To many of my colleagues in the baby boomer generation, the rising generation of millennials is a mystery.
What makes these young people, born between 1980 and 2000, tick? What motivates them? What excites them? What scares them?
Having raised two millennial sons, having recruited, hired and trained several millennial reporters and having completed three semesters of teaching advanced journalism to millennial students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I believe I am uniquely qualified to share some perspectives about these young people.
First off, I bristle when I hear boomers complain about the generation that will inherit our wind.
• Most of my UWM students are respectful, polite, courteous and punctual – all qualities that will make them assets in the workforce.
• Most have a balance of idealism and pragmatism.
• Most also have a healthy suspicion of “the man,” or the system that empowers him. This age of unprecedented income inequality is not lost on them. They know what’s happening, and they’re going to figure out a way to rebalance some of the wealth in this country.
• Most are not loyal to specific corporate brands. They crave authenticity and loathe attempts to persuade or manipulate them. They see right through a sales pitch, and they know when they’re being spun.
• The issues of race, gender and sexual lifestyles – issues that largely divided the baby boomer generation – are for the most part not on the front burner for these young people. They are comfortable with people of other ethnicities and cultures, people who are different than them. In fact, many are attracted to diverse, urban settings.
• Many are open-minded to the possibilities when it comes to spiritual exploration, but they also are skeptical that they will find their path through organized religion.
• Many are also understandably cynical about the current American political system. They see how large donors have a disproportionate impact in elections, and they know that politicians are beholden to them. They do not like or trust the two-party system that has divided and polarized this nation.
• Many have conceded to me that they feel they have not connected with nature in the ways preceding generations did.
• They have grown up multi-tasking. They’re mobile. They’re capable of simultaneously carrying on multiple conversations across multiple platforms.
• They have shorter attention spans. Growing up in a digital age with immediate, 140-character Twitter responses can do that. They are overstimulated. They are bombarded with information all day long.
• They are fragmented. The baby boomer generation watched three network television stations, picked a 6 o’clock and a 10 o’clock newscast to watch and read either the morning or the afternoon newspaper. We shared a common culture. We received news from the same sources that was presented in the same way. We listened to the same Top 40 music on the radio. We watched the same television shows. In contrast, millennials are left to their own devices and preferences. They do not consume the same news from the same sources. Each decides how she or he interacts with the world. I believe that fragmented existence fuels their desire to collaborate with each other, both in the workplace and after hours.
• They can be altruistic. When they say they want to make the world a better place, they mean it. And sometimes they do it.
Take the time to get to know and even learn from these young people. After all, it won’t be long before they’re calling the shots around here.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.