Millennials at the Gates

The coming of age of the Millennial Generation, the first civic generation since the GI Generation (dubbed the Greatest by Tom Brokaw), is converging with the arrival of the most civic-friendly communication technologies we have ever seen. And with this convergence, American politics is being reshaped. That was the message delivered yesterday by Morley Winograd and Michael Hais at the Internet Advocacy Roundtable. The authors of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube & the Future of American Politics provided some serious grist for the mill to the audience gathered at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Building on a rich body of research about political realignment in America, Hais and Winograd explained that a key driving force in realigning the political landscape is the arrival of new communications technology, and the coming of age of a new generation that embraces the technology and demands its incorporation into the political process. The rise of radio in the 1930′s and television in the 1960′s both reshaped politics in this country. And today, the rise of online social media is doing it once again.

While those past innovations surely transformed politics in their days, what is unique about the new media is that it is not just broadcast, or one to many, in how it communicates. It is not even just interactive, allowing the polity to connect with campaigns and organizations in a back and forth dialogue. But it also enables people to communicate with each other as they engage in the political process.

The days of pandering to isolated audiences are over.

The new political dynamic created by social media and a civic-minded generation is creating an enormous push towards transparency. Not just towards articulated transparency, but towards manifested transparency. In fact, given the record levels of attention by the people towards politics (as reported by the Pew Internet & American Life Project), the tools that allow anyone to break through privacy barriers (as evidenced by hackers cracking Governor Sarah Palin’s personsal email), and efforts by non-profit groups like the Sunlight Foundation to pull back the curtains on the engines of government, real transparency is inevitable because there are fewer places to hide.

I have long advocated that the rise of the internet, along with Google and smart mobile phones, is creating an envirnoment where those who try to hide behind veils in politics will be exposed and suffer for it. In the age of social media, authenticity trumps scripting every time. Politicians who always speak from the heart will always get more forgiveness when they gaffe than those who try to present a scripted facade.

And the Millennial Generation, 95 million strong, are eating this new world up. Nurtured by their parents as kids, embracing a cooperative view of the world as adults, they are using these new communications tools to force a transformation of politics. Read all about it in Winograd and Hais’s book, and then open your browser and gaze into the future.

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  • Greg Rollett


    The tools only facilitate the conversation. Mainstream media cannot connect with Gen-Y the way that the Internet can. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert come close, but are not completely there yet. Te Internet gives power back to the small voices and initiatives that started this country. Gen-Y is information driven and that is the basis of the Internet.

  • JK

    I have no doubt that I should pick up the book and read (and have added it to the Amazon Wish List as a reminder to do so), but can you comment on what their evidence is that “American politics is being reshaped”?

    I think while we all assume this is true (and I certainly count myself among the “we”), the electorate hasn’t shown that to be accurate (yet). While we all talk about how the presidential campaign is going to bring a flood of new voters to the polls for the first time, that hasn’t happened (again, yet). And we don’t know that it will happen until we start analyzing the data on November 5.

    I think that it’s wise of both political parties to be reaching out to these voters now, learning more about them and what makes them tick. But until they prove they actually will show up at the polls, I’m slightly hesitant to proclaim that politics in America is over as we know it (though a good thing that may be!) :-)

    Just a thought…

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  • Mhunter

    oh, so much was told about the new Millenium! most predictions were pretty scarry… still, nothing happened:) now we discuss the end of the world in 2012… it seems that people just need to await smth bad(((