At Hyderabad airport in 2018, I noticed a fellow millennial take more than fifty selfies from check-in to boarding. A cool pout at the security line, a dashing Bollywood pose at the aerobridge, a seductive smile on seat 34D—no moment was too small for this excited young traveler. In my travels across India, I often found myself sitting next to such compulsive shutterbugs and wondered about their need to document the minutiae of their lives.
This was one of the many questions I spent three years investigating during my travels and interviews while writing my book on the social and economic views of Indian millennials—the world’s single largest demographic group.
India is home to nearly 450 million millennials. They live in the world’s second largest market. As millions amass more economic and political power, the choices this generation makes will profoundly shape the 21st century.
In the course of my research, I learned that this quest for self-expression provides Indian millennials with agency they lack in their daily lives, where they are constantly policed on their looks, interactions, and behavior.
Such simple acts of taking selfies are anything but simple—they are underpinned by economic and social power. This new market has not been lost on smartphone companies, who have spent millions of dollars on advertisements on television and social media pushing “selfie phones” to potential customers, each outdoing its competitor on the number of cameras, megapixels, and latest photo-enhancing technology.
But I wanted to dig deeper and understand the effects this generation would exert on the trajectory of the 21st century. I traveled more than 30,000 kilometers across 13 Indian states to talk to more than 900 millennials, educators, business leaders, and policymakers, to ask – what do Indian millennials want? What are their economic aspirations, social views, and political attitudes?
In my forthcoming book, What Millennials Want, I narrate an intimate biography of Indian millennials, documenting their aspirations and anxieties. It will be published in 2021 by Penguin Random House.(more…)