Technology Keynote: The ‘Millennials’ Are Coming!

At noon on Monday, June 14, Metropolis editor in chief Susan S. Szenasy delivered NeoCon’s Technology keynote, entitled “Future-Shaping Technologies.” Joining her in the presentation was Fred Dust, of the multidisciplinary design shop IDEO; Dust is best known as the lead designer of Dilbert’s Ultimate Cubicle, a modular, conceptual office cube created upon the request of Scott Adams, the author of the Dilbert comic strip. Szenasy and Dust’s keynote talk, which was delivered to a full house, concentrated on the cultural effects of “The Millennials”: the generation of individuals born between 1979 and 1994.

The children of the Baby Boomers, the Millennials are presently between the ages of 10 and 25. There are 65 million of them, representing a quarter of all Americans; already 22 million of them are in the workforce. They are remarkably adept at new technologies—many learned to “dial” a telephone on a cell phone—and generally take diversity for granted, as 40% of them are not Caucasian.

Millennials relate to each other in ways that are radically changing social conventions. Picture phones and instant-messaging technologies make them incredibly connected, even when not physically with one another. More likely to be on the Internet than in front of the television, they are the generation that is the most informed—and misinformed—in history, according to Dust. The Millennials’ upbringing in a networked, wireless world means they may be the ones finally to embrace the idea of distance collaboration, which older generations have been loathe to adopt.

Millennials’ relationships with their parents are understandably complex. While Mom and Dad were likely to have spent their youth questioning their own parents’ authority, this new generation rebels by being more responsible. Socially involved and able to organize via the Internet, the Millennials have embraced ideas that their parents rarely considered at their age, such as abstinence. Even though three out of four of Millennials have working mothers, an amazing 79% look up to their parents; only 13% have a similar respect for professional athletes.

Dust described the Millennials’ almost innate grasp of multi-tasking as a state of “total blur.” Often considered the generation of Attention Deficit Disorder, these individuals actually possess “evolved abilities,” he said, and are capable of filtering and editing enormous amounts of information in real time.

The audience for Szenasy and Dust’s presentation—predominantly aging Boomers—seemed alternately intrigued and distressed by Dust’s analysis. As Dust noted, the sheer number of Millennials—a far larger demographic group than its predecessors, Generation X—will mean that these individuals will inevitably drive the overall culture. Far from worried, although perhaps a tad concerned, Dust seemed genuinely optimistic about the potential that this emerging generation will have on society in general, and design in particular.

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