NowUKnow: Millennials Lead the Way in the Digital Future
NowUKnow examines millennial minds and issues, informed by research data, expert opinion, and reportage about the professional and personal lives of Generation Y.
We are on the brink of a technological revolution that will lean hard on fresh ideas from young start-ups and reward innovative millennials with membership in a small but rising meritocracy.
Tyler Cowen, an influential professor of economics at George Mason University, predicts technologically talented people will be the main players in a new era driven by digital natives — the millennials born since 1980.
Michael Malone, author of the new book “The Intel Trinity,” claims young entrepreneurs will provide instrumental ideas to the technology giants rather than the other way around. Malone predicts an innovation slowdown at major companies, such as Cisco, Yahoo, even Twitter, that will require fresh ideas from those far from the top.
Young people are at the heart of the digital age. They think with and through new technologies.
“Social media keeps growing and people chase the latest and greatest. That is the game of it in the world we live in. I don’t think you can go backward,” says Mark Frydenberg, senior lecturer of Computer Information Systems at Bentley University.
“These tools allow you to share your life details reasonably seamlessly,” he adds. “I think technology is improving opportunities for learning but some things are lost when we rely too much on technology. I ask my students to consider: How does your use of technology impact your thought process or the way you interact in person?
“Another issue for the millennials is to know which online tools to use, and when, and which not to use,” explains Frydenberg. “All of the sudden there are so many choices for communicating and collaborating online.”
There is no question millennials are seizing on the new platforms of the digital era — the Internet, mobile technology, social media — at a pace and depth that older age groups simply do not match, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center report.
More than 80 percent of millennials are on Facebook, where their generation’s median friend count is 250, far higher than older age groups. More than half of millennials have posted a “selfie” — a photo of yourself — on a social media site. What a “selfie” is was a mystery to six in 10 baby boomers and a third of the Silents, according to the Pew survey.
A 2014 report from Lab42, a research firm that surveyed millennials about new technology and social media usage, revealed more than 80 percent believe technology will positively change the world.
It also painted a picture of a younger generation that is highly dependent on technology, especially smartphones. Nearly half of millennials said they could not go a few days without a smartphone — and 30 percent narrowed that window down to a few hours or at most one day.
The majority also expressed an emotional investment in their smartphone. For 31 percent, the most upsetting aspect of losing it would be the loss of personal collections of data, photos or music. For nearly 20 percent, it would be feeling disconnected.
These types of risk accompany our reliance on technology, Frydenberg says. In many ways, you just cannot be sure the things that matter to you will remain available.
“The danger of technology moving quickly is that with change there is always the possibility it might take things away,” he notes. “The best website in the world might not be there next week.”
Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyper-connected lives, according to a fascinating 2012 report from the Pew Research Center, which drew on more than 1,000 highly engaged members of the Internet public. The experts — technology leaders, watchers, advocates and critics — looked toward 2020 and considered the impact of technology on the younger generation.
All agreed that in 2020 the brains of multitasking teens and young adults will be wired differently than those over age 35. Fifty-five percent said the changes in learning behaviors and cognition will be positive, although many said that was more their hope than best guess.
More than 40 percent predicted a negative outcome: The young wired brains will be easily distracted and move away from deep-thinking capabilities and face to face social skills. Others said it will be a combination of both scenarios.
They said a defining factor between winners and losers in 2020 will be the capacity to figure out the correct attention-allocation balance in the new environment. Some of the most desired skills to be found in millennials will be the ability to master data streams and be supertaskers.
Yet also key will be the ability to remain thoughtful, a Pew survey participant says.
“There will be a premium on the skill of maintaining presence, of mindfulness, of awareness in the face of persistent and pervasive tool extensions and incursions into our lives,” says Barry Chudakov, a research fellow in the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. “Is this my intention, or is the tool inciting me to feel and think this way?”
Using connected devices makes us see our lives differently, Chudakov said in a recent book. The way we change our lives, part evolving process, part new thinking and action is our Metalife — a synthetic, virtual version or dimension of real life, he explained.
Meanwhile, says Cowen, the U.S. is in a slowdown, a technological plateau that will step up when we enter the new era of revolutionary technology led by the best and brightest of the next generation.
People today already believe the younger generation is far more up to speed about the latest technologies. According to Bentley University research findings, eight in 10 older adults think that millennials’ advanced technological skills will allow them to get ahead in the workplace.
But the Bentley research report suggests that we have reason to believe the millennials will usher in the new era with a sense of liberal responsibility. The corporate reputation of a company and social impact efforts are important to more than 90 percent of millennials, it found. Eighty-five percent say working for a socially responsible or ethical company matters.
Good thing if, as they say, millennials will soon be guiding us into an untold future.
Meg Murphy is a freelance writer.