Guest post: Being Generation Y

This guest post was written by Nastassja de la Guerre, a candidate attorney at Jacobson Attorneys. You can follow Nastassja on Twitter at @ndelaguerre.

The spread and ever increasingly availability of the Internet and digital and media technologies are the biggest evolution in human history since the industrial revolution. These developments have sent Generation Y on an evolutionary rollercoaster traveling faster than your average broadband and have caused many social changes and adaptions. With these changes emerge a generation that is completely misunderstood and highly criticized.

Among the MANY complaints about Generation Y are self-centeredness, an inability to manage time, a need for frequent praise, a lack of respect for elders, a sense of entitlement, little understanding of client service and poor face-to-face communication skills. “Generation Y is entitled, lazy, selfish, tech savvy, and incompetent,” is how Scott Greenfield, one of the finest criminal defence attorneys in NY puts it. Is this really the case? Or are we merely misunderstood?

Generation Y

We were not part of the starting up stages of the dot com boom, but rather we are part of an age where if you don’t have Internet access or a mobile phone we actually think you are an alien. 1995 marked the commercialisation of the Internet. I was 6, a year before I started school.  We are part of a generation where information is literally at our fingertips and Google has become our professor.  To put it into perspective: the average 15 year old has access to more information than the president of the USA had 15 years ago. Does this mean we are arrogant and know-it-alls? Nope, it just simply means we are well informed.

Like any other generation, generation Y has been shaped by the events, leaders, developments and trends of its time. The rise of instant communication technologies, new media used through websites like YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter has shaped us into the people we are, how we function in the work-place and how we respond to the law and government. We are in the age of mass creativity. We no longer want to be told what something is or who we are or how we should act. Rather, we make up our own minds and choose our own paths. This independence is highlighted by the heightened importance we place on our human rights, particularly the right to privacy, equality and freedom-the principals our Constitution is founded on.

Yes, of course, with new technology comes new crime and misbehaviour. We have seen this in the London riots of 2011 where social media platforms and instant messaging were largely to blame for how well the riots were orchestrated and how communications regarding the riots could be sent across to different individuals instantly.  Or the infamous Stuxnet virus, designed by unknown parties, which made headlines in 2010 when it worked its way into Iran’s nuclear programme. Or the Occupy Wall Street movement. But rather than blaming social media and instant messaging as well as our apparently immoral, disrespectful and lazy generation, governments should ask Y we are the way we are.  Economic prospects for the Millennials have worsened due to the late 2000s recession. Out of a population of 49-million, 7.5-million South Africans are currently out of work. Young people are worst affected, with over half of 18- to 25-year-olds unemployed. “This is a crisis. We call it a ticking bomb,” said Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu’s general secretary. “We think that one day there may be an explosion. Seventy-three percent of people who are unemployed in South Africa are below the age of 35 and a lot of them have been to universities.” Several governments have instituted major youth employment schemes out of fear of social unrest due to the dramatically increased rates of youth unemployment, with South Africa being no exception. President Zuma has promised to create five million jobs by 2020 in his recent State of the Nation address.

You may ask Y it is so important to change employment schemes and the working environment. Generation Y make up 27% of the population and about 5% of the legal profession. We’ve grown up in an environment where every fact, idea and opinion has a forum in which to be expressed. This leads to a movement away from the idea of being ordered to do something by your employer, but rather a strong need to collaborate and exchange ideas

Aside from the unemployment, other challenges we face is the world we grew up in. Our childhoods were tainted by major social unrest and reform. Unfortunately we also experienced a lot of empty promises from government and institutions and A LOT of divorce. This perhaps led us to learn to take care of ourselves and not to rely on institutions and outdated traditions. We have moved past the counter-culture of the 1990s. Race, sexuality, political views, religion, marital status don’t define who we are. We define ourselves through expression and collaboration. Therefore, Generation Y has high expectations of their employers, we seek out new challenges and are not afraid to question authority. This could become extremely challenging in the legal profession as well as other classical careers such as accounting, architecture, etc as these professions are based on age-old traditions and knowledge passed on from one generation to another in working environments where there is a definite hierarchy. Richard Susskind expresses it very clearly by stating that a trait common in large law firms is “irrational rejectionism”– perhaps because it is far easier to reject new ideas than give them a chance. Let’s take Paul Chambers’ story: He was arrested for a tweet he sent about Robin Hood Airport in England in January 2010. The airport suffered repeated service delays and disruptions due to cold weather, prompting Chambers to tweet:

“Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

Chambers was later convicted for sending a “message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” under the UK Communications Act of 2003, causing him to lose his job, gain a criminal record and a mountain of fees and legal costs. TV personality, activist, and social media comedian Stephen Fry has taken sides in the Paul Chambers “Twitter Joke Trial,” saying that British judges fundamentally don’t understand how Twitter works. Fry’s stance raises the issue about the generation gap between our technology and social media driven generation and those asked to adjudicate these issues

But it isn’t all bad for us.

In his recent state of the nation address, President Zuma had typed his entire speech on an iPad. The ANC spokesperson describes the president as always being on his iPad and constantly checking and responding to social media platforms, especially Twitter.  Helen Zille is known for her responsiveness and active engagement on both Twitter and Facebook. This indicates that the government is making the move into our generation and are desperately trying to connect with us. The government is starting to recognise our need to be heard and to be able to express our opinions, a strong feature of Generation Y.

Image credit: Generation Y by Mighty mighty bigmac, licensed CC BY-ND 2.0