Jack Myers is a media ecologist and the author of a new study on the small generation of 21.2 million young people born between 1991-1995, most of whom are now in college. His book on this research is titled Hooked Up: A New Generation's Surprising Take on Sex, Politics and Saving the World.
In the first scene of the premiere episode of Aaron Sorkin's controversial HBO series Newsroom, news anchor Will McEvoy responds to a college co-ed's question on what makes America the greatest nation in the world by berating her and calling her part of the "Worst. Generation. Ever." In this season's final episode, McEvoy withdraws his criticism and tells that same co-ed she's the reason America is a great country.
On tour this summer promoting my new book Hooked Up, I've been challenging McEvoy's (and Sorkin's) negative vision of America's college students. I'm gratified that Sorkin's view of today's young people and mine are now on the same wavelength, and I'm confident the current generation of college students born 1991 to 1995 are not only not the Worst. Generation. Ever., but may prove to be the Next. Great. Generation., leading a transcendental transformation over the next two decades into a period of economic, social and political stability and balance.
Contrary to popular perception, today's college students and their Internet-centric perspective on society, business and culture will be highly sought after and in demand by large and small businesses, institutions and organizations. The Hooked Up Gen will bring to the workplace, to politics, to education and even to family life advanced social media skills along with a set of fundamental beliefs about human rights, equality, diversity, fair pay, globalization and work/life balance. On the Internet, individuals are judged by the quality of their ideas and their willingness to put them out there, and little else, fostering a noted lack of prejudice among this age cohort. Growing up in an environment where such things are of secondary––if any––importance has given them open minds. They've grown up accessing chat rooms and social networks where they routinely communicate with peers from all over the world. This can only improve their performance in the workplace, enhance diversity and improve corporate embrace of the growing multicultural consumer population.
The Hooked Up Gen are experts at multitasking complex conversations through multiple modes of media. Examples include the ease with which they upload videos to YouTube, create podcasts and maintain multiple text conversations while doing homework. Put in charge of projects where these skills are an asset, as most projects will be into the foreseeable future, they can outperform older colleagues despite any perceived shortcomings in other communication arenas. Applying their unique skills and qualities, they will gain authority and influence in all spheres of society, business and culture.
Traditional organizational models and legacy barriers to change in the corporate, political, educational and entertainment worlds are breaking down in the socially interconnected Internet-based environment. The Hooked Up Gen are very comfortable ignoring these structures and the hierarchical barriers that distance senior management and leaders from their newest colleagues. They are tech-savvy at a level previous generations don't begin to approach. Today's college students are the first to have grown up with constant Internet access, giving them a "front-row" view of people with no extraordinary connections achieving real and important success and communicating it effectively. Whether they're looking at the rise of a simple Internet meme on YouTube or watching hours of TED talks, this age group understands and has internalized human potential in a way previous generations couldn't.
Furthermore, they've freely commented in response to professional news gathering organizations, corporate blogs, and op-ed columnists. Social sites such as Pinterest.com offer them a new form of response and criticism. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube empower their opinions on just about any subject. They are equals online and expect their voices and opinions to be acknowledged and heard by corporate executives, politicians, educators, media pundits and news anchors as well. Thanks to their sophisticated understanding of the Internet, they have the resources to assure their voices are heard and represented. By combining their social networking sophistication, their fearless capacity to ignore corporate hierarchy and crash through glass ceilings, and their ability to telecommute and access information globally, the Hooked Up Gen will lead a movement toward corporate and political collaboration at an unprecedented level. Their influence will extend to the arts, education, medicine, politics, business, marketing, religion and other areas where decision-making has been closed and hierarchical.
The Internet will be increasingly influential in business, politics, education, media and the arts, medicine, law, global relations, and all aspects of human interaction. The Hooked Up generation of Internet Pioneers -- today's college students -- will be increasingly called on to manage and lead this new world responsibly, effectively and intelligently. I believe they are not only going to be up to the challenge and will prove to be highly valuable to employers, organizations and institutions in all sectors of the global economy.