The power and influence of the Boomer generation began in earnest in the late 1960's when they followed Silent Generation leaders and protested the war in Vietnam, fought for Civil Rights and women's lib, began Earth Day and rocked out at Woodstock.
The power and influence of the Millennial Generation, those born in 1983 and later, is coming into focus as that generation reaches their late teens and early 20's. But it doesn't look like it's going to be similar.
First, Bob Hebert's op/ed in The New York Times "Here Comes the Millennials" points out, this generation faces tough times, and will want the government to provide significant help:
This is a generation that is in danger of being left out of the American dream — the first American generation to do less well economically than their parents. And that economic uncertainty appears to have played a big role in shaping their views of government and politics...That doesn't sound like the future facing Boomers in the late 1960's and early 70's.
...Younger voters struggling with the enormous costs of a college education, or trying to raise families in a bleak employment environment, or using their credit cards to cover everyday expenses like food or energy costs are not much interested in hearing that the government to which they pay taxes can do little or nothing to help them.
Even less promising is Mark Bauerlein's new book, The Dumbest Generation, about how the digital age is a good time to be young as long as you don't mind a tendency towards empty-headedness. This review, "Can U Read Kant?" in today's The Wall Street Journal sums it up:
Adults are so busy imagining the ways that technology can improve classroom learning or improve the public debate that they've blinded themselves to the collective dumbing down that is actually taking place. The kids are using their technological advantage to immerse themselves in a trivial, solipsistic, distracting online world at the expense of more enriching activities – like opening a book or writing complete sentences.
Mr. Bauerlein presents a wealth of data to show that young people, with the aid of digital media, are intensely focusing on themselves, their peers and the present moment. YouTube and MySpace, he says, are revealingly named: These and other top Web destinations are "peer to peer" environments in the sense that their juvenile users have populated them with predictably juvenile content. The sites where students spend most of their time "harden adolescent styles and thoughts, amplifying the discourse of the lunchroom and keg party, not spreading the works of the Old Masters."
We aren't sure what the future holds for the Millennials, but we hope it is better than this. It has to be.