This is syndicated from a 2006 article I wrote for Prosper Magazine when I served as project leader on a student blogging project for the 2006 Perspectives conference in Sacramento, California.
Gen-Y, Transforming the World with Technology
When Prosper Magazine asked me to take the lead on its student Perspectives blog event, I jumped at the chance to assemble a group of local students from UC Davis and Sac State to voice our opinions to the local community. The voice of the youth only transforms society very slowly, and is only taken seriously by some. But it is the voice of things to come.
So, when I was asked to step outside of my technical role, out of administrative duties and out of recruiting, and speak here about what issues I believe will shape the future of our country, I thought back to a recent incident when an acquaintance accused the students of my generation of being lazy and apathetic to our education and to the world around us. In a setting of “adults” who agreed with her, it was hard to argue my case. But now let me tell you how I believe we are slowly transforming society. And let this serve as both my answer to the question “What issue do I think will shape our future” and my answer to why you should pay attention to this student blog series.
I will begin my argument by admitting that our reliance on text chat, IMing, online dictionaries, calculators, SparkNotes, Napster, YouTube, MySpace, and other resources can indeed lead to some laziness, but my generation—the Gen-Yers or Millenials, as we are called—a generation which is currently becoming increasingly educated and entering the workforce—is not apathetic! My generation is simply utilizing technology and software to find new, and oftentimes more efficient, ways to solve the traditional problems that generations past have always had to solve.
I could tell you how the new millionaires are the 20- and 30-something programmers like Tom Anderson, Max Levchin, and Kevin Rose (see the recent issue of BusinessWeek). I could tell you how the internet is providing new ways for us to connect with each other through sites like MySpace, Facebook, and their business-oriented counterpart LinkedIn. I could tell you how I think we are slowly taking the corporate control out of consumerism with co-creation sites such as CafePress and Zazzle.com. I could talk about how blogs and podcasts are providing a new grassroots information outlet, and sites like Wikipedia, Digg.com and del.icio.us are empowering the everyman to have a say in which information, and which news issues, are most important—one of my personal favorites. But I will focus on three examples that are making real differences in the world.
There are many blogs I read every day. Several that are influencing the direction of the worldwide web—Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo for news and politics, Lifehacker for productivity solutions, and PFblog and I Will Teach You To Be Rich for finance and money matters. Ramit Sethi is the aggressive Stanford grad blogger who claims to be able to teach you to be rich. I find his mission to be the most interesting—because he combines his online presence with real-life financial seminars he gives (often for free), but mostly because he targets college students! Through stories of his own entrepreneurial experience, smart financial deals, and wise saving habits, he is undoubtedly transforming the lives of his readers.
To quote one of my favorite songs by Faithless, “Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction.” While some of my classmates may tend to be physically inactive, spending their days on MySpace or playing Halo 2, inactivity does not equal inaction. I run my own weblog to get the word out about current issues I think will have an impact on our lives, and like me, there are many individuals across the globe using the internet and other technologies to promote social change. The net has supported many large ground-up social campaigns like Million Voices For Darfur, a campaign to send one million postcards to President Bush to ask Congress to support more aid to the genocide-stricken region in Sudan, started by the Save Darfur Coalition, which has spread like wildfire across the web and inspired several student-run groups like STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur), the Genocide Intervention Network, and Students Against Genocide.
Also in the business of changing the way society interacts, Kiva.org is a brand new service that I recently came across. Its mission is to provide a link between American capitalists and third-world working poor, harnessing a new concept called microfinance. In the words of the organization’s president, Premal Shah, the company aims to “allow individuals to make small loans to low-income entrepreneurs in the developing world. In this way, people like you can help provide affordable working capital for the world’s poor—money to buy a sewing machine, livestock, etc.—empowering them to start a business and earn their way out of poverty.” Amounts as little as $25 can make a significant difference for someone in the developing world. It is not an investment—more of a charitable contribution, with the goal not being financial return, just the repayment of the principal. But, by putting capabilities like this in the public arena like they never have been before, organizations like Kiva and Omidyar Network could truly reshape the landscape of international business and economics.
So, while many of us doze off, text message, play video games, or visit MySpace in class, remember that our methods of consumption, news aggregation, communication, and finance are slowly making an impact on the world—one which I hope will be positive as we slowly learn to take the reigns of society. The challenges that will face us in this endeavor are to make sure that the lines of communication stay as open as possible (see: Net Neutrality) and to make sure that truly cutting-edge ideas like the ones I’ve mentioned above get the proper amount of financial support (in the form of venture capital investment, charity, and philanthropy). And remember, as you read these student blogs, that you are witnessing the transformation in the way information is communicated.