Millennial blogger Rebecca Thorman at Modite recently put up an interesting post about Millennials and Community. There is one aspect I find particularly interesting:
Our friends “move in the same circles we do and are exposed to the same information. To get new information we have to activate our weak ties,” Albert-Laszlo Barabasi explains in his book Linked (via Valeria Maltoni).
This is a key aspect of how Millennials approach community. They may have strong ties to their classmates in both high school and college, and may join civic organizations to band together. But when it comes to online interactions there is a strong sentiment of “group-think” because the technology makes it so easy to filter out ideas to just the ones that match your bias.
This is a surprisingly powerful force, as Barabasi pointed out in his book (I read it a few years back). I think there are many Boomers (born 1943-1960) and Gen X’ers (born 1961-1981) feel that this dynamic will lead to the Millennials (born 1982-200?) will be the “Dumbest Generation“. I don’t agree, but I do feel that the Millennial generation will be much more unified in their thinking. As an independent Gen X’er, I chafe at the idea of succumbing to group-think, but that does not mean that it is inherently dumb. Gen X’ers and Boomers are known for independent thought, and (particularly for Booomers) deep, introspective thought. This can be a wonderful characteristic, but can also lead to navel gazing. Millennials are more likely to piece together their ideas from multiple sources (the post on Modite contains 25 links!) that mostly agree with their ideas. Is it a more shallow approach than Gen X and Boomers take? Yes. Is it dumber? No.
The generation that the Millennials are most similar to (in recent history) it is the GI Generation (born 1901-1924). They, like the Millennials were subject to group think. Consider the society that they built in the 1950’s: a single American Dream that everyone was expected to buy into. There were few dissenters in the 1950’s when the GI’s were in power, but once their kids (Baby Boomers) came of age and the Silents (born 1925-1942) were there to lead them, there was a massive rebellion (the Consciousness Revolution of the 1960’s).
The way that Millennials work together, both online and offline, is a critical component in the society that they will help build (or rebuild, depending on how you look at it). The Millennials, as a generation, will NOT be deep thinkers. But I think it is valid to argue that we have had enough deep thought over the last 20-30 years. The challenges that face our society today will require resolute action, not more long-winded debate. And Millennials, like the GI’s before them, are nothing if not Do’ers. As an independent-minded Gen X’er I know that I will probably find much of the society that Millennials create in 20-30 years to be dangerously shallow, but by then I will just be another crotchety old man from a different age 🙂