Claim Your Generation

Generation Meh

In Food For Thought on January 4, 2011 at 9:46 pm

If you had to choose one word to describe our generation, what would it be?

For the makers of a new feature-length documentary called ReGeneration, the answer is this: Apathetic.

Narrated by Ryan Gosling and featuring thought leaders such as Noam Chomsky, Talib Kweli and Howard Zinn, ReGeneration asks two basic questions:

1) Why are young people so apathetic?

2) What can we do to change it?

In exploring these questions, the film tackles topics such as the influence of technology, our tenuous relationship with the natural world, our insatiable appetite for consumption and the economic factors holding many of us back from becoming more active participants in our communities.

By the film’s end, the stories and commentary lead to one universal conclusion: our society is at a crossroads – economically, environmentally, and intellectually – and we must change ourselves and the world for the better.

What do you think – are we a generation defined by apathy? What compells us to care?


Democracy 2.0

In Food For Thought, Movers and Shakers on December 20, 2010 at 7:25 pm

You say you want a revolution/
Well, you know/
We all want to change the world

-The Beatles

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the book Next Generation Democracy: What the Open-Source Revolution Means for Power, Politics, and Change.

A week later, I had the opportunity to chat with the book’s author, Jared Duval, about the role of Millennials in transforming democracy. Following are some highlights from our conversation:

OG: In 2008, young people rallied around President Obama in a huge way, inspired by the campaign message of “A Change We Can Believe In.”  How do you think the political events of the past two years – including the rise of the Tea Party movement and the results of the 2010 midterm elections – have affected Millennial attitudes about President Obama and young people’s relationship with government?

JD: For older voters, the question about government is should it be big or small.  I think the President and Congress did more than enough to stoke the anger of older voters who fear large government.

[Millennials] do not frame the question in the same way. We are kind of agnostic on the relative size of government. We are more interested in the integrity and transparency of the process, the ability to get things done in the public interest and a desire to participate in doing so.

With younger voters, President Obama didn’t do nearly enough to follow through on the original promise that inspired Millennials, which was change we can believe in — truly root level change in how Washington works. That hasn’t happened yet. I don’t think he can expect the same enthusiasm until he shows that he is willing to take some of these moral reform-minded initiatives seriously.

OG: There seems to be less Millennial involvement at the local and state level, where a lot of wide-scale change begins. Why might that be, and what motivates Millennials to get involved in the democratic process?

JD: Apathy is not the default. It’s something that is overcome. If we see an opportunity to really work for something that we can believe in, and that people are serious about getting to the root of the problem, Millennials do come out and engage in the process. There needs to be better communication about how state-level issues affect our lives.

A lot of the mechanisms and tools created by previous generations don’t seem to work anymore.  If you send an email or click a petition, it seems like it doesn’t go anywhere. Protests and sit-ins were meant to put pressure on the system. They don’t carry same weight and influence that they used to. A lot of this has to do with our media environment; because of fragmentation and triviality, they just don’t cover these things and they don’t register on the national radar. We need to find relevant tactics for our current age.

You also feel like you can have more of a direct impact on a process when you actually play a part in it. That’s where social entrepreneurship is coming into play. Rather than protest, Millennials are rolling up their sleeves and starting organizations to address the problem directly, whether it be through charter schools, alternative fuel projects, micro-financing or mobile money. It’s a more pragmatic and solution-driven engagement that we’re seeing. (For more on social entrepreneurship, see Nicholas Kristof’s ‘The Age of Ambition.’)

OG: What is your hope for this book?

JD: My hope with the book is that [Millennials] come together as a generation and see it as our project, our legacy, to make our democracy more effective and more truly of, by and for the people again.

I hope the book provides the kind of creative sparks for how that can happen and the touchstone stories of the people who are showing the steps we can take as a generation to have a more effective way of solving great social challenges.

The great civic generations throughout history resuscitated the idea of democracy. I think our challenge is to upgrade it — to take our democracy to a new level.

There are so many important issues out there – climate change, clean energy, human rights, global poverty, women’s rights, healthcare and education. It’s vital we continue working on those things, but my hope is that Millennials devote as much time, money and resources to this underlying, longer-term imperative of making our democracy work for us again.

Overeducated, Underemployed, Wildly Optimistic?

In Food For Thought on December 9, 2010 at 10:34 pm

A recent Time magazine ad took a stab at summarizing our generation:

Do you agree?

(Many thanks to @_kbm for sharing this via Twitter)