Each generation seems predisposed to believe the next generation will be materially better off but intellectually or spiritually weaker. Whether it’s Socrates complaining about writing over memorizing, John of Salisbury lamenting the rise of law schools in twelfth-century England, or Grandpa Simpson opining about how much better everything was in his day, thinkers tends to lament the technologies their children develop.
We might now have lived in a internet-connected world long enough to get a meaningful sense of how connectedness might be changing the ways be think and interact with information and with each other. On this year’s Leap Day, Elon University’s School of Communication and the Pew Internet and American Life Project entitled “Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives” – a report meant to see how the Millennials see their own world and its future.
For the academics reviewing the survey’s results and comments (from 1021 participants), the overall appreciation of what social networks and mobile devices are doing to younger people was split evenly as to whether the overall effect would be a net benefit or problem. The notion of multi-tasking and the skill of assimilating and judging diverse media streams will likely grow in value over the next few decades, whereas about half the respondents believed that the shortening of attention spans and the passive consumption of unchallenged (and perhaps unchallengeable) data will outweigh the benefits.
Almost 55% of respondents agreed with the following statement:
In 2020 the brains of multitasking teens and young adults are “wired” differently from those over age 35 and overall it yields helpful results. They do not suffer notable cognitive shortcomings as they multitask and cycle quickly through personal- and work -related tasks. Rather, they are learning more and they are more adept at finding answers to deep questions, in part because they can search effectively and access collective intelligence via the internet. In sum, the changes in learning behavior and cognition among the young generally produce positive outcomes.
But many of those respondents added their own qualifiers of negative tradeoffs, which helped bring the overall result down to an even split. Here is a sample of a few other findings we think worth noting.
- The environment itself will be full of data that can be retrieved almost effortlessly, and it will be arrayed in ways to help people – young and old – navigate their lives. Quick-twitch younger technology users will do well mastering these datastreams.
- Millennials’ brains are being rewired to adapt to the new information-processing skills they will need to survive in this environment
- Young people accustomed to a diet of quick-fix information nuggets will be less likely to undertake deep, critical analysis of issues and challenging information. Shallow choices, an expectation of instant gratification, a lack of patience, are likely to be common results, especially for those who do not have the motivation or training that will help them master this new environment. One possible outcome is stagnation in innovation.
- Another possibility, though, is that evolving social structures will create a new “division of labor” that rewards those who make swift, correct decisions as they exploit new information streams and rewards the specialists who retain the skills of focused, deep thinking. New winners and losers will emerge in this reconfigured environment; the left-behind will be mired in the shallow diversions offered by technology.
How might/should nonprofits respond to this information as they try to engage Millennials in fundraising, volunteerism, and engagement? Love it or loathe it, you can not leave it: multi-channel/multi-media communication is already here. Those with better educations and better incomes andall use these communications tools already, no matter the age. Therefore, nonprofits should be trendsetters to reach this audience.
Nonprofits should also be telling a story that has longer forms and shorter forms. Longer forms should tell some of the history of your organization, its early successes, the personnel, even some learning experiences that have made you stronger. Shorter forms should focus on what you are doing right now, and how members of the audiences can get involved right now.
Finally, for better-and-worse, younger audiences was fast response/reward loops. As we and other experts have often said, social media is a conversation, not a lecture. If your organization does not have someone dedicated to responding to tweets or comments on the blog or latest video, younger audiences will dwindle away, no matter how worthwhile the goal is.
The full report can be downloaded from Elon University’s School of Communications site. Reading the full report we can consider extra credit. We have presented this precis in the hopes of inspiring your staff to plan for the present and future with your outreach. Millennials have been waiting…