Thursday, May 1, 2008

Social Citizens

"They are Social Citizens, representing a nascent model and era of citizen participation that combines idealism, digital fluency, and immersion in social causes."
Allison Fine, Social Citizens, The Case Foundation

Just a reminder: Millennials are 15-29 year olds born between 1978-1993, comprising 77.6 million people in the U.S, more diverse, and tech savvy. Oh my, that's larger than "living Baby boomers." Having that adjective "living" attached to my generation makes me groan, but...

Social Citizens is a manifesto, self reflection, and self assessment all at once, artfully weaving thoughts and voices about the actions, opportunities, and challenges of this generation.

"Millennials are hands on 'experience seekers' who don't trust the reporting of others...Millennials are generally opposed to hierarchical structures."

I'm stuck on the gimicky phrase "social citizens," almost an oxymoron, or is it a tautology? Doesn't citizen mean a member of a political body, which -- at at best -- rests upon civil society, associations, social capital. Maybe millennials are post-government, good kinds of constructivist anarchists or libertarians who build it themselves. But I think I get it, more a focus on causes and collaboration rather than institutions.

"They are less interested in and adept at interacting with government agencies and shaping public policy, and more interested in hands-on ways of improving the lives of people..."

This all sounds a bit reminiscent of generations past. Check out "Adventures in Participatory Democracy," in Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History.

"Participate but don't try to do everything yourself. Spread the tasks so everyone can participate."

"Be democratic. Encourage everyone to speak. Listen to each other and cooperate. Seek consensus rather than dominance."

If only my generation had been better listeners to our own words.

So, what does this all mean for the future of nonprofit organizations?


River Cocytus said...

I'm going to have to disagree; Millenials (of which I am one) are not opposed to hierarchy, but rather to arbitrary/non-traditional hierarchy. I saw once a report that noted that persons around my age respect tradition a great deal more than the past two generations. In fact, there have been a great rush of conversions in my generation away from 'freer' more 'democratic' and 'do it yourself' Protestant/liberal Christian expressions and toward more stable, traditional expressions of religion including Roman Catholicism, but most notably Eastern Orthodoxy.

As for how we conduct ourselves in practical life I think the assessment is correct; we want a more hands-on approach to building our family, maintaining our home, doing our job, and interacting with our social network. We rely on tradition to provide a framework (rather than a dictate) for us to do these things. Religion in particular provides a powerful framework that frees one from meaningless licensiousness and allows us to cut right to what is meaningful and fulfilling.

Like the freakin' neo-Victorians, but without all of the prudery.

Josh said...

As a "millennial" this quote really resonates with me:

"Millennials are hands on 'experience seekers' who don't trust the reporting of others... Millennials are generally opposed to hierarchical structures."

I think most of these descriptions fit all younger generations as they are coming up though. I guess the difference for the current generation is that they were the first to come of age with the world literally at their fingertips.

My parents bought me my first PC at age 5 and I was on the Internet pre-World Wide Web in 1992. Having access to news beyond stale television programming and the local newspaper, as well as cultures far different from our own, gives us a unique perspective. It is this perspective that allows us to break down traditional strategies and ways of viewing problems and organizations and put them back together in a way that makes more sense.

Some of us, at least.

Bob Giloth said...

I think the point about arbitrary hierarchy is a good one. What we don't want is a "tryanny" of structurelessness" in which anything goes, without norms of interaction and decision-making. A little hierarchy may be helpful -- but it must be accountable and transparent and promote democratic engagement.

DK said...

I completely agree with the sentiment of identifying with older generations. I'm a 27 electrical engineer and soon to be lawyer - I grew up on the internet (pre-graphics of course;) go BBS). I've always appreciated my grandparents' and their parents' generation more than the baby boomers. There are a lot of our Millennial Generation who feel like the Baby Boomers screwed up the world. My own father, born in 1955 believes this very thing.