been a lot more similar than we thought or ever expected. The concerns of Millennials, the websites people are visiting – these were all much more consistent than we expected. From a cultural perspective though, we spent a lot of time in South America and that was very different from our culture. But through our interviews we have found that on an individual level there are many similarities between Millennials there, in the US, and all over Europe. It was a strange realization: global traditions and priorities may be different, but at a one-on-one level, people are remarkably similar.
"The countries have been a lot more similar then we thought or ever expected."
Thinking about everyday life, is the situation similar if you compare all the different countries you have travelled through?
Morrigan: More and more activities in daily life are becoming similar. In general, I think it is because of the internet. People do a lot of the same sorts of things: they wake up, check their emails and their blogs, and they go to work. That is a pretty standard day. In every country we have been to, daily life in general is quite similar.
Alan: But in Central and South America, for instance, a siesta in the middle of the day is still really prevalent. We had never experienced that, but quickly understood the reason behind it: it is so hot that people slow down to get out of the heat. It made perfect sense there. Most small daily life differences were like that.
Alan: A pretty common answer was: to be married with children and a house, which is funny, because it is such a traditional ideal. But I think people are willing to think about it as a sort of '10 year plan.'
Morrigan: In my opinion the biggest challenge will be in connecting to each other on a greater level. We are all very well connected through technology, but I think understanding each other on a more human level is really important and something that will be more difficult for us. I think in general a tolerance for real differences may become a problem as we grow increasingly similar because we're so connected.
People are interacting more, but are those interactions shallow because there is so much information and so many people to communicate with?
Alan: We have the ability to stay connected with pretty much everybody we have ever met. It can be difficult to have more in-depth relationships if you are in contact with so many people.
Morrigan: That's why we are doing this project: We want people to communicate and to understand each other. We are really hoping to get people ages 18-32 from all over the world to submit their answers to our questions and to send us a self-portrait for the project, because it is only a global project if we have people from all over the world participate in it. So of course we'd love more! The final goal is to turn all the photographs and interviews into a public art show. This can then travel around to different public spaces all over the world so people can explore it on a closer level and gain a better understanding of our global generation.