September 19, 2014

“What’s wrong with kids these days?”

It’s a question that every older generation asks about the young people of the day.
And for today’s Millennials – the generation born roughly between 1981 and 1996 – it’s no different. Millennials have been extolled as entrepreneurial wunderkinds, pitied for their paltry economic prospects, and dismissed as self-centered moochers.

But for David D. Burstein, author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping our World and a millennial himself, his generation is defined more by its strong community spirit than by material attachments.

“As trust in all of our biggest institutions is at an all-time low, there’s actually a higher-than-ever trust, particularly among people in this generation, in each other, and a willingness to trust strangers,” Burstein says. He cites the growth of the sharing economy and companies like AirBnB as evidence of Millennials’ desire to create their own communities, rather than participate in existing and often faceless institutions.

According to a recent Pew study, Millennials have fewer attachments to traditional religious and political institutions than generations that came before them. Instead, young people are replacing these networks with personalized communities of friends, coworkers, and affinity groups that they access through digital media – networks that you can take with you wherever you go.

Of course, Millennials are not just one, big, homogenous group. “Massive inequality is one of the most defining issues of our times,” says Anya Kamenetz, author of Generation Debt: How Our Future Was Sold Out for Student Loans, Bad Jobs, No Benefits, and Tax Cuts for Rich Geezers--And How to Fight Back. “When we talk about the Millennial experience, it’s really important that we recognize that these very deep divides across all American generations really run along class lines.”

This sense of social inequality permeates Millennials’ use of social media. “A lot of the important politics that are happening online are really identity politics,” Kamenetz says. Millennials build social networks not just to maintain friendships, but to participate in the civic sphere and speak out about issues they care about.

This social mindedness also comes across in how Millennials consume information online via newsfeeds on sites like Twitter and Upworthy.  “They have a huge appetite for information, and a huge appetite for being informed,” says Kamenetz.

“The key is that it’s got to be part of a conversation.”

Here's what some of our other guests have said about the importance of the sharing economy and the new economy for young people.

millennials, Culture, Anya Kamenetz, David D. Burstein

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