After reading both William Deresiewicz‘s article “Generation Sell,” in addition to the response from a UPenn student in “Generation Do” and Technopoly by Neil Postman, I’ve become extremely frustrated with this on going debate about the purpose and goals and ideals of the Millenials. Even though I’m a Millenial myself, I’m going to have to take Deresiewicz’s side. Mostly because I didn’t understand any of the students claims. He lauded our peers with Job’s creative genius, Obama’s idealism. What does that all mean? What does it mean that we’re involved in social entrepreneurship? If we are entrepreneurs, what exactly are we doing rather than selling?
Even though on paper it says that my major is Communication, for me its also the major of the good and evil of digital media. Social media has created a global landscape, connecting people and products and ideas all over the world. But at the same time, social media has created an escape to distract us from real life and also replaces actions and real support with symbolic clicks and like gestures.The former sounds better than the latter but is it better? Has invasive technologies actually improved the lives of all the developing countries that we’ve forced Internet upon? I feel like because my generation has agency, and this delusion of action from behind a very misleading screen (most but definitely not everyone) feels like we’re doing more than we actually are.
I get flooded with emails for a million causes. Because of the information overload, I delete most of them. A little part of me is soothed in knowing that someone is doing something so I don’t have to. But as a friend explained to me, it’s probably only 15 percent of our student population that are sending these emails. The other 85 percent are getting their egos stroked liked me. That means despite the potential we see in it, despite the creativity to which my generation clings, despite the protests, I think a lot of us are confused about where or what to start with if we’re not just apathetic. All we do on a daily basis is maintain our own brands or profiles, and do what we can to make sure we get jobs later. It’s not as grand as the student’s ideas about the Millenials but it seems more practical. We sell. We sell ourselves. And considering the strangely popular review and social-centric websites that come out of doing more, I don’t mind not living up to the ideals.
The concept of social entrepreneurship itself is confusing. I want to understand it. I want to know how it’s not selling ourselves. As stated in the first lines of this article about Klout by Charlie Stross, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” We are using business as a platform for social change. And if we’re not the business founder nowadays we’re the consumer or the products being bandied around without knowing what we’re changing. I question why the term social entrepreneurship makes business better or different. Why can’t we own up to the fact that even if we don’t necessarily want to be the old corporate version of The Man, we want to be miniature venture capitalized versions of him? In the end successful businesses need a profit, whether they’re saving the world or not.
On a side note – I have to question whether the enhancements that social entrepreneurship cause in the lives of developed countries are social change. I’m a big fan of micro-funds for businesses in other countries but I honestly don’t think my life will get better if someone makes another social network. Even if the theme is saving animals or children or puppies. For Americans, its just another site to check in to but keep on cultural, daily distance. Changing one’s online activities doesn’t generally change one’s life (society’s norms though – definitely).
Back to my main point – Millenials are trying to justify what they say and do. People look down on them while in reality they are an extremely talented if gimmicky workforce that will change the way things run. Millenials need to stop defending their stance, their “idealism” and start proving that they can create something substantial and good. On or offline. Entrepreneur or not. Deresiewicz says we sell, the student says we do – I’m asking that someone, somewhere stop talking and do one thing rather than all the things we perceive to be awesome (idealism, creative genius, etc.) to show we’re more than consumers and cheap talk. No more Facebooks, or widgets, or apps. Make use of “social entrepreneurship” and the Web we’re so attached to. Or don’t. Either way, make change.
Just to lighten the mood, I thought the different infographics online discussing Millenials were interesting. Very different viewpoints.