Generation Y – Do they really hate authority?

angry gen yThis article is a follow-up to Generation Y – Are they really as bad as we say they are? The information age and the information economy has flattened out the structure and hierarchy of organizations.  Gen Y is intimately in tune with this and, since they grew up into it, it is second nature to them.  The rest of us, the baby boomers and Generation X are definitely not there – we are in a different world from them.  One of the things that I am constantly seeing in the blogs and articles that I read about Generation Y is that they are constantly connected.  This is an important piece of information when trying to understand the “Gen Y’s” in My Generation – take two:

Generation Y is known to be able to multitask effectively. They also like to be constantly connected. So of course they are seen to be on the phones and instant messaging clients constantly, sending text messages, checking websites, etc. GenYers are information addicts. They’re used to knowing everything immediately and can quite happily be updated on several different topics while doing their job at the same time. They think, if I can still stay informed, and get my job done at the same time, then what’s the harm? Baby boomers come from an age of letters and newspapers. They don’t understand this information addiction, it’s like trying to do your job while reading a newspaper at the same time. So when GenYers are staying connected, baby boomers think they’re slacking off. Hey, admittedly, a lot of them probably are slacking off some of the time. But most of them are used to dealing with huge amounts of information at a time from several sources, and if they have to focus on one task at a time then they’re likely to get bored.

This is a very insightful and accurate description.  The information revolution, like the Industrial revolution before it, is completely changing how we relate to the world and each other.  For Gen Y’s, they have literally extended their lives to include cyberspace; for them relating in cyberspace is as normal and natural as breathing.  I imagine that they must feel very annoyed at having to explain to the rest of us what, to them, is something that is very obvious and natural.  Here is the thing that we, the Baby Boomers and the Generation X’s need to understand – the Internet has become the great equalizer.  Information is no longer the purview of a privileged few; the cat is very much out of the bag and information has been democratized.  This is what the Gen Y has to say about this (also from the ( My Generation – take two ) article:

Generation Y is said to have a problem with authority. This is probably true to an extent, but I believe it is more of a problem with respect. These days complete strangers will call you up on the phone and start chatting to you like they already know you. Back in the baby boomer days they were all about “sir” and “madam” and they’d address you by your surname, like “Mrs Jones” or “Mr Parker”. These days it’s all about “What’s your name? Robert Johnson? Well Rob, I’d like to talk to you about this amazing deal on cable television…” Everyone treats you like a peer. So Generation Y treats everyone like a peer. I think part of the problem is that GenX and baby boomers only see one side of it, they just see some young upstarts treating them like they’re on the same level before they’ve earned it. What they don’t see is Generation Y treating their subordinates like equals too. It’s not that they have no respect for authority, it’s just that everyone is the same to them and nobody is better than anyone else.

Although insightful, I don’t think the author goes far enough in explaining the authority situation of Generation Y.  While the paragraph above is correct, the basic issue is not authority per se but, something more fundamental and powerful enough to change a society, a culture and a civilization.  What is happening here is nothing less than a re-definition of what is authority and just how is authority derived.  Let’s define  authority in this way: it is our personal, individual willingness to submit.  In the information age, the “coin of exchange” is information and whomever has the must up-to-date, the most insightful information has the most amount of “coin” and Gen Y’s understand and respect this.  The underlying reality is that Gen Y’s do respect authority but, in their world, the one who is in authority is something that is very fluid.  Gen Y’s understand at a very gut and instinctive level that submitting to authority is their choice and under their control – this is a direct result of the information age.

Information is the most elemental part of any society but, it is how we process this information that makes it useful.  It is that “we” that is important because Gen Y’s do this instinctively and at the speed of the Internet.  Their perspective is this – all information has the same value and, by extension, all information givers have the same value.  It is only after “I” make some choices about the information that it will acquire additional value for me.  Gen Y’s take this empowerment process and project it to every aspect of their lives.

For us Baby Boomers and Generation X’s, it behooves us to understand this if we want to help them to sort out the difficulties of life.


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10 thoughts on “Generation Y – Do they really hate authority?

  1. I think there’s has been a systematic and ongoing destruction of authority and those institutions going back to the early 1950s. Just look at the difference in the authority structure in schools in the last 50 years. They’ve become more and more informal, and the ability to discpline has eased significantly.

    Up until about 1970 a large number of males entered the military. It’s only a tiny fraction of the population now.

    I mean just take a look at what’s happened to the boy scouts.

    As Gen Yers enter the workforce, it’s the first time that anyone may have said “no’ to them or do it or else. It’s really a shock.

  2. Pingback: Generation Y - How do they define privacy? « The Baby Boomer Experience

  3. Hello Steve,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I completely agree with you about the erosion of authority over the last 50 years or so. Concerning the military, keep in mind that until 1972, the army was mandatory / obligatory. In those days, when you reached your 18th birthday you had to go to the local Selective Service board and get your selective service card.

    Every month the military would have a “raffle” and the numbers that were pulled corresponded to the number in your selective service card. If your number was pulled, you were going into the military for a minimum of two years. During the Vietnam war, the Baby Boomers successfully argued – “how is it that we are old enough to die for our country but, not old enough to vote for the leaders that are sending us into harm’s way?”

  4. I was in the lottery so I know it well. Actually, I think more us were concerned less about why we couldn’t vote and more about why we couldn’t by a beer.

    But you could definetly see a change in attitude about being drafted from the generations that went to WWII and Korea.

  5. GenY doesn’t hate authority – but they are deconstructing it along many of the lines drawn above (information recency & relevance, relating as peers, etc.). The fact that they’ve not been told “no” isn’t their doing though – it’s the preceding generation of Xers who wanted to live life to the fullest and let their children do that too. Combine these two trends and you get Yers who aren’t familiar with the traditional politics of relating to adults, most noticeable in organizations where traditional authority is often found. In my observation, this isn’t a wholesale revolution of an entire generation, but there are enough Yers who bring this culture of relating to authority to make a noticeable impact – not to mention the enhancing effect internet technologies have in exploring and using these new norms of authority.

  6. Hello vinuodo,

    Thanks for visiting my blog. That is a very interesting observation you make about ‘deconstructing.’ Your comment almost sounds like a ‘perfect storm’ – a group that wants to decompose traditional authority, has basically never been told ‘no’ and has the access and knowledge to technology that has already changed the way we do business and live.

    Regards,

    boomerlife

  7. Steve,

    I remember very well the rallys to burn the selective service cards and the “Hell no! We won’t go!” slogans. Definitely different from the attitude during WWII and Korea.

    Regards,

    boomerlife

  8. I just have a really hard time submitting myself to doing something I really don’t want to do, and nine times out of ten feel like I’m being exploited.. :/

  9. I’m on the hairy edge between Boomer and Gen X. For me, it’s frustrating because I grew up hearing from my elders that I needed to respect them due to their age, even if they were assholes. And now, I’ve spent 50 years on the planet, have racked up some hard-won experience and accomplishments, and some 20-year-old kid is telling me that he and I are the same?? Really? I don’t know. It strikes me as very disrespectful. And it upsets me that I waited all these years to gain some respect that elders are supposed to be entitled to, and the gen y’s tell me that it’s just not a relevant concept to them. Neat trick.

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