Millennial minds crave connectivity, self-importance

The millennial generation’s dependency on new media stems from more than just easy access to technology.

Orange juice and Cheerios are rarely accompanied by a daily newspaper anymore.

There’s no need. The majority of today’s breed of students have already read the top stories on philly.com, checked their e-mails, responded to Facebook wall posts and tweeted about how they wish they could hit their snooze buttons just one more time – all before they roll out of bed and into their slippers.kathryn and maria

This generation of “millennials,” as we’re called – born approximately between the early 1970s and late 1980s – is pegged as both more technologically savvy and dependent, and the trend continues to rise.
The Nielsen Company reports that millennials made 255 phone calls per month and sent 435 SMS text messages in 2007, but fast forward just two years to 2009, and millennials are making 191 phone calls per month and sending 2,899 SMS texts per month.

The growth has been staggering, but it should come as no surprise. While this seeming need to consistently transmit and receive information is due largely to the rise of the Digital Age, these Baby Boomer offspring also grew up in a social environment unlike those of generations past.

Let’s rewind to kindergarten. You sang the words “I can do anything better than you” in music class, and your mom let you choose pizza or ham and cheese Lunchables. You were raised in schools where teachers constantly reinforced how “special” and “unique” you are.

“It’s not the same as being ‘spoiled,’ which implies that we always get what we want,” writes Jean M. Twenge in Genertation Me, a book that explains why today’s young Americans are more confident and assertive, yet more miserable than ever before. “We simply take it for granted that we should all feel good about ourselves, we are all special, and we all deserve to follow our dreams.”

And so we do, and we’re sure to let everyone know about it. According to Facebook, there are more than 45 million status updates each day.

“I don’t like to complain, even though I do it often,” one Facebook user’s status reads. “I truly am grateful for the things I have, but there is this emptiness inside of me… I force a smile, I go on with my days…but something is missing and all I can do is pretend I am OK…”

Too-much-information statements like these get a little more personal than the “Steve is going to the gym”-type statuses Facebook probably intended for the feature. But the rate at which we’re increasingly expressing “what’s on our minds” is truly exponential.

Between December 2007 and December 2008, Internet usage as a whole grew 18 percent. Facebook usage, however, grew a whopping 588 percent, according to the Nielsen Company. We’re not spending that much more time on the Internet – we’re just shifting the way we allocate our time on it.

Some of that stems from our kindergarten-rooted vanity, but that’s not the only factor. The more technology becomes accessible and inexpensive, the more people are using it. And as these statistics rise, so do the numbers of questions as to why and how we use it the way we do.

We’ll explore some of these issues and questions here in For Tech’s Sake. We’ll cover over-sharing and digital etiquette. We’ll check out the latest in technology, like Google Wave – a barrier-breaking communication and collaboration tool. We’ll even risk our own millennial sanity, turn off our MacBooks and leave our BlackBerrys at home for 48 hours in an against-the-grain experiment.

But don’t forget that along the way, we’ll be turning to your Facebooks and Twitters, observing your online language and looking into your digital and social trends for our inspiration and reporting because let’s face it – we millennials might pride ourselves on our individuality, but we’re in this together.

“Today, you can watch, listen to, and read whatever you want; seek out and discuss, in exhaustive and insular detail, the kind of news that pleases you,” writes Farhad Manjoo, author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, “and indulge your political, social, or scientific theories, whether sophisticated or naïve, extremist or banal, grounded in reality or so far out you’re floating in an asteroid belt, among people who feel exactly the same way.”

Kathryn Lopez and Maria Zankey can be reached at templeliving@temple-news.com.

This edition of For Tech’s Sake is Part 1 in a five-column series exploring the link between the attitudes of the Millennial Generation and technology.

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