Perhaps one of the most dynamic generations in existence, can the Millennials usher in a new era that will change the course of human history? Pearl S. Buck, American writer, Novelist, and Pulitzer Prize winner for her novel The Good Earth, was once quoted for saying, "The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible -- and achieve it, generation after generation." It will be through the empathy resulting from historic levels of interconnectivity, resiliency in the midst of unpredictable modern times, and sheer numbers that the Millennials will leave an unprecedented mark on all the world. The full extent to which the new ideas, capabilities, and contributions of Millennials will be utilized to impact global issues will be determined by the willingness or unwillingness of old paradigms to incorporate the new.
Born in 1986, I find myself classified among countless others around the world as a Millennial, comprising those born roughly between the years 1980 and the year 2000, who were raised during the digital revolution and are the first generation truly integrated with modern technology. According to a research report by Nielsen, 83% of Millennials sleep with their smartphones within arm's reach, a habit I openly admit to as well. While some may find such connectivity unnerving or even unhealthy, it is the ease of access to unlimited information through the matrix of minds comprising the internet, which make Millennials truly powerful. In Cloud Surfing, a new book by Thomas M. Koulopoulos, the author projects that by the year 2020 as the population increases, that the connections between people will likewise increase from five billion to seven billion. With an estimated 100 billion neural connections in the human brain, upon multiplying the neural connections in each human brain with the projected digital connections between all human beings, by 2020 the total connections will equate to 700 quintillion (7e+20 or 700,000,000,000,000,000,000). As a result, human beings have never before in history had access to so much information, giving the Millennial generation the uncanny ability to bypass mainstream information, thus maximizing our empathy for one another through the discovery and search for truth. According to a 2011 study, 7 in 10 young adults consider themselves social advocates. Therefore, Millennials not only have more access to knowledge about the world than generations before, but that knowledge has developed into a deep desire to do something positive in reaction to it, a critical attribute for prior generations to nurture so that such vigor can become an asset to social innovation on a global scale unheard of.
As a Millennial, I remember the significance of September 11, 2001. I was on a plane in mid-flight headed to Washington, DC, to deliver a speech on behalf of a national advocacy organization, when a passenger jet crashed into the first of the twin towers. That day would come to serve as a pivotal point in history, and create an immense impact upon how many Millennials would subsequently perceive the world. The perspective of our generation would further be defined by corporate corruption, mass school shootings, global disasters, and the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression. With MIT researchers predicting a global Great Depression by 2030, the unpredictability and potential chaos that a generation of Millennials must face is further solidified. Many Millennials graduated from college at the height of the economic crisis, including myself, forcing new graduates to compete for jobs with more experienced human capital pools newly laid off. Such an experience subsequently forced many Millennials into a survivor state of mind, with research showing 46% of Millennials seeking to start and run their own business, making it the by far the most entrepreneurial generation. Only 34% of Gen Xers and 17% of Baby Boomers stated likewise. Currently 25% of Millennials receive income from a business they own or have some stake in, according to the same research. It is this tenacity, adaptability, and resiliency in spite of all obstacles or odds, that must be considered by those who have come before us, so that we may be equipped with the resources and mentorship necessary to create future solutions to the complex issues that plague our world today.
If nothing else, the mere vastness of the world-wide populace of Millennials, provides us with a unique opportunity to create a more sustainable and empathetic human existence. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, Millennials will comprise almost one-half of the workforce by 2015, and 75% by 2025. At 86 million strong, the Millennial generation is the largest population group the U.S. has ever seen. In emerging markets the presence of the Millennial generation can also be felt. The population of Millennials in China is 28%, and 30% respectively in Brazil and India. Globally, there are 2.5 billion Millennials, making up a third of the Earth's population. Comprising such a significant aspect of the human consciousness and make-up, it will be through the global investment into the potential of this vast reserve of human capital, that will solidify the near and long-term future of all mankind.
It is in the common interest of all global citizens to encourage and equip, rather than impede the unlimited creativity and potential of a coming generation of Millennials. It was John F. Kennedy who said, "We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind, or to make it the last." At one of the most trying times economically, socially, and environmentally in the modern age, the wise words of JFK still eerily ring true. Yet, there only need be a single flicker of light to chase away a world of darkness. It will be up to those who have come before the current generation of Millennials, to utilize and maximize the strengths and talents of a globally connected, intrinsically resilient, and prodigious population. Rather than egoistically hold the torch until all hope goes out, the fate of the world depends on the old guard passing the torch, so that a new generation may reinvigorate an old flame with a new fire, forcing such dark times to flee and become beholden to the hope and optimism of a new day.
Ean Garrett, J.D., is the author of two books, "Rebirth of a Dream" and "The Immovable Race", as well as the Chief Innovation Officer of the consulting firm, Infinite 8 Institute, L3C, specializing in education and social innovation. Follow him on Twitter & IG: @eangarrett