A recent report by the Pew Research Center compared and contrasted millenials (those currently between 18 and 33) to other generations. Most of the results, when considered on a case by case basis, weren’t huge shockers: as the youngest generation of adults, millenials are more liberal and more in tune with technology than everyone else. A Nielsen study backs this up. But the Pew report, through its very detailed and thorough poll, uncovered the big picture: millenials keep themselves detached from institutions.
This conclusion can be drawn from their responses regarding marriage, patriotism, religiosity, political ideology, and other organizational entities. Data from Millenial Branding and oDesk seem to confirm that millenials would overwhelmingly prefer working for themselves over being part of an organization. The trend certainly did not begin with millenials; in 2001 the oldest millenials had barely started college when Daniel Pink wrote of society’s journey away from “the organization man” of the 20th century. Nonetheless, we can infer that today’s young adults are becoming less favorable of the idea of institutions and institutional thinking. Why would that happen?
Before my generation came of age, we had already seen the divorce rate climb to over 50%. We saw the most powerful nation in the world get attacked by religious zealots; we saw the same nation have a questionable reaction. We’ve seen both republican and democrat politicians fail to live up to their promise (but unlike the generations before us, I don’t think we actually had much hope for them in the first place). We’ve seen people drown in debt and lose their homes because Keynesian economic theory institutionalized a culture of excessive consumption. We’ve seen companies fire lots and lots of employees. We’ve seen gay people and pot-smokers be functional and contributing members of society. We’ve seen immigrant laborers out-earn college graduates. We’ve seen consumer protection agencies like the FDA actually protect a manufacturer despite the consumer.
We’ve also seen a lot of pictures of each other on Facebook. We’ve seen that each person is connected to society through a complex network of relationships, rather than connected to society by being one cog in one machine. Maybe some have even seen that the human race is a giant, organic web of relationships, not a clumsily stacked pile of institutions. The title of the Pew study is perfect: Millenials: Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends. That’s millenials in a nutshell. And as we continue or journey into adulthood, we will all see the decline of the institution, and the rise of the network of individuals.