Change: Technology, culture and people. Part III of III


The focus of this three part series has been to explore how technology has changed lives, culture and us over the past one hundred years. This isn’t the result of some grant funded academic exercise. There are no footnotes, ibids or op. cits. These observations are drawn solely from the experiences of we two septuagenarians over a lifetime of living, loving, working and paying attention. In the first two columns we talked about how one hundred years of accelerating technology and human knowledge has changed the face of American industry from  manufacturing  (steel, rubber, consumer products and industrial machinery)  to service {communication, information, transportation and finance). We discussed the “older generation,” those born between 1935 and 1965, including the “boomers” that were raised by “Americas Greatest Generation” s and grew up in small towns and city neighborhoods across a booming America. We began a discussion on the differences between that generation (53 to 83 years old) and the “younger” generation 1980-2010 (8 to 38 years), which includes “The Millennials.” Today we continue that discussion.      

Half of the “younger” generation is composed of the infamous “Millennials.” Millennials, born between 1989 and 2004, today are between 14 and 29 years old. They spent their formative years clutching tablets and smart phones. Among the adult population, as a group, Millennials are generally regarded as arrogant, emotionally unstable, socially inept, ill educated, lazy, self absorbed, disrespectful and lacking in most human attributes deemed acceptable in society or useful in the workplace. Employers complain that Millennials they have no concept of work ethic, they simply expect to be paid. Many East coast summer resorts today hire European students for seasonal staff because America’s own Millennials are unsuitable. The internet is full sites mocking Millennial’s ineptitude. Try Googling “Millennial job interviews” and you can spend a whole day cackling over Millennial lampoons.

So is this really a lost half-generation?  Have these children and young adults been victimized and rendered useless by permissive parents and a failed education system that allowed “social media” to become the real educators of our children? Many people today would say yes, that’s it.

While the stereotype of the Millennial is certainly based on some disturbing facts it is important to realize that there are many un-stereotypical Millennials who really do “have it all together.” More than likely, even the stereotypical Millennials will eventually “smell the coffee.” The “Beat Generation” of the 50s and the “Hippies” of the 60s and 70s for the most part went mainstream by the time the hit their 30s. Indeed the present day Millennials will surely live to be appalled at what they see in the next “younger” generation.

In summary, while it is true that a large part of the adult world will continue shake their collective heads at the antics of the Millennials, we should recognize the fact that we created the technology and environment that created them. We didn’t see it coming, but we never do. Each new generation enjoys and/or suffers from what the previous generations created. In the past ten years we have allowed our children to connect with the entire world of human knowledge and thought. That includes both the good and the not so good. We have also provided them with an alternative to the traditional authority of parents and teachers, constant access to their peer culture.    

So when your grandkid asks you to translate the message on her birthday card because you wrote it in cursive, just smile and do it. The next time you see a herd of Millennials silently shuffling through a shopping mall with their heads down and their faces bathed in the pale light of their smart phones, just think happy thoughts remembering those bright summer days at the ole swimming hole laughing with your friends. Would you really trade your life’s experience for theirs?