Doing things differently since 1984
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems to me that the American political system has gone all weird lately. So many of the established powers are cooked up in some scandal or another; Congress is so busy blowing raspberries at each other that they’ve forgotten how to successfully pass laws; inaction is being taken as the best action. Now, maybe it’s always been this way, and I’ve only just started to pay attention, but I still have to wonder… will it be like this forever? When the next generation comes to power, what’s going to happen? What’s going to change?
I’ll admit up front that, being the next generation, I’m a little biased. I think we’re pretty great – not perfect, obviously, but we do all right. By “we”, I’m talking about what has been termed the Millennials – those who have become of voting age since the turn of the Millennium, or those born around 1982 or later. Now, naturally, any time someone starts talking about a group comprising of tens of millions of people, I’m going to overgeneralize. I’m sorry about that. But, there are a few things that the vast majority of us have in common that make us special. We are the first generation to grow up around the internet and cell phones. We witnessed Columbine and September 11 at impressionable ages. We’re the most racially diverse generation by a pretty long shot.
So, now that you know a little bit about us, what is going to happen in 30 years when the older generation has passed, and we are the ones sitting in Congress and the Oval Office? I am not going to pretend to have definitive answers, but I can think of a few likely things that we can expect:
1. Expect more tolerance
Whether you think tolerance is a good or a bad thing, it’s hard to argue that the younger generation is way more socially tolerant than their parents, and certainly their grandparents. A substantial majority are comfortable with same-sex marriage, ethnic and racial equality, and non-nuclear families; a similar majority are opposed to mainstream religion and unwavering American exceptionalism. What’s the common thread? Millennials don’t tend to think that any one way is the only way, or even the best way.
Why the change? Enter the Internet. Millennials are used to their thoughts and ideas being up for public scrutiny – not just by a body of their peers, or people that are likely to hold their world view – but anyone and everyone. Take this blog, for instance – if it somehow got shared around the internet, so that it started showing up on Twitter feeds, Facebook feeds, then Google searches, and so on – I can guarantee that my comments section would end up filling up with people’s own, often conflicting experience and opinions. Any spelling errors, not to mention glaring fact errors, will be pointed out. Someone might say, “I’m a so-called ‘Millennial’ and I definitely think gay marriage and abortion are WRONG!” Someone else might say, “According to XYZine, 20-somethings are always more liberal anyway [link].” Yet another person might say, “I’m not American, but from what I can see in my country, everything you’ve said is spot on. The elder generations here try to control internet access to keep their traditions in place for our younger generation, but I don’t think they’ll be successful.” Your typical Millennial sees the world as an open mic; anyone whose view is too narrow will be ridiculed, or at least corrected, by those with a broader experience.
Do you see what I’m getting at? This is how the Millennial generation gets so much of its information – from people who become direct sources. Even proper articles are most likely to be accessed through people. Many can argue about whether this is a good or a bad trend; I would argue that, regardless of its ills, it does certainly foster tolerance, borne of social awareness. It is so much easier to condemn a group of people that we never interact with, whose voice we never hear. Thus, over the next 30 years, expect American politicians to start veering away from issues that could peg them as narrow-minded social “traditionalists”.
2. Expect more third parties
More than ever before, the Millennial generation is experiencing a “bottom-up” kind of power. For a few hundred dollars, I could publish my own book. If I put my ideas up on Kickstarter and got enough people interested, I could pour thousands of dollars into it without spending a dime, and without pandering to a major publishing company. We’ve already seen how people have tweeted their way to organizing revolutions, and texted their way into organizing riots. If you see a neighbor getting screwed over by the system, you can put their case on change.org and have hundreds of thousands of people petitioning on their behalf overnight. You can instagram a photo and have its ideas reach a billion more people than a news article ever would. And to a Millennial, this isn’t scary sci-fi type of stuff; it’s normal. Sure, we’re more likely to spread pictures of our cats across the globe than revolutionary ideas, but the concept is the same – if you have access to the internet, you have access to power and fame.
So how does this translate to the political landscape? It means a de-centralization of power. No one’s ever liked elitist institutions, and Millennials are no different, except that they don’t need them. Anyone can make their voice heard, and if they’re good at it, get followers who are more likely to listen to them than the mainstream media. It doesn’t require formal qualifications, or even money. Now, I might be wrong, but to me that just seems to have the inevitable result in a rise of third parties. Millennials are already holding out on registering with the two major political parties by a substantial majority. By contrast, Millennials are registering with the Libertarian party in disproportionately large numbers. By no coincidence, if you went browsing around the kind of websites that Millennials frequent in 2012, you would wonder how Ron Paul, a Republican candidate with very Libertarian ideals, didn’t become president. With us all having a voice, and few liking the idea of established lines of authority, my bets are on non-traditional parties getting a lot more attention.
3. Expect the election season to get noisier
I don’t want it to look like everything is going to get better. If everyone is going to figure out they have a voice, then you can bet they are going to use it, and they’re going to find more innovative ways to do so. What’s more, if Google can track nearly everything we do, then you can bet that political campaigners will figure out exactly how to get our attention. Heck, if wearable computing technology like Google Glass takes off, we’ll probably end up being bombarded by political ads and issue-raising at literally every waking moment. It’s already apparent that, mere months after inauguration of our current president, things are ramping up toward the next election. As everyone strives to make their voice heard across the world, our world is going to continue to get a lot noisier.
NOTE: I’d like to give thanks to Frank Angle for inspiring this post.
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