I know that the common wisdom is that the next generation is screwing everything up, that things will quickly go to hell in a hand basket as soon as they gain any power, but I’ve got to say that I am pinning all my hopes on the Millennials, those people born after 1981 or so. You know the ones.
These are the people who don’t know that there was life before social networking; who wouldn’t know discretion if it slapped them in the face, who have a totally backwards concept of private and public. The ones who navigate Pandora as easily as they do their own neighborhood, think that televisions are nothing more than large computer monitors, and communicate with their thumbs. The folks whose faces are buried in their electronic devices, who spell with numbers, use their smartphones for everything but talking. The same people who don’t plan their next move until they’ve finished the last, and then only after checking with their numerous friends—the ones they’ve never met.
Yep, those are the heroes I’m talking about. I can’t wait until they get into office and start running things. I long for the day when the Millennials are in charge. How can I possibly be relying on that group of people, who couldn’t carry on a face-to-face conversation if their lives depended on it, but who instantly share the extremely fascinating subject of what they ingested for breakfast with the entire planet, to save the world? That’s easy.
Think about the world the Millennials live in. They are the first generation who have absolutely no reason to sort the human race based on age, sex, disability, race, or distinguishing marks and hairdos, because online, those things are mutable. Video games may be the most horrible time-wasting devices ever invented by man, but that virtual world has become the great leveler of persons. Whether you are a female warrior troll, an androgynous dwarf mage, a male goblin rogue, or something truly other-worldly, the only basis on which fellow players judge you is your competence in the field. And that is the only mechanism by which they are able to judge you, because the male human paladin you joined forces with this time around may have transformed into a female blood elf by the next time you meet. The choice of skin is based on the abilities that go along with each character, not by that avatar’s size, shape, or color. Each character has its own strengths and weaknesses, amongst which the players must choose, giving up some abilities in order to gain others. Sort of the way we humans are set up: we all have innate strengths and weaknesses, which have nothing to do with the color of our skin or hair or eyes. For the first time in our history, those things don’t matter. Those things are irrelevant. Those things can no longer be the excuse for bad behavior or bad performance. The online world brings the internal to the forefront: you are what you do, not what you look like.
But the biggest sea change of all, the thing that makes Millennials a totally new subset of our species, is that video games, social networking, almost all life in the internet age is based on mutual cooperation with people you’ve never met, never will meet, and have no way of judging except by what they’ve put into the cloud. You go online, and search for information that someone you don’t know, and whose skin color you couldn’t possibly begin to guess, has spent time and effort to obtain and coalesce for you. Or you prepare to enter a dungeon with a team that was based solely on proximity to a server, a team that will be disbanded, never to re-form, as soon as the mission is complete.
The virtual world is a team sport. Cooperation and sharing are key. But not cooperation amongst groups of people who sought each other out, took time to know each other, or necessarily have anything in common with each other other than the matter at hand. The internet, more than any other tool ever invented, requires mission-based team play. But more than that, it requires trust of others on a level that has never existed in history. Never before have so many people trusted people they don’t know—our whole mechanism for deciding whether someone is trustworthy has been inverted. Our normal way of doing business has been upended. We used to meet someone, get to know him, then, gradually extend our trust. Now we trust, then verify. A whole new concept.
So we have come up with another means to verify: the common consensus. What one person has put out there is amended, contradicted, or labeled awesome! by others. Nowhere else is it so readily apparent that people are good at some things and not others; no one is good at everything; so we must all work together, pool our talents, to survive. These people cooperate like nothing we dinosaurs can understand. Not only do they share their every mood and germ of a thought with the world, these people share the fruits of their labors. It’s simply a fact of life that, if anyone in the world has a question, a problem, hits a stumbling block, these people will jump all over themselves to offer a solution or a shoulder to cry on. And the offerings go beyond just a momentary salve. There are people who spend hours, days, weeks, perfecting an idea, and when they’re done, they post it on-line, for the world to have, for free. That is absolutely astounding. And they rely on people they’ve never met, never have a chance to meet, to check out their work, correct it, improve it, and toss it back out into the maelstrom.
These people form alliances at the drop of a hat with people they have no reason to trust. They don’t know their lineage, their previous work, their motivation, anything about their teammates. Yet they go into battle together, rely on these people to find them a good dentist, to give them an honest review of their work. They form ad hoc working, socializing, playing, groups that re-form, shift, change, on a moment’s notice, based solely on a common shared interest, with not a single look askance at anyone’s race, color, or creed, because they don’t know any of that information, and couldn’t care less, because that is not what is important to the common goal. What possibilities for our future! Humankind has gone from tightly knit villages, suspicious of every stranger, through a world of isolation, where you were lucky to even know your neighbor, to a world where everyone is your neighbor, and you as easily collaborate with a person across the world as across the street.
And it is the element of anonymity, that very element which makes parents fear for their young ones, that defines the Millennials, and offers the greatest hope for humankind. When your avatar can display whatever shape, color, and species that you feel like assuming on any given day, the concept of assuming that another’s low grade of your work is based on anything other than merit flies out the window. So I’m waiting, ever so patiently, for that marvelously varied subset of humanity to step up to the plate, and when asked whether they can work with someone of a different race, respond, “Meh. What level is he?”