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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Generation Y – Are they really as bad as we say they are?

gen y

In my blog A TIME OF PONDERING – A TIME OF RECKONING I comment on the level of resentment towards baby boomers that I’ve found in the blogosphere. In that post I mentioned that I had no clue that generation X’ers as well as Generation Y’ers resented us so. I am fairly intrigued by this and as I dig deeper into these attitudes, I’m finding that the resentment seems to go in both directions. In the blog Generation Y, the author (kfulljames) lays out fairly clearly some of the reasons for the attitudes and beliefs of the “Gen Y’s” and Steve Olson in his article A Message to Baby Boomers and Generation X puts the responsibility of the attitudes of Generation Y squarely in the shoulders of the Baby Boomers and the Generation X.

As I read the ‘Generation Y’ article, I can’t help but think that these kids have a point! First, the “loyalty” that we are talking about is very much present in Generation Y – the difference is that they invest their loyalty in those things and people that will be in their lives for the long run. From what I could gather in the articles, it looks like for Generation Y loyalty is given first and foremost to the family. That loyalty extends itself to a very old saying, “to thy own self be true.” In their minds, being true to themselves encompasses the workplace and the value they bring to the business.

Generation Y rightly states that they grew up seeing how the loyalty given to the business institution was rewarded by lay-offs, by sending the jobs over to another country, by raiding the retirement funds and depleting them. In other words, the business institutions expect the individual to be loyal to them but they do not give any loyalty in return beyond the paycheck of the latest pay period. We are the ones that need to understand that Generation Y is the spearhead generation of the information age and the information economy. They are doing what our great-great-grandparents did when the industrial revolution got into full swing – they are creating! Generation Y talks in terms of being a contractor rather than an employee, having multiple income streams rather than one company paycheck; forgive me for pointing out the obvious but, isn’t this what we usually call entrepreneurial spirit?

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