They bear many names: Echo Boomers, Millennials, Gen Y, Boomerang Generation, Trophy Kids—our kids—born circa 1980-2000. They have been characterized as left-leaning team-workers (counterbalancing their parental neoliberal inheritance), technologically adept multi-taskers, cultural liberals, and social conservatives with high aspirations towards work and career. They are also classified as possessing delayed maturity for taking longer to leave the nest.
And they face the highest youth unemployment in the workplace in decades and low entry level wages that force them back into the nest for handouts. Their high expectations are in direct conflict with the market realities of a global economy in which the lowest common denominator is king. We Boomers have not done much to provide a better playing field for these fledgling torch bearers of the next generation of taxpayers, it seems. Perhaps we were totally self-absorbed in our own empire building—the empire of self actualization, which has only room for one.
The Echo Boomers will have to re-invent their own world if they are going to make this planet a better place and find their niche in it. The old economy has no place for them. The good news is that they have been likened to their grandparents—the Greatest Generation—who fought WWII and remade a destroyed world. I have tried to imagine what the EB world would look like, at least in our western half of the planet: no factories (try India or China), suffocating office cubes replaced by open-concept green energy workplaces where the lights automatically shut off at night, book-less libraries, farmland converted into wind energy corridors, snaking public transportation routes, tolls on city streets, lots of bicycles and roller blades, handheld devices as common as wallets, designer wireless earphones, lots more coffee houses and meeting hubs, bookshops relabeled as gift or antique stores, and lots more people talking to themselves on the street (actually into their designer microphones embedded into shirt buttons, nose rings and other accessories). Gosh, some of those components are already here!
And what kind of jobs will exist? Graphic designer, movie director, performance artist, content curator, online marketer, scientist, medical researcher, environmental engineer, content creator (formerly known as writer), content search advisor (once known as librarian), inventor, product developer, project manager, personal advisor (that can range from lawyer to doctor to financial planner to accountant, to personal trainer; all those one-to-one interactions that cannot be easily outsourced to India or China), personal assistant (publicist, plumber, electrician, handyman, car mechanic, restaurant server), and a raft of new job types in the service industry yet to be defined.
A Brave New World indeed. The nagging doubt I have is that while members of the Greatest Generation had the Great War and the Great Depression to condition them into greatness, the Millennials have only had their helicopter parents to insulate and deliver them into a hostile world, with half-formed wings. Will they need their own Dust Bowl to emerge into maturity? And would their indulgent parents sit back and let “the kids” pass through this painful rite, or would Dad and Mom dive in with that popular parachute called the “family bailout”, to continue to spoil and pamper their progeny? It looks like the advent of the Brave New World is not dependant on the Echo Boomers but on the ability of those old “chicken” Boomers to let go.