Thursday, October 07, 2010

In Defense of Generation Y - Guest Contribution by Angelita Williams

In August, the New York Times Magazine ran a rather lengthy article entitled What Is It About 20 Somethings?, which received quite a bit of buzz on the Internet. The article was essentially a proclamation of what's wrong with the so-called Generation Y. The article came amidst a slew of related opinion editorials in which young adults have been pigeonholed as addicted to technology, spoiled, and directionless.

While the article did accurately describe those who are now just finishing school, it seems that the cause-and-effect reasoning behind it is off-base. The implications that so many so-called "experts" are making is that young adults are changing jobs more frequently, traveling more, and putting off commitments like marriage and having kids simply out of a desire to stave off the responsibilities of adulthood. In other words, 20 somethings are being cast as immature.

However, instead of looking at the decisions of Gen Y as intrinsic, why don't we consider how trends in the global economy have shaped this lifestyle? For example, the article mentioned that on average, those in their twenties are changing jobs at a rate of about seven times by the time they hit thirty. While it would be easy to understand this high job change rate as a trend shaped by a certain restless spirit, we can't forget that businesses are now undergoing a paradigm shift in which permanence is becoming more and more of an anachronism. In other words, young adults aren't necessarily changing jobs because they want to, but simply because they have to.

Another defining characteristic that the article ascribes to 20 somethings is that many are placing a greater emphasis on identity search. While searching for meaning is certainly a process that everyone undergoes, the heightened importance of this "identity search" for our generation can be understood as yet another sign of the times.

In Daniel Pink's 2005 book, A Whole New Mind, the author argues that we are undergoing a transitional period--from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. And in the Conceptual Age, Pink notes, it is those who have developed six essential senses--Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning--who will come out on top. Therefore, if 20 somethings are indeed spending much time traveling and searching for meaning, it will only be to the benefit of their future careers, since emerging business models today demand the depth of the thought, creativity, and understanding of the human condition that this sort of "search for meaning" entails.

Other supposed "adult" milestones--like getting married and having children--that today's young adults are increasingly putting off, should be cast as something positive. While "settling down" of course has its benefits, we are living in a world in which overpopulation is a very real concern, one that is almost as grave a future threat as global warming. If young adults have the perspicacity to wait longer to have families, it will be for the benefit of our world and society as a whole. The success of the new globalized economy depends on the energy of a mobile, creative workforce. In this respect, Generation Y may be doing something right after all.

This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of college courses. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: angelita.williams7

1 comment:

Sherri said...

fantastic post. I dislike the labeling of generations - it is a bit ridiculous to assume anything about a group of people simply because of their age bracket.
You're right that Gen Y is facing a tremendously different world than any other generation - as each did before it. The world is changing faster and faster, Gen Y is simply trying to find a place in it.
You made some great points all around and the only thing I take issue with is the notion of overpopulation.. I think that perhaps we (as a people) are freaking out a little too much about that one. Nature will prevail, no matter how many of us there are.

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