The Volunteer Generation

“[GenY] has been called ‘fatally-flawed,’ accused of lacking values, social awareness or caring about anyone, or anything. In fact, Professor Mark Bauerlein says we’re ‘The Dumbest Generation.’  In a book of the same title, arguing that the internet ‘stupefies youth,’ author and professor Jean Twenge dubs the Net Generation as Generation Me, saying that self-esteem programs in school, combined with the internet, may be unleashing ‘a little army of narcissists’ on society.  Others argue that youth, consumed with their own celebrity and web obsessions, are superficial and lacking social skills.”

So says

I had the privilege to spend Tuesday with Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital, and a number of other books. His latest is the culmination of a study about GenY/Millenials and how they think, interact, learn – and how their behavior will affect the way we interact and collaborate in our communities of work and play. Don has come to the conclusion that the emerging generation may be, in fact, the smartest generation – a generation able to synthesize information through all varieties of media and iterate new ideas, products, services, who-knows-what, much faster than any other generation.  Basically Tapscott describes younger media-saturated kids as developing greater carrying and switching capacities in their brains.

Contrary to Bauerlein’s view, I’m heartened by Tapscott’s optimism. In his research he discovered that more than any previous generation in the last 100 years, GenY is less motivated by money, status and power and more by interest and curiosity to explore, travel, collaborate and volunteer. This generation has the highest percentage of those entering public and non-profit vocations, and the highest percentage of those going into social, environmental and public works jobs. From 1988 to 2008 the percentage of college freshman who say they have volunteered in the last year went from 65% to 90%.

Last year my boys – then 5 and 7 – and I cycled in the Trek Across Maine on behalf of lung cancer. I used their cute faces on our website to help raise the minimum required to ride. This year I’ll make sure they understand what we’re riding for and ask them to help raise the contribution.