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Last year, Author and speaker Simon Sinek talked on Inside Quest (the first video in post) about millennials and how addiction to technology is leading to “bad” habits and costing their workplace and personal relationships. It soon went viral and created a buzz online.
Honestly, as a millennial myself, it was hard for me to watch it through for the first time (but I did watch it in complete on the second pass) because of the words he uses in the very beginning: entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, and lazy. It is never easy to swallow a generalized yet negative criticism about your generation, especially when you think you are nothing like what he says. A few months after all kinds of voices were buzzing on the Internet, Sinek posted a follow-up video (the second video in post) to further explain his previous arguments and back them up in a rather moderate diction. After watching this further explanation, I went through a third pass on the previous one and now I do have some thoughts to respond to this discussion, seeing what Sinek is right and wrong about.
Why millennials are behaving this way (entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, and lazy)? Sinek addresses it using four categories: Parenting, Environment, Technology and Immediacy. While I don’t think this is a well-established framework for explaining millennials’ condition. By immediacy he means that Millennials are accustomed to instant gratification, and so are impatient and don’t want to invest sufficient time and effort in solving problems in the real world. Indeed, we millennials are living or even were born in a culture of quick and easy access, and we may get frustrated and impatient when a solution is not as fast and easy as expected. Sinek thinks that millennials got this way because of the adoption of technology, which is fair in that people have a tendency towards over-reliance of technology, for example, approaching to Google first instead of self-thinking when encounter problems. However, this is just the flawed part. Technology and immediacy are not distinct categories in the same level but should be more in a subordinate relationship. The same case applies to Environment. The environment where millennials are living is largely shaped by technology, more specifically, internet and new media technology. In this case, the four categories are not strictly framed. I think that may be the reason why he merges those things into Environment in his follow-up discussion video.
When talking about the addition to technology, Sinek argues that millennials are sacrificing their personal relationship in the real world to seek for online connection and it’s wrong. This makes sense because we do see these kinds of situations happen, people are sitting around on a table holding their cellphones with zero talking. I won’t say that it’s not a problem, however, it’s unfair to out value offline conversations to online communication. Just because it doesn’t happen face-to-face, doesn’t mean it’s not real or can’t contribute to meaningful relationships.
In terms of parenting, which Sinek refers to the “you’re special” approach, it would be very hollow and hasty to generalize that it is wrong without further solid discussion. Every one of us should be viewed as special, no matter we are millennials or not. Each of us has different personalities and experience, which makes every individual unique and help them build confidence. The problem is not necessarily that people are being told “you’re special”, it gets into trouble when they start thinking that they’re the only one unique and way more unique than anyone else. But what Sinek does right is bring this up and making millennials be aware of that. He mentions that in social media we filter ourselves, we get likes and appraise, which easily makes us feel like we’re more likable, special, and important than others. And once there are less likes, we may feel uncomfortable or even depressed.
In the last of his talk, Sinek argues that there is nothing wrong with technology and social media, and what matters is the balance of usage, which is definitely a measure of truth, easy-to-know but hard-to-practice. However, it may not be 100% wrong with millennials neither. Most of us millennials are offered easy ways out in the very beginning, having few opportunities to experience the past and understand the conflict between. Some people take it for granted while others are motivated by this moral panic to seek for cure. I’m a big believer in balancing. I think it would be beneficial for millennials to understand the differences between past and now, and self-introspect to find a balance for contradiction and opposition.
I like that Sinek further addresses it with empathy and what he calls “Help-Others industry.” It’s all about understanding and communicating, and it’s not unilateral.