Reading Review: Winograd and Hais

The future is now for Millennials, the millions of under-thirtysomethings who have Baby Boomer parents. And the future is bright, too. So many things are working in our favor: our grassroots spirit, our willingness to volunteer, our interest in entrepreneurship, our technological knowhow–not to mention our famous optimism, born of the fact we are the largest, most educated, most tolerant and most diverse generation America has ever seen. It seems, say authors Morley Winograd and Michael Hais in Millennial Makeover, that our country’s politics change drastically every time a “crucial event” happens–something like the Civil War or the Great Depression. This, however, is mostly an illusion, a coincidence perhaps attributable to the fact that “crucial events” happen rarely, which makes it likely that when they do, a starkly different generation is afoot. “The real driving forces behind this constant and predictable shift,” they say, “are changes in generational size and attitudes and contemporaneous advances in communication technologies.” Check all the above for Millennials.

Millennial Makeover‘s central theme is the impact Millennials seem poised to have upon America’s institutional and political future by way of our unprecedented communication technologies–and the unmatched skill we have in using them. Peer-to-peer communication is so effective in shaping public opinion (and figures to stay that way) because it’s fast, immediate and user-friendly: a sounding board for unfiltered ideas. The 2008 presidential campaign best indicates the growing link between social media and politics. As Winograd and Hais note, the Democratic candidates in the 2008 election far outclassed the Republican ones in “Netroots” campaigning, or using P2P technologies to reach potential voting blocs. P2P is more transparent and power-neutralizing than the GOP is comfortable with; meanwhile, Millennials are inherently more Democratic than Republican in our ideals, and the Democratic party is reaching out to us with the tools we love and invented. Why should political parties be adopting Millennial technologies? Because, as MM emphasizes, Millennials aren’t babies anymore. By 2012, over 40 million of us will be able to vote. And while perhaps our idealism gives us a fairly evergreen look and feel, many of us are college graduates ready to change America and the world.

The Millennial mindset for equality and social justice; our desire for constant information retrieval; our need to make connections not just personally and but also digitally–all of these traits have already begun to transform the cultural landscape in noticeable ways. Winograd and Hais mention Don Imus, who could not have possibly foreseen the firestorm that rained down on him after he called the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos”–he either underestimated or did not know that America was beginning to operate under Millennial rules, and Millennials have little patience for prejudice. Millennials are forcing even their parents and grandparents to reevaluate their beliefs. Winograd and Hais explore this cross-generational disconnect, noting, for example, how “some conservative Boomers have been forced to change their tune on global warming in reaction to the strong environmental focus that young people bring to their activism.” This disconnect, however, often produces more harmony than discord. We young’uns don’t mind differences. Actually, we love to dialogue about them. We’re the first generation in awhile that’s willing to be friends with the ideological opposition.

To this point, in contrast to ‘idealist’ generations that dream big but don’t compromise, Millennials are ‘civic’–willing to listen and react, which is the only way that tough issues can be resolved. It could be argued that the ‘idealist’ mindset is only strengthened by communicative technologies, as these are often loudly partisan. Millennials, however, appear done with partisan politics, ready to simply settle public policy debates on everything from energy to health care to gay rights. We’re equipped to change the country in more dramatic and long-lasting ways than anything heretofore achieved by other generations.