Over the centuries, differences in generational attitudes have caused the nation’s consensus on how to balance the tension between security and privacy to shift. Group and civic-oriented generations, such as the GI generation that fought in World War II, emphasized safety and security. Individualistic generations, such as today’s Baby Boomers and Generation X, tilted the balance back toward protecting privacy from the intrusions of big government or big business.
Today another civic generation, Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, is emerging into young adulthood and, like other cohorts of their type, are likely to once again push America toward a greater focus on security. In an era of ubiquitous smart phones, soon to be available as hands-free wearable glasses and smart watches, most Millennials accept the inevitable loss of privacy that comes with the increasing presence of social media. As a result, technologist Pete Markiewicz points out that tracking an individual’s physical and virtual movements can now be accomplished with sufficient mining of cell phone and web data to produce a “lifelog” that Google or Facebook might use to provide Millennials with a measure of their “personal connectedness” – or police might use to find a terrorist in our midst.
Having posted their entire life on Facebook, Millennials are less concerned than older generations with this kind of documentation of an individual’s behavior and more interested in how to use technology to increase their personal safety.
Like other generations, a solid majority of Millennials (58 percent) support national ID cards for all Americans. Two-thirds of them believe that surveillance cameras to combat terrorism are a good idea. And, half of Millennials, compared with 40 percent from other generations, favor government monitoring of credit card sales to help combat terrorists.
Even so, most Millennials are confident that this increased surveillance can be accomplished in accord with America’s constitutional traditions. According to Pew, only 25 percent of the Millennial generation (as compared with nearly half of older generations) believe that it will be necessary for Americans to give up civil liberties to curb terrorism. This does not mean that Millennials are naïve or soft on terror. They are quite willing to utilize the full force of government and to take complete advantage of current technology to deal with the threat, but they want it to be done fairly and in a non-discriminatory manner; less than half of Millennials favor extra airport screening of people of Middle Eastern descent, in contrast to nearly 60 percent of older Americans.
Fifteen years ago, in his book, “The Transparent Society,” futurist David Brin predicted constant surveillance would become part of daily life. As Mr. Brin wrote, the central question that must be answered to resolve the privacy/security paradox is “who controls the cameras or the networks and who can access the data.”
His solution to preserving civil liberties in such a world – increasing transparency at the same rate as the growth of personal data – offers a solution that Millennials, with their strong desire to share everything, would embrace. If the beliefs and behaviors of the Millennial generation become the country’s guideposts for how to live in this new world, America should do a better job in the near future than it has done in the past of adhering to its democratic principles as it searches for a greater sense of security.
Millennials: Willing To Trade
Privacy for Security
Millennials are more willing to give up privacy for security. Will the generation's
desire for safety lead to new levels of government and corporate surveillance?
Video from Mike and Morley
The fundamental disconnect between network TV and its potential millennial viewers is not the usual suspect, technology. Yes, millennials are devoted to social media and have none of the love of broadcast television that Boomers acquired in their youth, or even the type of affinity Xers have for cable TV that started when they were teenagers demanding, “I want my MTV.” According to leading communications research and consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates, Xers and Boomers will engage in 8.4 and 7.2 non-TV activities during prime-time hours, while millennials will engage in 10.4 activities. Millennials are much more likely to go online, visit a social network, listen to or play music, play games or just socialize out of the house and away from the TV box when networks most want them to pay attention to their programming. But those behaviors are an indication of how poor the programming is, not the root cause of the problem.
There are too many cynical members of Generation X who don’t begin to understand millennials, if they even try, making programming decisions for the networks that are being greenlighted by even more clueless Boomers. The result are network bombs like the American version of “Kath & Kim,” the ill-fated “My Generation,” and the most recent ratings victim, “How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life).” These programs suffered from casting popular Gen X actors, who didn’t know how to behave as millennials, in plots that substituted stereotypes from Generation X’s youth for character development and were as out of touch with the current experiences of millennials as smart phones are from clamshell cell phones.
Millennials are an optimistic, collaborative generation that believe in social rules and try and live by them. Teenage smoking rates are now the lowest ever recorded. From 1993 to 2010, the gun homicide rate in America declined 65% for those ages 12 to 17, the largest percentage decrease among all age groups. Yet older generations in charge of creating programs designed to appeal to this age group continue to broadcast stories about kids flaunting the rules, getting in trouble with the law, and engaging in the types of behavior that X-ers and Boomers did when they were young. But that is not the way millennials live.
There are of course some bright spots in this dark landscape, such as much of the Disney Family Channel’s programming, or shows like “Modern Family” and “Parenthood” that are very good at capturing intergenerational differences, even if their portrayal of millennials still has a whiff of Generation X in it. But these exceptions merely prove the general rule that without a greater understanding of the unique characteristics of the millennial generation, network television can expect its ratings to go the way of Gen X-oriented networks like Fox, leading to a future where, to quote NBC Entertainment’s Chairman, “flat is the new up.” Or worse.
In order to be successful with Millennials, television will need to become more like the concerts and theme parks that provide Millennials with the type of social experience the generation craves. By creating a space that Millennials can enjoy immediately and personally with those who join them at the event, as well as while tweeting about it on their smart phones to hundreds more of their friends and followers, concert promoters such as Live Nation and theme park owners like Disney have found a way to maximize the revenue generated from the content that they fully control in such venues.
Sports and final episodes of reality or drama programs are currently the closest television programming comes to this type of widely shared event. Without much promotional support initially, the notion of encouraging fan participation through live reactions via social media has become increasingly commonplace. The potential of this approach was demonstrated by the chart-busting ratings received by NBC’s broadcast of the London Olympics, which fully embraced social media in its coverage of the Games. But that is just the beginning of what networks will need to do to make all their programs “Event TV.”
Not surprisingly, the most cutting-edge deployments of this new strategy are coming from those distributors, such as Netflix and YouTube, which are completely disconnected from the tether of broadcast technology. By encouraging such social uses of highly polished productions as “binge TV” viewing or audience determination of plot development, these non-traditional buyers of video content are offering new ways to connect with Millennials.
But the keys to this magical money kingdom are actually held by companies not currently thought of as natural partners by those in the television industry. Google, Facebook, and other social media providers, along with device distributors such as Apple and Amazon, are seeking to lock their customers into the use of their proprietary cloud services. The ultimate goal of these companies in creating branded “personal content clouds” is to offer an entertainment experience where each person’s music, movies, television shows, books, video clips, photographs and more can be mixed and mashed up to create a concert or amusement park ride tailored to each customer’s individual preferences are shared in real time with whoever they like. The first “traditional” television network which recognizes the potential of this new form of entertainment by partnering with one of the major players in personal databases and bringing that network’s programming into the cloud service provider’s “theme park” will gain a first-mover advantage in this new marketplace.
The determination of Millennials to share everything is creating a world where social media will drive broadcast media. Even though television executives have traditionally been reluctant to give up their control over content, it’s time for them to recognize reality and partner with those who will control a new world of entertainment in the Millennial era.
In an age of terrorism, the Millennial generation may well find that elusive balance between security and privacy. They reflect the safety concerns of their GI grandparents, the respect for civil liberties of their baby boomer parents, and mix in their own ethic of fairness and tolerance.
The first four amendments to America’s Constitution were the nation’s initial attempt to find a consensus on where to draw the line between personal freedom and privacy on the one hand and societal safety and security on the other. This debate has been with us ever since and now events, such as the Boston Marathon bombings, or new technologies, such as drones and ever present surveillance cameras, create new concerns over how to find the right balance between these two competing values.
Over the centuries, differences in generational attitudes have caused the nation’s consensus on how to balance this tension to shift. Group and civic-oriented generations, such as the GI generation or "greatest generation," emphasized safety and security. Individualistic generations, such as today’s baby boomers and Generation X, tilted the balance back toward protecting privacy.
Today another civic generation, Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, is emerging into young adulthood and, like other cohorts of their type, are likely to once again push America toward a greater focus on security. What may be different this time is that Millennials’ beliefs and behaviors are also likely to create a search for safety as their GI grandparents did, but this push will be accompanied by a strong boomer-esque respect for civil liberties with a unique Millennial ethic of fairness and tolerance.
Millennials have been reared in a highly sheltered and protected manner, earning the sobriquet “Generation Lock Down” from one such parent, writer Howard Blum. In a poignant piece expressing his sadness after the most recent terrorist attack, Mr. Blum wrote that Millennials “are living in the land where Wild Things truly roam.” (He was referring to children’s author Maurice Sendak’s iconic characters.)
The GI generation learned from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that the United States could no longer remain isolated in a dangerous world. In the same vein, shootings at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech University, and Sandy Hook Elementary School and terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Boston have taught Millennials that they might not be safe doing even routine things in everyday places.
But notably, none of those events seems to have shaken Millennials’ optimism or resiliency. In a November 2011 Pew survey, a clear plurality of Millennials believed that life in America was better rather than worse compared with the 1960s. By contrast, the greatest numbers of boomers and seniors felt that things have declined in America over the past four decades.
Millennials are also more likely to believe than boomers and seniors that America’s best days are still ahead. Since generational attitudes are most impacted by events that occur when each cohort is young and do not often change as people mature, this optimism is likely to persist among Millennials throughout their lifetime, just as it did for the GI Generation.
This Millennial optimism extends to an unwillingness to be cowed by terrorism. A CBS News-New York Times survey conducted in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing indicated that only 1 in 5 Millennials, compared with 1 in 4 among older generations, would be less likely to attend large public events to avoid being injured in a terrorist attack.
In an era of ubiquitous smart phones, soon to be available as hands-free wearable glasses from Google, most Millennials accept the inevitable loss of privacy that comes with the increasing presence of social media. Instead, their concern is how best to manage this curtailment for the sake of increased safety.
History provides a cautionary note on how difficult it can be to find the right answer to this dilemma. The need to protect the country in wartime has been used as an excuse to deprive citizens of their civil liberties more than once. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suspended the right to a writ of habeas corpus – the guarantee that an arrested person will be brought before a court or judge.
In World War II, people of Japanese heritage were interned regardless of whether or not they had personally demonstrated a threat to the United States. During the cold war, thousands of Americans had their lives and careers disrupted with unsubstantiated accusations of disloyalty. More recently, despite his expressed personal misgivings, President Obama has ordered the killing of American terrorist by a drone strike without due process, let alone a trial.
Has America learned the lessons of these past infringements on rights in dealing with today’s challenges? The “warrantless wiretaps” during the Bush administration and the Obama Justice Department’s recent close scrutiny of reporters’ phone calls to uncover those who may have leaked national security information make it easy to question if it has.
However, the beliefs and behaviors of the Millennial generation provide some hope that America will do a better job in the near future than in the past of adhering to its principles as it searches for a greater sense of security.
According to Pew, only 25 percent of the Millennial generation (as compared with nearly half of older generations) believe that it will be necessary for Americans to give up civil liberties to curb terrorism. This does not mean that Millennials are naïve or soft on terror. They are quite willing to utilize the full force of government and to take complete advantage of current technology to deal with the threat, but they want it to be done fairly and in a non-discriminatory manner.
Like other generations, a solid majority of Millennials (58 percent) support national ID cards for all Americans. Two-thirds of them believe that surveillance cameras to combat terrorism are a good idea. And, half of Millennials, compared with 40 percent from other generations, favor government monitoring of credit card sales to help combat terrorists.
As Millennial Tara Marie Rose Hayman commented on Facebook, “at the airport, I would rather have my stuff looked through and everyone else go through that rather than protect privacy and have someone bomb you. It is good to know the intentions of others.”
At the same time, however, less than half of the Millennial generation favor extra airport screening of people of Middle Eastern descent, in contrast to nearly 60 percent of older Americans.
Technologist Pete Markiewicz points out that tracking an individual’s physical and virtual movements can now be accomplished with sufficient mining of cell phone and web data to produce a “lifelog” that Google might use to provide Millennials with a measure of their “personal connectedness” – or police might use to find a terrorist in our midst.
Fifteen years ago, in his book, “The Transparent Society,” futurist David Brin predicted this type of constant surveillance would become part of daily life. His solution to preserving civil liberties in such a world – increasing transparency at the same rate as the growth of personal data – offers a solution that Millennials, with their strong desire to share everything, would embrace.
As Mr. Brin wrote, the central question that must be answered to resolve the privacy/security paradox is “who controls the cameras or the networks and who can access the data.”
In the coming years, to enhance public safety, most Americans will almost certainly accept increased limitations on their privacy. The bigger challenge will be whether the nation can remain true to its democratic values of fairness, openness, and equality as it seeks greater security.
Millennials, America’s largest and most tolerant generation, will be the leading force in determining how well the nation addresses that challenge. Based on their sense of fairness and willingness to work with one another to achieve goals that meet the needs of the entire group, the prospects are good that Millennials will succeed in striking a balance that both provides enhanced security and protects our rights in the future.
at The Christian Science Monitor
As Millennials, America’s largest generation, enter their thirties in ever greater numbers, their beliefs about how and where to raise a family will have a major impact on the nation’s housing market. This follows as their media and political preferences have helped shape how we entertain ourselves and who is the president of the United States. A 2012 survey indicated that seventy percent of Millennials would prefer to own a home in the suburbs if they can “afford it and maintain their lifestyle.” Now a new survey of 1000 18-35 year olds conducted for Better Homes and Garden Real Estate(BHGRE) by Wakefield Research provides a much more detailed picture of the type of home Millennials believe best fits their needs and desires.
Reflecting their overall attitudes about spending their hard-to-come-by money, Millennials look more for value than “pizzazz” in a new home. Seventy-seven percent told BHGRE they preferred an “essential” home over a “luxury” model. And more than half (56%) believe the technological capabilities of a house are more important than its “curb appeal.”
Millennials are known for their fascination with technology. The BHGRE survey demonstrates that tendency in reference to their home buying decisions. Almost two-thirds (64%) would not want to live in a home that wasn’t “tech-friendly.” Not surprisingly, almost half (44%) focus on the technological sophistication of the family room rather than other rooms in the house in making that determination. In fact, almost as many (43%) would rather turn their living room into a home theater with a big screen TV than use it in more traditional ways. Even in the kitchen, a solid majority (59%) would rather have a television screen than a second oven (41%).
Another constant concern of Millennials, security, is also reflected in their technology preferences. Almost half (48%) named a security system as one of the technological essentials in a home and about a quarter (28%) would like to be able to control such a system from their smart phone.
In addition, befitting the generation that first popularized social media sites such as MySpace and Facebook, most Millennials want a house that can be customized to their individual preferences. Forty-three percent want their home to be less a “cookie cutter” offering and more capable of allowing them to put their own finishing touches on it. Almost one-third (30%) would prefer a “fixer upper” to a “move-in-ready” home, and seventy-two percent of those surveyed thought they were at least as capable of making those repairs as their parents. Almost all (82%) of this supposedly “entitled” generation say they would find a way to handle the cost of these repairs themselves rather than borrowing the money from Mom or Dad.
Millennials also take their concern for the environment into account when choosing a home. Almost half (45%) don’t want a home that wastes energy. Reflecting this, an energy efficient washer and dryer topped their essential technology wish list (57%). A smart thermostat was important to 44% of those surveyed, placing it third on the list of Millennial housing essentials.
These preferences aren’t the only reason that Millennial homes will reduce the nation’s carbon footprint in coming years. Millennials see their home as a place to “do work,” not just a place to return to “after work.” Already one in five Millennials say that “home office” is the best way to describe how they use their dining room. The generation’s blurring of gender roles as well as its facility in using digital technologies means that Millennials will likely work as much from home as “at work,” as they share child rearing responsibilities based upon whose work responsibilities require which partner to be away from the house during the day.
The cumulative impact on America’s energy consumption from this shift could be dramatic. A study by Global Workplace Analytics suggested that, if half of American worked from home, it would reduce carbon emissions by over 51 million metric tons a year—the equivalent of taking all of greater New York’s commuters off the road. Eliminating traffic jams would save almost 3 billion gallons of gas a year and cut greenhouse gas emissions by another 26 million tons. Additional carbon footprint savings would come from reduced office energy consumption, roadway repairs, urban heating, office construction, and business travel.
By the end of this decade the Millennial generation will comprise more than one out of every three adult Americans (36%). Just as the Baby Boomers influenced the housing market when they started buying homes and raising families, the Millennial generation’s overwhelming size will place an indelible stamp on the nation’s housing market. Its numbers will produce a boom in demand for housing that will help heal this critical sector of the nation’s economy.
This may affect boomers and other old generations. Every seller of houses will have to adjust their offerings to accommodate Millennial preferences for the type of home in which they want to raise a family. The end result will be more family friendly neighborhoods where homes serve as the hub for their owner’s economic activity, simultaneously lowering the nation’s carbon footprint and improving the civic health of its communities.
Besides his history-making embrace of full equality for gays and lesbians, the most surprising part of President Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural Address may have been the emphasis placed on dealing with the challenge of climate change. The president devoted almost three whole paragraphs, more than for any other single issue, to the topic. His remarks suggested that America’s economic future depended on the country leading the transition to sustainable energy sources and that “the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
Different generations reacted differently to the speech. The President’s rhetoric seemed like standard liberal fare to many Baby Boomers (born 1945-1965), who either vehemently agreed or disagreed with what Obama had to say depending on their political ideology. But members of the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) were in almost unanimous agreement with the way the President defined the context of this challenge. It was as if he was channeling the thinking of Millennials such as David Weinberger at the Roosevelt Institute’s Campus Network (RICN) who wrote, almost a year ago, “Millennials view environmental protection more as a value to be incorporated into all policymaking than as its own, isolated discipline. We are concerned with economic growth, job creation, enhancing public health, bolstering educational achievement, and national security and diplomacy. Young people recognize that each of these concerns is inextricably tied to the environment.”
President Obama was also right, from a Millennials’ perspective, to emphasize the need for America to become a leader in sustainable energy technologies. Seventy-one percent of Millennials believe America’s energy policy should focus on developing “alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology; only a quarter believes that it should focus on “expanding exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas.” Similarly, the RICN’s “Blueprint for a Millennial America,” a report prepared by thousands of Millennials who participated in their “Think 2040” project, placed the development and usage of renewable sources of energy at the top of all other environmental initiatives.
The participants’ proposed solutions to the challenge, however, were not focused on the kind of top-down change so common to Boomers. .Instead the proposals emphasized taking action at the community level. No one, the RICN blueprint said , should be asked to “make sacrifices without fully considering the cost to communities” whose “texture” is most likely to be impacted dealing with the challenge.
Many politicians fail to notice this unique Millennial perspective. Members of the generation disagree sharply with their elders on the best way to address environmental challenges, preferring to tackle them through individual initiative and grassroots action rather than a heavy-handed top down bureaucratic approach.
Of course, Millennials are the most environmentally conscious generation in the nation’s history. Almost two-thirds of Millennials believe global warming is real and 43% of them think that it is caused by human activity, levels much higher than among all other generations. But, as Weinberger also wrote, “While environmentalists of years past were primarily aiming to bring clean air and clean water concerns into the national policymaking calculus, environmentalists today are far more worried about solving global problems like climate change by using local environmental solutions.”
Adapting a Millennial approach to dealing with global warming would mark a major change for the Administration. All four of Obama’s first term environmental policy heavyweights were Boomers, whose preference for top down dictates was evident in almost every decision they made. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar established new controls on off shore oil drilling that satisfied neither side. Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu tried to jump start the development of renewable energy technologies in the United States by funding startups with dubious chances of marketplace success. And most conspicuously EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s plans for regulating smog were rejected by the President. Fortunately , all of them have announced plans to leave their posts. They will follow in the footsteps of environmental czar, Carol Browner, who left two years ago after a less than stellar performance during the Horizon Deepwater drilling disaster.
There is talk within the administration of subtle changes in policy. The departure of this quartet of ideologically-driven Boomers gives the President an excellent opportunity to appoint a new team to execute his vision for meeting the environmental challenges of our time.
President Obama’s new team will have to continue to link the need to develop U.S. energy production to both environmental concerns and economic development. It will need to couch the call for progress on reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the context of strengthening, not weakening, local communities and preserving the nation’s natural resources. Just who the president finds to take on this politically nuanced task will say a great deal about his sensitivity to his Millennial Generation supporters’ attitudes and beliefs. It will also foretell a great deal about how successful he will be in matching the lofty rhetoric of his Second Inaugural Address with today’s political realities during his final term in office.
Millennials (born 1982-2003) are convinced that college is the ticket to a better life.
Consider these statistics:
- Ninety percent of high school students say they want additional education after they graduate,
- And two-thirds enroll in a two- or four-year college within a year of completing high school.
- Including trade schools, 60 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are now seeking a credential of some type, the highest percentage in history.
In today’s global economy, the country’s economic success depends on students acquiring the skills that come with the completion of two- or four-year college programs.
And, unfortunately for the nation, the percentage of students who actually graduate from college has been stagnant for the last 30 years.
More than a quarter of this year’s college freshmen will not return for a second year. Half of those enrolling in two-year college programs won’t be back for their final year either.
A recent study by CompleteCollege.org (the chart above, is courtesy of the site) found that only 60.6 percent of full time undergraduate students had obtained their degree within eight years. Part time students took even longer, with less than a quarter of them finishing their bachelor’s degree after eight years. The numbers are even lower for two-year associate degree students.
The reasons for this dismal performance are well-documented.
- Too many high schools fail to adequately prepare their students for college. While innovative efforts are under way to change this, those requiring remedial courses in college to catch up with their better-prepared counterparts still comprise half of all students enrolling in a two-year associate degree program and about one in five of those seeking a bachelor’s degree.
- Not surprisingly, those who do require remediation are about 40 percent less likely to earn a degree in a timely manner than those who don’t.
- College costs are rising much faster than inflation, causing many students to delay or abandon their education. A 2009 survey of Millennials who had dropped out of college found that they had done so because they had to work full-time or did not receive enough help from their family to be able to afford staying in school.
And that’s not all.
Despite continuing to raise tuition rates, a recent Bain & Company study found that about one-third of all US colleges are on an unsustainable financial path.
Its examination of more than 1,700 public and private nonprofit colleges found that the growth in these colleges’ debt and the rate of spending on interest payments and on plant, property, and equipment rose far faster than did spending on instruction from 2002 to 2008.
In no other industry would overhead costs be allowed to grow at this rate—executives would lose their jobs, the Bain study said, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education article about the study.
Clearly, to continue to maintain its critical role in providing the nation with the skilled workforce our economy requires, the nation’s system of higher education will have to find ways to deliver a better product at a lower cost.
Fortunately, solutions are rapidly coming into view that will win over Millennials, first as students, and then as parents of America’s next generation of students. One is the increased use of technology to both reduce the cost and increase the effectiveness of instruction.
The introduction of Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, by some of the nation’s leading universities is at the leading edge of this trend. Unlike earlier versions of distance-learning, these free offerings take advantage of delivery platforms that use data-mining technologies to personalize material and analyze huge numbers of student experiences to see which approach works best.
MOOCs are still in their infancy, with a variety of universities partnering in both for-profit and nonprofit consortiums, some of which offer credit for completing a given course and some of which only issue a “statement of accomplishment” and a grade. Even though they are free, these courses provide a high-quality instructional experience and, as a result, hundreds of thousands of students have signed up for them, according to a July article in The New York Times.
In the future, many colleges may find it easier to lower their costs by granting credit for these types of courses and focusing their instructional efforts on providing the level of social interaction that is essential for real learning to take place.
One way that shows early promise for making this happen is through the adoption of the same digital technologies that have been used to create immersive, interactive experiences in games, such as World of Warcraft, or movies, such as “Avatar.”
Studies have shown very positive effects on the skill and performance of students exposed to such “serious games” in subsequent real-world situations. The experience of being engaged in these simulated environments has also been shown to produce positive effects on the individual’s or the group’s identity, an important part of Millennials’ maturation.
The Bottom Line
By adopting these new technological solutions to the cost and effectiveness of instruction, America’s system of higher education has an opportunity to make a higher quality education available to Millennials at a lower cost.
This should enable America’s next great generation to acquire the skills and knowledge the country needs for its future economic success. If it does, the nation will have found a win-win solution to its current higher education challenges—just the type of outcome Millennials prefer.
The latest from the men who wrote the book (literally!) on the developing impact of the next generation and the ones to come …
Even though both Generation Xers and Millennials are often portrayed as “digital natives” because of their access to the earliest versions of digital technology when they were growing up, the real digital natives are actually members of America’s youngest generation: PLURALS.
So named by the communications research and consulting firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, because of the great diversity of its racial and ethnic profile, the members of this generation have been immersed in digital technology since they were born. Members of this generation, who today are middle schoolers or younger, are demonstrating a comfort level with conducting their lives online that puts their older siblings (Millennials) and parents (Generation X) to shame.
According to Magid’s research, 59 percent of Plurals are already using Facebook at least weekly. Twenty-eight percent of them tweet just as frequently. Sixteen percent of Plurals also maintain a weekly blog.
Their commitment to social media is evident in their use of check-in sites or location-based apps, such as Foursquare, which are used by 16% of the generation. About a quarter of all Plurals report shopping in a brick-and-mortar store using their cell phone to check product information or compare prices, mostly through the use of QR codes. And about a third of plurals send pictures to their friends from their cell phone of what they are doing while they are shopping.
In comparison to teenage and twenty-something Millennials, Plurals are also much more likely to live all of their virtual lives on mobile devices, with 69 percent of America’s youngest generation reporting that they use a cell phone regularly. Even more (79%) own a personal digital media player, and 60 percent now own or regularly use an mp3 player, higher percentages of usage than are found among Millennials. Forty-one percent of Plurals play games on their mobile phones at least weekly, compared to 39% of adult Millennials. Meanwhile, the percentage of Plurals using a tablet has risen to 43% from 13% in just one year.
Plurals are also likely to accelerate the trend of video content moving to mobile and online platforms. Forty-two percent of them report watching a full length TV show online, and about half that number use their cell phone to watch live TV during a typical week. The percentage of Plurals who watched full-length movies using that device almost doubled in the last year to 40 percent, while about a third of them use their phone to watch other forms of video at least weekly.
Generation X rightfully prides itself on its technological savvy and celebrates its ability to use personal computers and the Net. Millennials are the most facile users of social media. But both of these older generations will have to make way for Plurals and their desire to absorb the most sophisticated forms of content in a mobile environment whenever and wherever they want to.
Entertainment and media firms will have to alter their time-honored business models to accommodate the needs and wants of America’s true digital natives, the Pluralist Generation, when it takes its place in the prime, young adult, target demographic in the next few years.
Based on the continuing rise in the popularity of Facebook, which adds another 100 million users about every six months, and the overall increase in the percentage of those users who have unfriended someone, more than a half a billion people experienced the sting of rejection on the site in 2011, compared to approximately 158 million in 2009. Some of this increase may simply be a reflection of the larger universe now involved in managing their friendships. The odds of wanting to hold onto all of your friends, after all, are likely to decrease as the group gets larger and larger.
But another reason for this increase may be the shifting generational demographics of Facebook users. Today, more than half of Facebook users are over 35. In 2009, that group represented only one-third of all users. As older generations catch up with the proportion of Millennials (born 1982-2003) participating in Facebook, the site's users are less likely to share the Millennial penchant for openness, sharing, and group-oriented behavior.
Fifty and 60-year old Boomers (born 1946-1964), for instance, as well as even older members of the Silent Generation (born 1925-1945), are more concerned with preserving their privacy than younger generations are. Given Facebook's increased emphasis on sharing everything, older users are likely to exercise more control over their friends list and limit them to those people they feel particularly close to or trust more.
While need for privacy may also be of concern to Generation X, sandwiched between Millennials and Boomers, their generation brings an entirely different sensibility to social media. They see it as yet another technological tool to make life easier to manage. Their concern for efficiency and speed may well lead them to drop friends whose utilitarian value, at least on Facebook, is no longer apparent, especially as the universe of potential friends expands.
The commercial implications of this increase in unfriending activity present a problem for Facebook. Its pending IPO depends on increasing the amount of revenue per subscriber that the site generates. This now lags significantly behind that of other social media sites such as Google. Advertisers hope that with new features, such as Timeline, and a renewed focus on helping major brands target their advertising by Facebook, they will begin to see more bang for their online bucks.
However, it may become difficult to fulfill this hope as the universe of Facebook users begins to approach the earth's connected population. Even though studies have shown Facebook users to have more close relationships than other Internet users, the distinction between Facebook users and everyone else will continue to erode as the two populations merge into one. At that point, everyone will be engaged in the process of limiting their friends to those they really care about and billions of people will experience the sharp but momentary pain of being unfriended.
Is technology hurting or helping Millennials and future generations?
Recently, Pew Research published the findings of its survey of over 1000 technology experts on the possible effect on the Millennial Generation of growing up in a media saturated, hyper-connected world. We were flattered to be included in their sample of experts, but would nevertheless urge caution in over-interpreting the results.
Pew was careful to point out that the results have no statistical validity since the survey was not a random or probability sample of the population. In survey research terms, Pew used a “Delphi survey” approach, where, just as the ancient Greeks did in seeking guidance from that oracle, questions were posed to the experts in the hope that they would divine the right answer. To allow for ease of tabulation, the questions asked tended to be in pairs with each respondent asked to agree with one of two contradictory choices. Even with those constraints, many experts, including us, responded with long explanations of why they either didn’t pick one of the two choices presented, or did so with caveats and disclaimers. Fortunately, Pew reproduced all of these comments in an appendix to their report for those who wanted to explore the answers to each question in more depth. As if that weren’t enough to mitigate the impact of the findings, on most items the experts were about evenly split between the two alternatives from which they were asked to choose.
There have been a few, more statistically reliable studies of the impact on Millennial personalities or thinking patterns of specific elements of the digital technology revolution now occurring. Those that have focused on video games have uncovered results that directly contradict the conventional wisdom about one of the Millennial Generation’s favorite forms of entertainment.
For instance, a study by cognitive neuroscientist, Daphne Bavelier, found that the type of violent games that most worry parents had the strongest beneficial effects on the brain. As psychologist C. Shawn Green points out, “videogames change your brain,” but so does learning to read or playing a musical instrument and the vast majority of the research doesn’t attempt to compare the impact of gaming to other forms of intense, mental activity.
One study at Michigan State University’s Children and Technology Project did find that the more middle school students played games the higher they scored on standardized tests of creativity. By contrast, the same researchers found that using cell phones or getting on the internet using a PC had no effect on creativity, which would make playing games the preferred hyper-connectivity environment for Millennials’ parents to immerse their children in if they want them to become more creative.
Pew itself has done research on the impact of another aspect of hyper-connectivity, social media, on personality and behavior and reached different conclusions than some of the experts in this Delphi survey.
While 42 percent of the experts surveyed agreed with the proposition that Millennials will “lack deep-thinking capabilities; face-to-face social skills; and depend in unhealthy ways on the Internet and mobile devices to function by 2020,” the other 55 percent of the Delphi experts chose the opposite proposition. The answers of the optimistic majority seem to be more aligned with the findings of other Pew surveys on the nature of those who constantly check their Facebook page.
One Pew study, for example, found that someone who uses Facebook several times per day averages 9 percent more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other Internet users. Pew also found that heavy users of Facebook get about half the emotional benefit that someone might get from being married. Internet users in general score three points higher in total support, six points higher in companionship, and four points higher in instrumental support than the average American on a scale of 100 for each social dimension.
But a Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day tends to score an additional five points higher in total support, five points higher in emotional support, and five points higher in companionship, than Internet users of similar demographic characteristics, including age. While this data is not exclusively focused on Millennials or how their brains function, it does suggest that so far, at least, the pernicious effects of hyper-connectivity that so many older people fear may have more to do with their own reaction to the technology than any solid research-based findings.
One major impact of the rise of social media, however, is directly reflected in the opinions of the experts interviewed by Pew. Unlike the broadcast media architecture of radio and television that older generations have grown up and experienced for a lifetime, Internet based social networks do not depend on gatekeepers at the center of the communication process to determine what or when people should hear or know something. In the world in which Millennials were raised, anyone can share any information with anyone they choose, however they wish to do so and whenever they want to. This has caused Millennials to prefer the opinion of the group, even when it is made up mostly of strangers, to the opinions of experts, regardless of their credentials or position of authority.
For the youngest generation of Americans, the wisdom of crowds is something in which they believe and practice. Perhaps, that is why so many of the experts Pew interviewed were so worried about the impact of all this new technology. What’s not clear is if they were more worried about Millennials’ future or their own as “experts.”