Towards the high-achieving emotional void
It has become popular to parade millennials in front of their elders at conference events. The intention being that they can show those of us who are mentally locked into an industrial paradigm that the cage door is open, and in fact has always been open. It was just that we were too compliant to test it.
This sad truth can either inspire us to break free and unleash our disruptive creativity, or to turn away from the cage door that has basically been taunting us all our life. Often these millennials are the top one percent of the top one percent. But even so, the fact that we did not build one or more unicorn businesses by our early twenties serves to remind us that we have most likely made poor life decisions.
The fact that they are economically solvent and are now into the philanthropic phase of their existence drives home the point that not only are we mean spirited (by comparison), but are of a grubbing disposition (we still work for money).
But we need to understand that these millennials are only responding to their environment. Needing some money to start a business is a matter of a few crowdsourcing key clicks rather than a series of humiliating strip searches by field representatives of big banking. Needing expertise does not require deep negotiations with a union, but merely a few clicks on a gig economy resourcing site.
The chances are that given the same conditions we could do (and can do) the same. And if we are in the top one percent of the one percent, coupled with a stroke of luck, we too could be riding a unicorn.
But what happens to a young person who has lived much of their life digitally, who has become economically free by their mid-twenties, and has cured malaria (or similar) by the time they hit thirty? I don’t know. But I suspect there is a whole branch of pop psychology that will be there waiting for them.
On the face of it there appears to be a growing narcissism. ‘It’s all about me, even if what I do involves making the world a better place’. ‘Not only do I want breakfast, I want designer cereal’. ‘I don’t want to serve my time as an apprentice, I want to be CEO now’. There is a sense that this generation might well fail the marshmallow test.
I would contend that there is a growing pressure on young people to be successful. Social media means that they have to be on their ‘A game’ from (designer) breakfast to bedtime (“you need that much sleep?!”) This pressure takes its toll when the crowd moves from a source of finance and wisdom to amplified goading and bullying.
Millennials are under pressure to do more, consume more and be more. I recall listening to a very engaging millennial who was sharing a joke about how her mother would spend ages on the phone with her. She pointed out to her mother that she was too busy to have such lengthy conversations, that it would be better if she texted her instead. Having taught her mother to text, she received long form letters via text, again encroaching on the millennial’s valuable time. This situation resulted in the young lady reverting back to time-managed phone calls.
The intention of the story, as told that day, was to highlight that older people need to get with the programme. But I think this landed as a sad story of a young person who doesn’t appreciate the concept of quality time with loved ones. Loved ones who in fact may not be around when they have more time to spare. It would appear that parents are simply two other social connections. This is of course one story, and not a double-blind clinical trial.
In fairness this is not a digital generation issue. Many of us did not truly appreciate the value of our parents until we ourselves became parents ourselves. But the increasing time pressure that goes with living in a hyper connected society is likely to make this even more problematic.
There is no digital economy parenting playbook (gamified immersive interactive video for younger parents). Somehow we need to get on top of this or we may be paving the way for subsequent generations who on one hand will have a highly attuned sense of personal brand/self and the potential to achieve beyond our wildest dreams. But on the other hand will become increasingly emotionally hollow as they use their little spare time to maintain large pools of socially flimsy connections rather than strengthen the bonds with their nearest and dearest.
Again this is nothing new. However digital technology and digital society, if not managed carefully, have the power to misdirect where we place our attention. This is an issue for all of us.