I was watching Melissa Harris Perry on MSNBC this morning. She was hosting an extended segment on her show to interview four millennials about one of their favorite generational topics: themselves. The conversation hovered around this central idea: Are millennials going to be the generation that "changes the game" as the largest cohort in human history or are they a lot of generational hype? The jury is out and will be for quite some time.
I paused the program this morning (to fetch a second cup of coffee) and when I returned, I found that I had captured this happy accident (see above!) It is Dr. Melissa Harris Perry, professor of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University popping up in the background to introduce the next segment with her millennial panel and in the foreground are four millennials, seen in what has been found to be their natural habitat: Looking at their phones.
As millennials have reached a "critical age"also known as emerging adulthood, they are being criticized as the generation which will ruin humanity as we have known and enjoyed it until now. As recently as the early 1940s, Dr. Fredric Wertham, M.D. published his watershed book, Seduction of the Innocent which laid bare the negative effects comic books had on the minds of emerging youths. Dr Wertham famously wrote that "Badly drawn, badly written, and badly printed - a strain on the young eyes and young nervous systems - the effects of these pulp-paper nightmares is that of a violent stimulant. Their crude blacks and reds spoils a child's natural sense of colour; their hypodermic injection of sex and murder make the child impatient with better, though quieter, stories. Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the `comic' magazine" (psu.edu). The prevailing wisdom of our elder statesmen was that comic books were ruining young minds by polluting their innocence with images of graphic sex and violence. This case went as far as a Senate subcommittee in 1954, wherein Dr. Wertham testified that comic books were linked to juvenile delinquency. The charges filed against comic books issued an era of regulation via the Comics Code Authority which has endured until 2011, as a bar against inappropriate material reaching impressionable minds.
With such moral safeguards in place, America had salvaged a generation from the abyss...that is until...Rock n Roll. "Elvis the pelvis" and his lot brought a new generation of morally questionable content into family living rooms, via black and white television and by the time that "Beetle-mania" had reached America's shores, there was little doubt that all would be lost on a generation of ignoramus-moptops with "no more sense than God gave a turnip" - this would be the generation that would kill or destroy us all. (It is interesting to note though, that the generation that literally nearly killed us all was the "Greatest Generation" with the atomic bomb). One reason that this generation of up and comers in the 1950s and 1960s is so interesting to us demographically speaking is because they were the largest generational cohort to date: the "Baby Boom" generation. According to history.com, "More babies were born in 1946 than ever before. 3.4 million, 20 percent more than in 1945...In 1947, another 3.8 million babies were born; 3.9 million were born in 1952; and more than 4 million were born every year from 1954 until 1964, when the boom finally tapered off."
This is obviously a major happening in human history and development, particularly at a time when the United States was left as the only super-power standing "economically unscathed" upon exiting World War II. The boomers have changed many aspects of life as they have encountered them. The youth and sexual revolutions in the late 1960s, proliferation of drug use and greed in the 1970s and 80s as well as their standards regarding aging and wealth are unprecedented, leading up to today. According to the U.S. Census, "this cohort is projected to continue to influence characteristics of the nation in the years to come. The baby boomers began turning 65 in 2011 and are now driving growth at the older ages of the population. By 2029, when all of the baby boomers will be 65 years and over, more than 20 percent of the total U.S. population will be over the age of 65." If American life were to diminish along with the Baby Boomers, then there would be nothing left to say, but there is - because we have another generation that is coming out that will be even larger and more impressive then that Baby Boom generation...or so we are told.
As we can see from the above chart, the "Boomers" at age 48-66 as of 2012 were the largest cohort in (known) human history with 75.6 million. My generation, "Gen X" came in at a measly 54 million and now we have the Millenials rising in the ranks of young adulthood with 76.6 million, edging out the baby boomers, which brings us back to our original point. Melissa Harris Perry is not the only scholarly mind who is closely watching this developing generation of thinkers, consumers, and leaders. In fact, there are reams of data regarding all things millenial, including:
- What do they want?
- How do they communicate?
- How do they shop?
- How much time do they spend watching television?
- How often do they go to church?
- Do they marry?
- What do they think about current affairs?
- What are their career aspirations and desires?
- Will this finally be the generation that drives us off the "societal cliff"?
As has been previously stated, the jury remains out. Not only are millennials the largest cohort in history they also have some other significant and distinctive features. According to the Pew Research Center, the following are also true of these newly and soon-to-be minted adults:
It is the third fact which is most troubling to our once touted "ruffian" now turned elder statesmen themselves Baby Boomers - technology. This will the first generation to come of age with high speed internet. With this high-powered technology comes access to more information from more sources then ever before! But what does this mean?! With all of the worlds knowledge, and access to more data and sources than ever before, will this be the generation which will truly realize its societal potential?! Maybe. It would appear that "technology" has become the "Elvis the pelvis" of this generation. Smart phones have become the "comic book" surge of generations past and iPads are the Rock n Roll nonsense which will rot kids brains! Why think and remember when you can "Google" the answer. And while part of this is hyperbole, there this some fact in the mix.
Nicholas Carr in a 2008 article from The Atlantic Monthly asked, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Which is not a stupid question, but what Mr. Carr was asking was more of a existential congnitive reckoning than a biological phenomenon. Is technology changing our biology? Will this generation be the first to be physically changed by the internet? Maybe. Evolutionary biologists have determined that while we have larger brains than neanderthals, that our human ancestors had more grey matter. Who cares? I will just Google it to find out the answer, a millennial might say... The fact is that it is grey matter is the part of the brain that reacts to sensory and motor information form the nerve endings in the body, but it is also where our brain structures and categorizes information. Neanderthals needed more grey matter because everything that they needed to know had to remain "upstairs". There was no outsourcing their thoughts and memories onto a stone tablet or cave wall for later recollection, much less an app that would allow them to make to do lists, capitalize on an extended social network and browse news archives with such ease as is accessed in a smart phone today. US News and World Report reported earlier this year that it is true - smart phones are changing our brains. "Using a smartphone physically alters the human brain, a new study finds. By swiping through Angry Birds or Twitter or Tinder or Facebook with one’s thumbs – appendages that have allowed humans to build and grasp tools and triumph over all other species on planet Earth – certain regions of the brain will grow larger, researchers say." Does this mean that we are all becoming smarted due to increased access to technology or...uh...less smarter? There is no real answer to this. What this means in actual terms is that this generation, the millennial generation is the first "truly native" digital generation and their connectivity to and interaction with internet technology will make them different from any generation that has come before - for the better or the worse.
Isn't this all enough to make your head hurt? Well wait, there's more. While the newest generation, Gen We, Not as large or as powerful as Generation millennial, but this group has their own technological neurosis attached to their reliance and development with technology as well. The Atlantic published an extensive article in 2013 titled The Touchscreen Generation, which rightly asked: Are iPads making our toddlers stupid? What is our societal precept with stupidity, as though there is a single "magic bullet" for generational ignorance. Anyway, the questions asked by Hannah Rosen, a mother herself who worried about the amount of time her little ones were using their iPads came away with a surprising answer - According to researchers iPads are actually making kids smarter and along with the collective sigh of relief that iPads aren't "bad" for children, Ms. Rosen came away with a similar perspective on generational angst...
"Every new medium has, within a short time of its introduction, been condemned as a threat to young people. Pulp novels would destroy their morals, TV would wreck their eyesight, video games would make them violent. Each one has been accused of seducing kids into wasting time that would otherwise be spent learning about the presidents, playing with friends, or digging their toes into the sand. In our generation, the worries focus on kids’ brainpower, about unused synapses withering as children stare at the screen. People fret about television and ADHD, although that concern is largely based on a single study that has been roundly criticized and doesn’t jibe with anything we know about the disorder."
Will millennials be the greatest generation to date? Probably not. They have been criticized as being narcissistic, coddled, self-absorbed, short-attention spanned, over-indoctrinated, and over-medicated. To be honest though, I do not believe that our fear is that the next generation will let us down as much as the fear that we have let them down already. With age comes wisdom, which can only be earned through the experiences, hardships, and mistakes that come with growing up - the hard way - the only way there is.
I wrote a blog entry on June 17, 2011 about how 1 in 5 people on the planet are under the age of 25.
I wrote a blog entry on June 18, 2011 regarding the number of hours children will spend online growing up.
Finally, I wrote a blog entry on June 30, 2011 regarding the effect violent video games can have on the minds of players.