Does the Internet Generation Have Its Own Priorities?

May 25, 2013

Watching and waiting for the Millennials has kept lots of cultural observers busy for a long time.

Ever since the team of Howe and Strauss predicted back in 1991 that this generation would repeat the civic virtues of the GI ‘Greatest’ generation (see also their 2000 book Millennials Rising), endless forecasts about what drives this generation have been formulated. 

Now in their young adulthood, more and more data is accumulating about their behavior as well as their thinking, statistically speaking. Any member of a generation intuitively “knows” what it feels like to be a member, even if their own experiences couldn’t match those of all their peers. Call it a sensibility, or a vague temperament, or just a common sort of worldview — the general outlook of a person couldn’t be expected to imitate that of someone 20 years older, or 20 years younger. If the times help to shape a person’s development, then a person’s developed temperament will later shape the times. How will Millennials try to shape their own coming times?

Joel Stein’s recent article in Time magazine has sparked plenty of commentary, pro and con. Aimee Groth’s supportive commentary over at Business Insider helpfully centers around what can be seen in the Millennials’ values. I have no idea if the Millennials will save us all (sage wits have remarked that it may also require Generation Xers as well, to clean up messes the Elder Boomers leave behind), but it is crucial to think about what the Millennials themselves will reagrd as worth saving. Aimee offers five key points about the Millennials, worth remembering:

They believe they can change the world.

They don’t believe in hierarchy.

They’re resourceful and adaptable.

They want to have a sense of mission.

They think before they act.

Other commentators, too many to count, have further noted how the Millennials in general expect a higher comfort level with diversity and toleration, yet they also expect conformity to firm ethical principles about equality, community, and justice. Indeed, they are already proving to be the most civic-minded and pro-government generation since, well, you know who….

What does this all mean for any activist organization interested in staying relevant for more than the next five years? I have been commenting on the fine compatibility of Humanism with the values of Millennials. But make no mistake — the Millennials will make up their own minds about what still has Value and what doesn’t, and what needs to be done about the difference.