Saturday, January 14, 2017

Perspective: The Millennials and the Global and Digital Revolutions

This 75 million person generation is living at the time of a Revolution the likes of which the older generations have never seen, and we fear that many of the group may be insufficiently prepared to cope with the challenges they face. We say that because many Millennials are having difficulty getting jobs and fitting into the modern society.

What is the revolution, you ask? The globalization of economic activity and the digitalization that affects everything. And then there is the Cultural Revolution. The rapid pace of globalization and the digital explosion are difficult enough for the older generations to grasp, but the Millennials must do it with few mentors to guide them and in a culture that is a state of disarray.

Moreover, their being wedded to their Smart phones exacerbates the problem because it causes them to virtually live alone. The authors of a book entitled, “The End of Conversation” ran an experiment as part of the research for their book that illustrates this. They invited the Millennials to bring their parents and grandparents to a meeting. At that meeting they seated the Millennials on one side of the room and the parents and grandparents on the other side. Then the authors watched to see what happened. Not surprisingly, the older generations were busy chatting away and getting acquainted. The Millennials, by contrast, sat in silence fiddling with their Smart Phones. The Millennials do in fact live alone, and that is a scary place to be in such a time as this.

Let’s examine the main components of the revolution.  Globalization has manifested itself in that millions of factory jobs have been shipped overseas during the past three decades. During this period 70,000 or so factories that have been shut down and the jobs eliminated. This has mostly affected the boomer generation, and generation x whose jobs were taken.

Digital technology is more insidious. On the surface it looks great; it increases productivity for all kinds of economic endeavors. But the robot, an outgrowth of the digital age, replaces the human worker just as the foreign worker replaced the US factory worker.  It is true that human workers are needed to keep the robots running, but that requires skills beyond the high school education that was what a factory job required. The probability of a 50 year old with a high school degree, who was replaced after working in a factory for 25 years, acquiring such skills is problematic.

The Millennials are also having trouble finding meaningful jobs, even when they have college degrees. Moreover, their jobs may be as much at risk as the high school graduate factory worker who was a victim of the factory closings. The Millennial’s competitor is the robot. Rapidly developing artificial intelligence means that many jobs that required college degrees can now even be done by robots. Eventually, this will include robots maintaining and repairing robots.  Despite this new “employee” taking jobs left and right, the Media and the Politicians don’t even mention it.

Now, we have seen revolutionary changes before. The Industrial Revolution brought all kinds of change from the steam engine patented by James Watt in 1781, to the railroad, the automobile, radio, television etc. But the pace was much slower. Mostly it required decades and in some cases a century. The digital age has reduced that to a decade or less. For example, the Smart Phone is less that a decade old and nearly 2 billion persons already have one.

However, there was one thing that the older period had; namely, a cultural construct that nearly all persons were integrated into. The Church was at the center of it. Workers displaced by the Industrial Revolution could congregate at their Churches to find solace, commiseration and even sustenance if they needed it.  Ask yourself, does such support exist today? Unfortunately for the Millennial this Cultural Revolution has occurred at the same time as the Globalization and the Digital Revolutions.

Before the Cultural Revolution Society had four pillars to assure that a child could be taken from the cradle and eighteen years later exit the home as a responsible citizen. Unfortunately for the Millennial, Society decided to discard the four pillars just about the time they arrived. It was as though Society “threw the baby out with the bath water”.

What were the four pillars? First, there was the parent who knew what the job entailed and what was expected. That job was converting the helpless new born baby into a responsible citizen in eighteen years so the child could safely leave the parents home and enter the armed services, go away to school for advanced education or enter the work force. Secondly, the neighbor was pleased to be a partner with the parent and to be the surrogate parent when the parent was not there to save the child from dangerous situations. Third, there was the school. The teachers had the parent’s approval to be surrogate parents, and the parents were so pleased with the arrangement that they admonished the child that “if you get in trouble at school and are punished just wait ‘til you get home!” Fourth was the Sunday school. Nearly child went there, where the moral structure the parent promulgated was fortified. In addition, the child learned about God, the Ten Commandments and the importance of “loving one’s neighbor”.

Unfortunately, many of, the Millennials have not had such integrated societal support.  The parent has become confused about whether to be parent or a pal. The neighbor and the school found out that they would be hauled into court if they interfered, and hardly any Millennial attends Sunday school on regular basis.  Just visit any Church and count the number of Millennials! The number is virtually none. In fact it could be said that the Cultural Revolution is destroying the Church.

If you look closely, you can see the Millennials kind of a-drift in this complex and ever changing society. The fact that the second highest cause of death in this generation is suicide is a major clue of their problem.

Society had better figure out how to help the Millennials,  because a  generation growing up in the midst of a globalization and digitalization revolution, with little or no face to face human contact, largely isolated from the older generations, and with no mentors to guide them, will have difficulty becoming the leaders this Country will need. This is the challenge for all of us.

Future blogs will explore this question further, and seek answers that can be helpful to all of us, and especially helpful to the Millennials, who will be living with the problems, challenges and opportunities of this rapidly changing global and digital age the rest of their lives.