When it comes to sharing content online, Millennials are perhaps the most generous generation. From pictures, to videos, to links, to files – the concept of online sharing is deeply ingrained within the Generation Y psyche. But when we speak about sharing amongst Millennials it’s generally viewed within a single, social networking silo. What about the offline world? Are Millennials as open to sharing **real** things as they are information online? A new article suggests maybe they are, but how accurate is it?
I stumbled across this article on The Hufington Post which suggests that Millennials are into more than simply sharing YouTube videos. The authors talk about the rise of “The Sharing Economy” which Millennials are embracing as way to achieve a better, smarter and more efficient way of life. Whether it be swapping clothes or abandoning the notion of owning a vehicle in favor or car sharing services like Getaround.com, the argument goes that Millennials are reassessing the notion of individual consumerism in favor of a more communal mindset.
I think there’s some truth to this notion, but it’s perhaps not as black and white as it appears to be.
From our work with Millennials one thing that’s resoundingly clear is that families play a critically important part in their world – perhaps more-so than other generations. Part of this is because Generation Y has been pampered and molly coddled by their parents and thus have developed a strong dependency on them. But all data suggests that when they look at what’s in store for the future, family always features as a number one priority.
This is particularly interesting because family units are the very embodiment of sharing. In fact in many cultures – especially some Asian countries – it’s not unusual for families to live together for their entire lives, with children staying with parents or parents moving in with children. This is something that hasn’t been so prevalent in mainstream American life, partially due to the fact that The American Dream has always placed such importance on property ownership and individual property rights. Owning a house and leaving the parental nest was something that Generation X absolutely aspired to, with their strong individualistic streak. But for Millennials this may no longer be a top priority.
Secondly, Millennials by nature are always challenging the status quo and conventional solutions to problems. While they sometimes lack the direction and leadership to figure out exactly HOW to change it, they certainly don’t accept the natural order of how life is organized. We can see this in the workplace, where Millennials are far more likely to embrace newer technologies like Skype, Google Docs and others that fall outside of the accepted corporate way of doing things. You can see it in career choices where simply slotting into a sensible 9-5 job is shunned in favor of pursuing something that they have a genuine interest in. And you can even see it in their outlook on politics, where they’re more inclined to believe that institutions such as Government can actually be a positive force for change. This runs directly counter to the long-standing majority view in America that Government is wasteful, inefficient or worse.
But while attitudinally they may be more inclined to embrace the concept of sharing, there’s an element of plain utility in their outlook too. The Great Recession has hit this group particularly hard and the sharing economy is a logical response to diminishing disposable incomes and trying to survive in a culture that’s defined by consumerism and spending. There’s also an element of bunker mentality too insofar as Millennials see many of their friends in exactly the same position as they are, and thus turning to a more collaborative way of living makes natural sense.
One more thing to consider. Millennials are being exposed to other cultures and countries in far greater numbers than any other generation. From friendships with overseas students at college to trips abroad, seeing how other cultures live is actually an important benchmark for how Millennials view their own life. Once upon a time the rest of the world learned from America, but now you can’t help but feel this is starting to flip.
Ultimately it’s important to realize that Millennials are not viewing the sharing economy as a political statement. This is not a mass movement of socialists looking to re-distribute wealth as a counter to the excesses of the 2000s. Sharing is a way to live smarter and help facilitate Millennials to reach their dreams. The old guard of blinkered individual ownership and excessive consumption is starting to show a few tiny cracks. The question is how far are Millennials prepared to push it.