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Can Millennials Really Create Change?

Caranissa Djatmiko discusses why Millennials are more than just a group of smartphone zombies and how technology provides the necessary tools to help guide this particular generation to foster change on a larger scale.

“Technology is something that I could not live without. Having grown up with technology feels like magic to me. Reaching my friend in the US with just a touch of a button in our pocket, we can ask Siri everything, even knowing what’s happening right now in Spain; if that’s not magic what else? Technology lets us do that kind of stuff, instantly,” exclaims 22-year-old Mirsa Sadikin.

Mirsa is a recent college graduate from a local prestigious university, the Institute of Technology in Bandung. Throughout his college years, Mirsa dreamed of building his own technology company. While that dream has yet to materialize, Mirsa and a few of his friends decided to team up and create their own startup venture. Like many of his fellow Millennials, he believes that technology is a unique characteristic that sets them apart from their predecessors.

Millennials are known as the generation that grew up in the digital era, ultimately allowing them to have more access to data and information and to experience the world with a few presses of the thumb.

Instead of physically travelling to foreign countries to explore different cultures, Millennials could just turn to videos or images found on YouTube. In contrast to traditional styles of research like locating specific textbooks in libraries or hunting down experts in universities, Millennials need only to browse for relevant references on Google Scholar. Updates via social media platforms make finding and digesting news instantaneously.

Image by InstantEdge


Having said that, this generation should not be singularly defined by technology. Rather than finding their digital routines to be a trivial form of tech immersion, we should acknowledge them as part of a major cultural shift. Millennials are more than a group of smartphone zombies and technology provides the tools that help and guide this particular generation to foster change on a larger scale.

Millennials, technology and generational differences

Called everything from Generation Y, the Next Great Generation, to what Joel Stein sneeringly wrote in Time as the Me Me Me Generation, Millennials are generally identified by their coming of age at the turn of the new millennium. Coincidentally, the digital revolution was well underway during this period as Web 2.0 came in the mid-2000’s.

As such, academics began to study Millennials’ lives as entirely different from those of their parents due in large part to technological advancements. In 2001, for example, American education consultant Marc Prensky invented the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” to differentiate the young from the older generation within the education setting based on their use of technology.

In this new era of digital civilization, Prensky highlighted that students or “digital natives” had a better grasp of technology; and school teachers, the digital immigrants, were struggling to cope with that. “The ‘digital immigrant accent’ can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it. Today’s older folk were ‘socialized’ differently from their kids, and are now in the process of learning a new language,” Prensky said in his journal Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.

In the years that followed, multiple media reports and books continued to promote the digital revolution as not only a crucial aspect of the youth culture but also a clear distinguishing factor between the young and the older generation. Where Millennials or young people were often seen as tech addicts who couldn’t imagine a world without the Internet; the older generations were still getting used to this change.

But is the older generation really that incapable of keeping up with the digital revolution?

Well, not exactly. Recent studies have found that Generation X in the United States, aged 35 to 49, is actually more obsessed with social media than Millennials – proving that technology may no longer be a valid distinguishing factor between Millennials and their predecessors. Most of these heavy users spend their time on Facebook via smartphones, while watching primetime television on Sundays. The finding was revealed by Nielsen in its 2016 Social Media Report.

“Surprisingly, the heavy social media user group isn’t Millennials. In fact, Generation X (ages 35-49) spends the most time on social media: almost seven hours per week versus Millennials, who come in second, spending just over six hours per week,” Nielsen’s President of Social Division Sean Casey said in the report’s foreword. This even came as a surprise for Casey himself who initially expected Millennials to be in command of the social media world.

As technology becomes increasingly more relevant with every generation, researchers also began studying its relationship with the generation that comes after the Millennials. Results may indicate that the digital revolution should not be associated only with Millennials as every generation has its own experiences with technological advancement.

Image by TenPlay


American professor and psychologist Jean M. Twenge recently wrote in The Atlantic that “post-Millennials” are, in fact, much worse than Millennials when it comes to technology saturation. And the one thing that she notices throughout her 25 years of researching generational differences is that the arrival of smartphones and social media have greatly affected every aspect of life to the point that they are damaging this generation’s social and mental state.

Twenge identifies the generation following the Millennials as ‘iGen’, born between 1995 and 2012. According to the psychologist, American iGens today are less interested in going out and partying and prefer staying at home, fully engaged with their phones and becoming even more disconnected than the generation that came before. “The Millennials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night,” Twenge states in her article Have Smartphones Destroyed A Generation.

She adds: ”If you were going to give advice for a happy adolescence based on this survey, it would be straightforward: Put down the phone, turn off the laptop, and do something — anything — that does not involve a screen.”

Millennials, technology and purpose

But the question remains: How can we better understand the way young adults, in particular, engage with technology?

On the one hand, we must understand the reasons why the digital revolution has transformed the way users engage with technology. The emergence of new media, for one, has allowed the audience to actively participate in the means of production, paving the way for most of the young users to really get involved in virtual activities. Instead of sitting behind the screen, reading or waiting to hear the latest updates on something, users now get to be in control of the conversations (or at least have the chance to voice out their opinions through comments and clicks) and create their very own cultural artefacts. This is the reason why we are seeing a generation of bloggers and vloggers. On the other hand, learning how Millennials view the world is also important in helping us better understand their actions and ultimately the way to apply technology.

Their traits are easily observed in our society. To illustrate, young people in Indonesia (and many other countries around the world for that matter) prefer jobs that offer flexibility as opposed to those related to the traditional corporate style. Within the local context, 83 percent of them also plan to open up their own business one day, based on a study conducted in 2015. And with the success of startup companies like GO-JEK and Traveloka, there appears to be a growing trend among Millennials in Indonesia to do the same.

The other day I was asking Mirsa to explain why he thinks this trend is a good sign for Millennials.  “This means that young Indonesian people are starting to realize that they’re actually capable of doing great things,” he said. He goes further to describe his generation: “I see that Indonesian Millennials are motivated and ambitious people, living among them sometimes make me feel small but also very grateful because they push me to be a better person every single day.”

These are the kind of traits that eventually encourage Millennials like Mirsa to develop a distinct way of using technology.  “Everything is now connected and there are a lot of tools out there that we can use. I think that knowing how to harness them to create something useful and beautiful is something that we should try. In my case, I want to travel cheaply, so I decided to learn how to create something with existing technology, ask my friend to help me, and with the help of technology, we created”

Interestingly, Mirsa’s take on technology above demonstrates a real element of purpose in his use of technology, which is to travel cheaply. His decision to set up a travel-based website is driven by his own motivation to solve a particular problem that he used to face during his college days. At that time, travelling from Jakarta to Bandung cost him too much and there were not that many travel options for him to reach his destination. By creating a platform that gives passengers and drivers the opportunity to share their rides, Mirsa was able to resolve his and likely many other people’s issues with a few clicks of a button.

Featured image by 123rf.

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