Are Millennials and GenZ Evolving for a Better World?
Younger generations get a bad rap, but maybe they are onto something.
Posted Dec 06, 2017
By the year 2070 we cannot say, or it would be imbecile to do so, that any man alive could understand Shakespearean experience better than Shakespeare, whereas any decent 18-year-old student of physics will know more physics than Newton.
— C.P. Snow
Oh what did you say?
When I ask if younger folks are evolved for a better world than this one, I don’t mean this as an insult, insinuating a sense of entitlement without having earned privileges. I mean it as a compliment. I truly believe we have a lot to learn from new people, especially right now as human mental evolution is bounding forward with the advent of advanced computer hardware, robotics, complex information-technology-turbocharged information systems, and machine learning.
This is the first time in human history when you can see the whole world in one glance, on your phone. And the whole world can see you looking back at it, through more facets than the eye of a horsefly. This is the first time in history that the idea of a global network of consciousness has the anatomy to physically support actual information exchange and experiential qualities, and the authenticity of the digital world is not only equivalent to that of traditional reality, but is becoming fully coincident.
This is the world into which our children are being raised and which is shaping their identities. This has always been true, but evolution is happening at a much faster rate nowadays. Don't blink because you might miss it.
This is who they are becoming, but what is happening is uncertain. Children are living in a totally different world than 50 years ago, in a way which never has been true before because of the arguably fundamental difference in the present world from any past human civilization. It's likely that epigenetic effects from their parents' generation has influenced who they are, these "new people".
Life is hard
If they are more anxious, if the world is more depressed, if there is more trauma, if there is collective moral outrage, if there is more collective dissociation, if there is more addiction and other compulsive conditions, if there is more personality disorder, if there is more mental illness and psychic breakdown in general, there is also more hope, there are seemingly reachable goals such as colonies on other planets, trains which go from NY to DC in 25 minutes, commercial space flight, medical miracles, less violence and illness overall just as there is greater awareness and intolerance for what problems there are, and advances in computing which will have profound effects, and is already having profound effects, on what it means to be human. Assuming no great tragedy befalls our species, what will Walt Disney Moon be called? How awesome will the rides be? Or Walt Disney Space? Are they selling advance tickets yet?
Point is, whoever and whatever people are becoming now, we don’t know. There’s good and bad, but it will be the future’s world and not ours. We don’t know what happens when kids are raised with the constant presence of highly advanced and evolving technology, but we are doing the experiment. There are clear advantages, and definitely, we are well-suited to make use of tools. Today’s smart devices are the ultimate tools, and we’re just getting started. Think of the relationship between a boy and his dog. Think of a girl reading a classic novel. Smart devices are relational and information technological.
This is SO cool!!!
There is an attachment to our devices, which takes on a social character. Not only do they have virtual features which are designed to feel relational and experiential, they are literally connected with other people and can be inhabited by other people, either in real-time as during a video call, and also with social media in a more passive but frenetic manner, swiping, swiping and swiping. Computers are becoming our sexual partners as well, and robots are standing in line for the honor. Computers and changes in gender identity are co-evolving as well, and gender for computers is 100 percent arbitrary and specifiable. The human-computer interfaces are just getting smarter, and the more immersive and well-designed they are, the more intimate the experience is becoming.
Our mental representations are patterned on computational models. This started happening decades and decades ago, even longer depending on how you define terms. Before the written word, our minds were patterned by oral traditions of storytelling. With writing, we not only began to maintain structured, less changeable narratives but also learned how to store information for later, for commerce and trade to keep track of inventory. Literary forms provide ways of shaping and organizing thinking, but are relatively static.
You are what you eat
More recently, psychological models based on information processing and computation suffuse the social science and feedback to shape thinking, and influence emotions. Many of these models are used for the basis of different theories of artificial intelligence (AI). Add neuroscience, advances in computer engineering, and other ingredients including time for iterative development, and a new world is emerging, with new people caught in the middle of adaptation. They are ready for the new world, where you don’t have to worry about a lot of things, but we’re still in this world where a lot of things go wrong.
Hope springs infernal
The human hopeful imagination has out-stripped the actual results, at least for the present, and positive changes are not sufficient to satisfy many of us emotionally, psychologically, personally, professionally or sociologically. This creates tremendous strain and uncertainty, and problems. There’s a concern about folks being “lazy,” or “don’t know how to work,” and management of younger folks is a cliché already.
There’s a “fit” issue. Contemporary social environments don’t work well in specific ways, and may need to be re-designed. There is a classical generational shift going on as well, with age-related power dynamics. I think the path forward lies in the direction of mutual recognition as a starting orientation, which may require us to address age-ism in a way analogous to how we are taking notice of other areas of social inequity.