On Our Demise
.Much has been written about the impact that millennials are having in interfering with established patterns of work and leisure. If you were to believe it, you would think that millennials (defined by the Pew Research Center as those born between 1977 and 1992) are the most lazy, destructive, and economically irresponsible generation - at least until Gen Z's take over.
Whilst this may make for great clickbait, the truth is for more complex. Humans have been whining about young people since at least Aristotle. I imagine Homo neanderthalensis parents shaking their heads at the bizarre and disruptive behaviour of their child using a hand drill to create a fire. Millenials behave just like any other generation did according to their age. Take this 18th-century letter for example.
While hyperbole sells, there is no denying that we are struggling to understand the impacts of our progress and frame the legacy being left for future generations to wrestle with. The internet was to be the great democratizing influence, but once the revolution became "televised" (computerized), it became commodified. There is always a way to make a dollar, and entrepreneurs jumped on to this new platform to make their fortunes, causing changing patterns of consumption and interaction. As circumstances drastically changed, anxiety emerged.
Tristan Harris, co-founder the Center for Humane Technology and Silicon Valley critic, argues, "Technology feels disempowering because we haven’t built it around an honest view of human nature."
We suffer, not from a lack of information, but from an overabundance of it and the choices we make regarding where we direct our attention. Social media algorithms measure clicks, not quality. As Harris points out, outrage gets the most clicks, which then puts more of those same types of posts at the top of our feeds.
We lack the time and mental space to begin to sift through the deluge of information assailing us as companies battle to fill our waking moments with promotion for, and use of, their products. Our reach and our grasp are not always in synch and millennials are at the forefront.
A Reflection on Time
Any day immersed in the endless news cycle has us encounter stories that would measure up against classic dramatic works of ancient Greece. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the dot-com bubble, Enron, The Arab Spring, Brexit, the 2008 crash - millennials are all too aware of how mercurial borders, governments, finances, property, and security truly is. The stock market is an interesting barometer for the psychology of the West. Nowadays, the market is a playground for High-Frequency Traders, people who will knock down mountains or relocate servers by mere feet in order to trade one-millionth of a second faster. Fortunes are fleeting.
Companies such as Facebook and Netflix have created their own culture, language, and lifestyle patterns to the point that their primary competitor is now sleep - and sleep is losing.
When asked about whether he thought that social media was changing the way we are interacting too fast. Tristan Harris states,
"This is an interesting thing too about changing too fast. There’s these dimensions to being human and one dimension, per your point about too fast, is clock rate. If we start breathing at a slower rate, speak at a slower rate, being here with each other, that’s very different than if I just dial that thing way up to 10X that. Things start to fall off the rails when you’re going really fast.
This is one of the things that I’m kind of worried about — human animals, when dialed up past certain boundaries of speed, make poor choices."
It is worthwhile considering "millennial anxiety" as uncertainty over the future to which we are rushing and the implications of the society we are constructing.
Manpower Group conducted research across 25 countries with millennials and hiring managers and found that millennials' aims and behaviours are not necessarily at odds with employers' needs. However, how they define ideals such as workplace engagement, career enhancement, and company loyalty may look slightly different in this faster-paced world. It is no wonder therefore that millennials exhibit different patterns of behaviour, preference, and consumption. We are struggling to keep up with gadgets and diversions and the companies trying to generate them. We are the employees of those very companies and consumers of these products. This is requiring educators and employers to change in turn.
Employers are reporting feeling dissatisfied with millennials due to patterns of behaviour: inability to empathize, poor communication skills, mental illness, an abundance or lack of confidence, ingratitude, an absence of accountability, disrespect for authority, lack of professionalism, and resistance to hands-on management or team-work.
Now consider what Google discovered about its employees. By prioritizing "hard" (STEM) skills in its employment practices, Google discovered it was lacking in some very essemtial areas,
"In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas"
After years of telling future employees that they must prioritize competency in "practical" STEM areas over the humanities (languages, literature, history, philosophy, ethics, the arts), we have created a major problem. Instead of blaming millennials for doing exactly what they have been trained to do, sloughing off those "unnecessary" and "impractical" skills that wouldn't contribute to (or indeed might hinder) a lucrative career and lush lifestyle, we must take a sober look at the monster we stitched together and shocked into animation.
This starts with the acknowledgment that prioritizing hard skills and devaluing soft ones does a disservice to employees, workplaces, and to the public in order to rectify the situation. Instead of attempting to keep up with computers, we must specialize in things computers cannot do. As Kamenetz wrote, "computers’ strengths lie in speed and accuracy, while humans’ strengths are all about flexibility" and therefore humans should be focussing on:
1. Solving problems without structure, where rules do not exist.
2. Discovering, collecting, and interpreting new information and deciding what is relevant, connecting concepts.
3. Physical work without routine or structure (Note: these are often categorized as "unskilled" jobs).
4. Being human - empathy, touch, creative expression, expressing emotion, vulnerability.
We remediate this shortfall by re-introducing these skills into schools and enrolling young people in programs that teach these skills. In the meantime, adults in the workforce benefit from training to stregthen these skills.
This is where I get excited as Vibrance specialises in teaching these skills. With us, clients of all ages build an awareness of self and of others in order to ensure success in the following.
• emotional regulation
• managing mental health and stress
• taking responsibility
• communication (non-verbal and verbal) and listening
• body language
• workplace etiquette
• accepting feedback and criticism
• relationship building
The Big Picture
We are out-innovating our laws and ethics. Places of innovation are in a race for profit at the expense of quality of life - for both employees and users. As Lunshof, an ethicist at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Genetics argues,
"in biology — the science of living systems — there are no definite answers. At most, there are lines in the sand that are washed away by the next wave of discovery. The theoretical ethics quest for deep answers is slow, remote from and outpaced by the developments at the bench. One practical solution is to bring the philosophy and ethics toolbox to the floor of the lab itself, to the point where the lines begin to be drawn in the first place."
Google discovered its most valuable skills were “soft” skills, not STEM. communication, problem solving, team work, company vision, taking the long view, empathy. These skills added great value to their workplaces. Employers now complain that Millennial employees are lacking these exact skills. We are doing future generations and humankind a disservice by trying to have them embody the processes of technological tools instead of teaching mastery - and excel at doing the things computers cannot. There are, therefore, a myriad of reasons to have philosophers, artists, linguists, historians and those who bring well-developed inter- and intrapersonal skills back to work.
References and Further Reading
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