Episode 4: Millennials and Tech

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Hello, and welcome back to Three Deviations Out.  Last week we talked about quantum computing and all the weird crazy fascinating earth shattering things that hard tech can do.  This week we’re going to pull back into soft tech and the people who use it, namely millennials.  Trigger warning, I’ll be talking in averages here so this may not all apply to you.  Let’s dive into what makes our generation just so special, like why we need to hear that we’re so special.

88% of internet users 18 – 29 are on Facebook, compared to an average of 79%.  59% of that same age group is on Instagram with an overall average of 32%, and 36% are on Twitter compared to 24% of all online adults.  As an age group, we’re even more likely to be using LinkedIn with the demographic at 34% compared to an overall of 29%.  Not only are we as millennials, which actually currently represents anyone from the ages 22 – 37, more likely to have social media presence we also spend a lot more time on them.  A dscout study found that on average mobile phone owners touch their phone 2,617 times a day, with heavy users reaching an average of 5,427 touches a day amounting to 225 average daily minutes on the phone.  Guess where our age group falls on that spectrum…dingdingding right up there at the top.

We are a generation that grew up on the internet, that has always had information directly at our fingertips either at school, at the library, or in our homes.  I know, I’m speaking in generalities.  There are many people within this age group that for whatever reason, whether they grew up on a Himalayan mountaintop or rural New York State and Internet penetration didn’t happen until after adolescence, or you are on the upper end of the age spectrum of the group and don’t like being lumped in with those of us who never had to use dial-up.  Now, however, technology and especially the internet are unavoidable aspects of daily life driving social change and nightly hookups and whatever else you feel like doing on your phone or laptop or tablet or desktop.  As a generation that grew up with literally the entire world of information at our fingertips we’ve turned out a bit different than those who came before us, and there’s no shortage of people trying to point that out.  What I want to get into in today’s episode is where the hype ends and actual evidence shows us being different from those who came before us, especially because of the influence all this technology has had on us.

What: The technology influencing our daily lives, including social media (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.), crowdsourcing, forums (Reddit, Quora, StackOverflow, etc.), financial support (Mint, Betterment, Acorns, Robinhood, etc.), ecommerce (Amazon, Etsy, Alibaba etc.) and the things we see it all on – screens (phones, tablets, ereaders, laptops, desktops, etc.).

Who: Millennials and our codependent relationship with technology.  Whether this relationship is good or bad, it exists and it is influencing us in a number of ways.  We represent a group 22 – 37 who grew up on tech, had cell phones in high school or earlier (unless your parents were really strict) and spend an outrageous amount on student loans.

Why: Millennials are the first generation to have unlimited knowledge and connection at our fingertips anytime we want.  And yes, we as an age group are not the only ones who have access to that phenomenon.  However, we are the first to have grown up with it.  We’re the first generation where interaction didn’t end when you came home from school because you could get online and chat with your friends on AIM.  Remember AIM?  This has caused movements of all sort with potentially the largest being the Arab Spring, a slew of revolutions protesting horrific treatment by oppressive regimes driven by young people and their connection with the rest of the world through social media.

Today we will cover:

  • Why we’re different
  • How we’re different
  • Use Cases
  • Ideal world in Amanda’s head

Why We’re Different

Screen Time:

In my two-person apartment there exists 11 screens of varying sizes, 8 of which are used on a regular, almost daily, basis.  This includes laptops, phones, tablets, extra monitors, and a projector.  On the average weekday, I spend anywhere from 10 – 15 hours staring at screens.  Granted, 8 of those hours are work, where my job requires me to be at a computer, and I do spend some time outside work reading articles for this time I spend with all of you. Still though, that’s a lot of time in front of a screen.  I’m not alone either.  Consider my stat from earlier; the average millennial spends 225 minutes a day touching their phone.  That’s nearly 4 hours a day swiping right or whatever it is you like to do with your screen.  Far and beyond any generation before us we are addicted and tied to our screens.

Access to Information: 

Because I have a computer in my pocket constantly, I am always right.  Or at least that’s the theory.  Good or bad we are the generation of constant access, both to one another and to the answer of any question we may have.  There are even now little voices you can ask just to Google things for you (e.g. Siri, are you a human?).  No longer does anyone buy sets of encyclopedias unless they want to look like a distinguished gentlemen from 1910.  I don’t know if I have to go on about this for very long, because I don’t think anyone is arguing that we as a generation and as a species as a whole are able to know more now than we ever have.  However, what that has done is made it so we actually don’t know any more and in many cases know less.  Results have begun to indicate that younger generations (us millennials and the iGens that come after us) are actually retaining less knowledge because we are instead able to access it anywhere and anytime we want at the press of a button.  Think about it – how many phone numbers do you have memorized?  Can you list off the 50 states?  What did you eat for lunch last Wednesday?  If you give me a minute I can probably look through my calendar and tell you.

Overstimulation:

Television screens, video games, cell phones…this generation’s everyday life is filled with constant pings, vibrations, and push notifications.  The sheer amount of light exposure is enough to drive you nuts, and is influencing things that range from our ability to interact socially to our sleep patterns and overall body chemistry.  Every time you get a ping on your phone letting you know you’ve been liked or commented or re-anythinged a little bit of dopamine is released by your brain.  Dopamine is the chemical released in the pleasure centers of our brains and is also very effective and addictive in narcotic form. And just like those who are chasing the dragon, our generation of social media junkies are trying to just find a high as good as the first time someone liked the picture of your dog in a bow tie, even if it was only a bot.  We allow this to interfere with our lives, twitching a little bit each time the buzz of a phone goes off wondering ‘is that mine?’.  It also drives us to some interesting pastimes, wavering on two very heavy extremes including extreme overstimulation (think Electric Forest, LollaPalooza, Coachella) or extreme understimulation (yoga retreats, backpacking in the Andes, chaperoned ‘descreen’ time).  These extremes have become a reality in our lives due to the normality of constantly being ready to read the next 140 characters.

How We’re Different:

In Our Work:

Millennials are lazy, constantly need praise, don’t understand paying our dues, and are too aggressive about raises.  At least that’s what I’ve heard about us from those who are older or higher up in organizations.  Other ways of saying these are efficient, goal oriented, driven, and understanding of our value.  Many of us were asked since kindergarten what we wanted to do with our lives and lo and behold we actually thought about it.  This career determination, whether based on what we want to do in our work or what we want to get out of it, has created a revolution in the workplace.  A number of organizations have caught on to this and changed, because as a whole we are great resources for any organization.  Those which aren’t adapting are seeing their workforce age into retirement with no influx of new talent.

  • Benefits
  • Culture
  • Optimization
Benefits:

One key way we as a generation are changing the workplace is in the benefits we request.  We often look for perks beyond salary in compensation.  Of particular import are vacation time, childcare, flexible hours, and work-from-home availability.  No longer is it odd to see a company with an unlimited vacation policy.  Another trend that has caught on is the ability to bring your dog to work.  More affluent workplaces or those trying to attract younger talent go all out with the extra benefits including extended parental leave, on-site fitness facilities, sports and entertainment events, pet health insurance, tuition reimbursement, cultural memberships, massages, and fully staffed free cafeterias.  And that only scratches the surface.  In 2016, job seekers, the largest percentage of which are millennials, reported 57% of the time that benefits and perks were among their top considerations when evaluating an offer.  I don’t know about you but I would love to have my fluff monster in the office with me.

Culture:

Some may argue that culture is a benefit in the workplace but I consider them two distinct entities.  While benefits are explicitly included in a compensation package culture is how you and the humans you work with interact on a daily basis, especially as our offices become more collaborative than ever.  One of the most significant changes that our generation is forcing onto companies is actually just that.  We are a cooperative age group, one that considers the sum of the parts to be greater than individual contribution.  As we’ve embraced open-sourced software, crowdsourcing, and social media movements we’ve shown again and again what great things can be done through cooperation.  Unfortunately, that often clashes with the traditional business structure that is strictly and largely hierarchical.  While many companies are attempting to increase the cooperation of their employee’s, traditional perceptions about business roles can cause serious cogs in the machine.  If you’re trying to bring more workplace cooperation into your employees’ environment I suggest being open and honest with them from the start, and begin the cooperation then and there.  Ask your group or team or unit how they want to go about this change, whether people are comfortable with it, what concerns they may have.  Buy in is always most effective when everyone has some skin in the game.  If you’re an employee working through a transition to cooperation, speak up.  The only way this works for everyone is if everyone is involved.  And if you don’t want to cooperate that’s fine, just know you’re falling to the way of the dinosaurs and floppy disks.

Optimization:

One big driver behind our generation’s desire to cooperate is the need to feel like what we’re doing matters.  Some like to deem us the generation of the participation trophy, but we aren’t driven to empty goals.  What we really long for is to feel purpose in our work.  If it seems like the things we do on a daily basis aren’t bringing us any closer to our goals, we aren’t afraid to cut our loses and move on.  60% of millennials are open to a new job opportunity and 55% say they are unengaged at work. While we may not be the job-hopping generation that seemed to be the stereotype up until last year, our sentiment about quitting a job that doesn’t align to our goals and values is higher than generations past.

In Our Play:

Social:

From glamping to hot yoga retreats to Electric Forest, we millennials like to let loose a little different than our parents did.  But as the generation of tech we’ve also come to embrace the idea of ‘descreening’.  In general, we’ve accepted the fact that technology and especially social media or work connectedness surround us on a daily basis all hours of night and day.  So when we have that chance to take a vacation and get away from it all, we actually want to get away from it.  A new industry has begun to thrive that actively cuts vacationers off from technology, and we’re beginning to learn to shut the screen down at dinner, at concerts, in museums, or elsewhere.

Service:

As a generation, we are more altruistic in our ways than those who came before us even though we are less likely to belong to an organized religion.  I would argue that is because we have more opportunities to give back to our community outside of religion than those who came before us, but this also relies on the amount of wealth, free time, and exposure we have.  We carry all of these in significant abundance over our parents and especially their parents, unless you’re descended from royalty or robber barons.  We aren’t just all consumed by the latest video game or Pharrell album.  On average, we each give $600 per year to some charitable cause and love to use our social media accounts to discuss the relevant social justice actions in our lives.  In fact, if you looked at the top trending Twitter moments last Wednesday they included: Charlottesville, the review of national monuments, the melting of Alaska’s permafrost, and Women’s Hour. Through technology we have become more connected to one another and those who are empathetic have become able to see the struggles of others around us, even if we ourselves are not personally influenced by hardship.  The ability of social media to tell stories of anyone with an internet connection has created a community that spans beyond physical boundaries and brings you directly to your tribe in the online community.  It allows you to feel special while also not feeling alone bringing a brave confidence to a generation not afraid of speaking up.  I would argue that’s a good thing.

Use cases:

Things we’ve seen so far (this week the use cases are things being done by millennials that would not have been conceived by any previous generation).

There are a number of well-known millennials who are doing things that have high influence across a spectrum of industries.  Take Emma Watson, who speaks out on behalf of the UN for equality for all, or Mark Zuckerberg who built an empire on social media and is now using that empire to attempt to cure all disease.  There are plenty of unknown faces though that are doing great things to better the reputation of us lazy millennials.  I’ll cover a few both known and less known here but there are plenty more in my resources list and out there in the world.

Alex Momont was a student at the Delft University of Technology who in 2014 had a passion for drones and wanted to find a positive use for the technology.  Partnering with Living Tomorrow and the University Hospital of Ghent, Momant developed the ambulance drone to deliver emergency supplies to a victim ahead of EMT arrival.  Today ambulance drones are in used in a number of cities and have the potential to cut down arrival time of supplies by an average of 16 minutes.  Not only does the drone deliver materials, it also gives instructions to those around the victim on how to use the supplies available.  Cardiac arrest victims most often need to be cared for within 4 – 10 minutes, so cutting any arrival time by an average of 16 minutes has high potential to save lives.  I would count that as a win.

Taylor Swift is now a household name, and some may be rolling their eyes when they hear that name come out of my mouth.  But Taylor Swift is a millennial who understands the power of technology, particularly social media, to further her career and her message. After a long hiatus, the musician released a new song on YouTube on Aug 24, 2017.  By Aug 27, 2017 the video had 35.4 million views and 206,106 comments.  She boasts 102 million followers on Instagram and 85.4 million followers on Twitter.  In 2015 Ms. Swift posted a letter directed towards Apple Music on her Tumblr account derailing the company for not paying artists during the company’s 30-day free trial of the product and pulling all of her music until the company agreed to pay artists.  Most recently the artist has gone through a very public trial in which she was accused of improper involvement of the firing of a disk jockey and she instead of backing down countersued accusing the other party of sexual assault.  The proceedings, which remained very public throughout, concluded Aug 14, 2017 and sided in favor of Swift with an award of $1 meant to be symbolic and support victims of sexual assault cases that had not been made public.  While there is no doubt that Taylor Swift would have been a great artist without social media, the things she has done and the acclaim she has found would have been impossible for any artist before her attempting to speak directly to her fans.

Oscar Schwartz is a poet who is asking the world if computers can write poetry.  A writer, researcher, and teacher in Darwin, Australia, Schwartz is looking into what it means to be human and how interaction with technology changes that.  Right now, he is running a project that looks into 7 of the jobs least likely to be automated.  What he wants to know is what makes up those occupations, how they might be automated (if they can be) and if they are automated what creative bits may be lost.  He and partners have started the site Bot or Not which uses the Turing test and allows users to determine whether poetry examples are created by a human or an algorithm.  Continuously questioning what the difference between human and computer is, the researcher believes the computer is a mirror reflecting human back on human.  As technology becomes even more an integral part of our lives, this continuous reflection on what makes us human and what makes a computer a computer may be exactly what we need.

Ideal World:

We millennials know what we’re doing just about as much as everyone else.  I think the difference lies in the fact that we want to change that.  Maybe I’m young and naïve and we’re all young and naïve.  There are better ways of doing things though and with the access to technology we now have those better ways are more possible than ever.  In my mind, a perfect world includes the cooperation of millennials and the generations before and after to use the brilliant tools we have at our fingertips to get us that much closer to zero marginal cost.  That’s what we all want, right?  More leisure time without having to sacrifice standard of living.  Between expertise of the generation and the amazing advancements in things like AI, blockchain, and quantum computing I believe that we can get close within our lifetimes.

That’s it for today everyone.  I know that was a bit different what I’ve done the last few weeks but trust me, it fits into the puzzle.  Every society needs early adopters and now there is a whole generation of us.  Next week we talk about the data storage revolution, because where else are we going to put all this information we’re creating? Til next week!

All the best,

Amanda

 

References:

Episode 1: The Manifesto

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Transcript of Audio:

Hello everyone.  My name is Amanda.  This is Three Deviations Out.  The term comes from statistics, where it is used to track outliers and generally discard them to create a more normalized sample set.  Normalized sample sets drive good, economic decision making.  Here I plan to explore those outliers, what makes them so fascinating, and what their impact on the world is.  Because while the majority drive global trends, the outliers cause revolutions.

On Three Deviations Out you will mostly find technology, because like it or not it is ingrained in nearly everything we humans do these days.  The focus will sometimes be on the tech and sometimes be on how the tech is allowing for socioeconomic change.  However, as the proprietor of this establishment I I maintain full rights to talk about absolutely anything I want.  My mom says I’m fairly cool and interesting so hopefully I don’t disappoint.  If I do, feel free to let me know in the comments below.  I am also open to suggestions for topics you see as outliers, and may or may not end up exploring them here.  I hope my lack of commitment doesn’t drive you away.

Most of these posts are going to be podcast style with transcripts, as is here, but I will also be posting infographics, data graphs, and videos of my dog explaining quantum mechanics.

On a last note, my opinions are my own and should not be taken as financial, technological, or any other kind of advice.  I am a specialist of nothing.

Next week we will be talking about blockchain technology: how it came about, what the tech behind it is, and how it can impact our institutions.

All the Best,

Amanda