With Election Day upon us, one segment of the U.S. population is under heavy scrutiny: the youth voters. Will this typically apathetic group of voters actually turn out at the polls? Will Gen Y show us that they're not just all talk? For obvious reasons, politically, the actions of this group of voters will have big impacts on today's election. But their actions (or inactions) will also have further impacts on the web and tech, as well.
Gen Y Is *So* Different
Generation Y, also known as the millennials, are the young adults composed of the children of Boomers, Generation Jones, and some Gen X'ers. They're the biggest generation since the Boomers now and will eventually outpace them in numbers.
There has been much scrutiny over this generation over the past couple of years as the first set of Gen Y'ers began to enter the business world. The tech-savviness of these "digital natives," as they're called, has some corporations scrambling to adapt their systems to the incoming masses of these plugged in, always-on multitaskers. Consultants who specialize in Gen Y are being brought in to teach the older execs what to expect from the new hires, how to motivate them, how to retain them, etc. It's almost as if the Gen Y'ers were some sort of alien creature that business world was completely unprepared for.
We recently ran down a list of reasons why Gen Y is different from the rest of us. Besides the obvious connection to technology, they also have unique perspectives on marketing, media, the workplace, and society...at least, that's what the pundits tell us.
On paper, the millennials sound like a revolutionary generation dead set on changing the status quo. Their insubordination at work is only due to their lack of buy in - "Generation Why" always need to know "why" something's being done. Their brand loyalty is completely up for sale - they're quick to move to the next big thing. They've cut back on TV viewing so they can listen to music or play video games. They're socially conscious and think they're a force to be reckoned with in politics. Oh yes, surely these kids are different.
...Or Are They?
But unbeknownst to them, Gen Y is about to be put to the test. Simply put, they're going to be watched closely to see if they show up at the polls. Will they turn out in record numbers? Will the pundits be proven right? Will Gen Y change the world?
The truth is...well, we hope so. But let's be honest here - while the youth turnout will likely be higher than in 2004's election thanks to some savvy web policking and the clear differences between the candidates making the choice easier, we're probably not going to see record numbers. The highest youth turnout ever was 55%, recorded in 1972. If we match that number or go higher, then we know we have a true force of change on our hands. If we don't, then we're going to have to face facts: it may be back to business as usual.
If the pundits have, in fact, hyped Gen Y a bit beyond what they deserve, then this young generation may be less-ground shaking when it comes to the other aspects of their personalities and behaviors, too. People could start to think, "hmmm, maybe they aren't that different after all."
The Future Web Will Be Built By Us...All Of Us
If big business takes a step back and realizes that Gen Y isn't this devastatingly different type of employee, if marketers realize they can catch their attention using more standard methods, if media companies think that Gen Y will happily buy music wrapped in DRM, then the tech world could feel the impacts.
Here in the the tech industry, a lot of folks have been counting on Gen Y to lead the way when it comes to change. Concepts like Enterprise 2.0, social media marketing, Twitter for customer service...these are all movements that have been, at least in part, designed to address the needs of these new, young digital natives.
If this "record-breaking" generation doesn't vote (read: doesn't care), then we may have to face the truth: the kids are alright, but they're still just kids...and maybe they're not as different as we once thought. Maybe they aren't going to guide us to the new world of web 3.0 and cloud computing all on their own. Maybe we'll find the way ourselves...all of us, together.
We may have to realize that the true force of change that's happening both online and off is the same as it ever was: early adopters enthusiastically adopt a product or service and, over time, it trickles down to the rest of the mainstream. This isn't a revolution, it's just par for the course, and it's nowhere near as exciting as a brigade of digitally adept youth who stormed the polls iPhones in hand ready to change the world.
Of course, we're still hoping for the revolution.
Image credits: miss karen