To begin, who or what is a Millennial?

There have always been differences between generations.

Everyone has experienced the problems of trying to explain new technology to someone much older or an important part of history to someone much younger. The cycle of a younger generation being criticized for their behavior by an older generation is nothing new, but for some reason people seem to think that the Millennials are something special.

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Millennial” is the hip new name for someone born in Generation Y, or between the years 1982-2004. There is some disagreement for the starting and ending years exactly, but that age range is the most common and will be what I use when I refer to a Millennial. The common impression of my generation is not all favorable; many consider us lazy and self-obsessed. Others call us innovative and talented multi-taskers. Some call us “trophy kids” because they perceive an attitude of entitlement, or as a reference to the fad of participation awards we grew up with.

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Although I disagree with narcissistic (image-conscious, maybe) or entitled (ambitious is how I’d say it) as a description, I do think that, overall, we’re disengaged.

We are a large and diverse generation (roughly 80 million Americans) and we voted in the last two elections more than our parents and grandparents when they were our age. We do participate, at least in presidential elections. When you look at engagement in local politics, the number really drops; in the last midterm election, in 2010, only 22.8% of eligible young Americans showed up at the polls.

Nevertheless, we are still fairly politically active. Many of us are registered to vote and have some sort of opinion when it comes to politics. So when I say we are disengaged I don’t mean that we are necessarily doing any worse than previous generations. I mean that we can definitely voice our opinions more than we are.

The most popular news shows for the coveted 18-29 demographic are currently “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report.” This probably doesn’t surprise many of you since Jon Stewart was voted America’s America’s Most Trusted Newscaster in 2009. But the point here is not what we are watching, but what we’re doing with the information. Compared to the amount of people who are paying attention to those entertaining television shows, the percentage of people who actually go vote is a little pathetic.

It’s clear that many of us believe our voices don’t matter, even though we have shown over and over that they can and do when enough of us engage and speak out. We have so far held off internet censorship bills like SOPA and CISPA. We elected Obama in 2008, and again in 2012. We helped legalize gay marriage and are universally more tolerant than our parent’s generation. The only way our voices won’t matter is if we stop using them.

But we are also facing a world of job applicants with too few places to apply, staggering student debt and an environmental crisis that seems to big to deal with. We are also consumed with consuming and are always active on some sort of social media. It is easy to see what the older generations are criticizing.

Personally, I think Millennials, for all our self-image obsession and consumption, are going to change the world. Everyone has heard the phrase “history repeats itself,” and if you look at history it’s easy to understand why. If you want to apply that phrase to generational behavior you get the Strauss-Howe generational theory.

The Strauss-Howe theory basically states that the economy dictates social patterns, which in turn affects the way generations raised during those periods act. Millennials, born in a social unraveling where feelings of individualism are strong and faith in institutions is weak, will become pragmatic and optimistic. According to the theory we will become the next particularly powerful political elder generation.

The last generation to correspond with this place in the cycle was the G.I. generation, and according to our behavior and theirs we do share a lot of similarities. And if we can live up to their reputation it will be something amazing to see, because they were called “the greatest generation” and rebuilt the world after World War II.

The Millennials are often viewed somewhat pessimistically, but I think we’re capable of doing great things. We are the most globally connected and politically motivated younger demographic in a long time. We are more socially tolerant than any generation has ever been, and I truly think that if we participate, if we really try, we can make this world a better place.


A few other links

AARP Magazine
“12 Ways Millennials Differ From Boomers”
Driving, dressing up, going on a dinner date. That’s so over!

Roosevelt Institute
“Millennials are Committed to a Multidimensional Approach to Saving the Environment”
Reports that Millennials don’t care about the environment may not take into account their creative and comprehensive approaches to creating a cleaner planet.

PolicyMic
“Millennials Are Tackling Climate Change — So Why Haven’t Boomers Noticed?”
While the image of millennials as so-called “slacktivists” fits with the prevalent narrative of millennials as lazy, selfish, and disengaged, it may not necessarily be an accurate reflection of the work millennials are doing on the ground.

Jacksonville Business Journal
4 ways Millennials will change business and politics
By 2025, Millennials will account for up to 75 percent of the work force. Based on the Brookings’ paper, which cites numerous surveys of Millennials, here are four ways they could change corporate America and politics.

U.S. News
Why Millennials Will Save Politics
Young people are rejecting partisan bickering and embracing communities of all sorts.
We have reason to hope because of data: Demographic data. Specifically, the coming dominance of the millennial generation – now aged 11 to 32, with its adults aged 18 to 32 – and the dying out of older generations may well solve many of our partisan battles. Researchers, including Pew Research Center and the duo Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, have been tracking the beliefs of millennials for some time now. The bottom line: milliennials see the world differently than previous generations.

The Third Way
Millennials—Political Explorers (pdf file)
Millennials are poised to have an outsized influence on our politics due to their sheer size. But their values and beliefs have been misunderstood, if not openly maligned, largely because they are not seen in the context of this group’s unique generational experiences. Millennials can both support an expansive federal role for government while holding reservations and deep skepticism about its efficacy. They may be racially and ethnically diverse, but their views were not forged in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. They came of age in an era of unprecedented access to alternatives and a steady stream of information from nearly any region of the world, yet they are expected to get excited by orchestrated events and scripted interactions. They have the potential to shake up American politics as we know it—and both parties must reassess their message to appeal to them.

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