Savir's corner: The Millennials

This generation, born into the Internet age, is bears on its wings a wind of change, the world over.

PEACE SYMBOLS adorn a fence. 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
PEACE SYMBOLS adorn a fence. 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As a result of the information and technology revolutions, the most important gap between people’s mindset today is not between East and West, North and South, rich and poor, but a generational divide. There is a young generation that is more informed, educated and interconnected than ever before in history.
This generation, born into the Internet age, is bears on its wings a wind of change, the world over. It is a change toward greater openness of society, democratization, social awareness and peace, led by the global army of the Internet.
In America, this generation is defined as Generation Y or the Millennials; people born after 1983 who passed into adulthood at the change of the millennium (people 20 to 30 years old). This generation came after Generation X (30-45 years old), who in turn were born after the post-World War II baby boomers (45-60 years old). The characteristics of the Millennials in the United States are important to understand, as when it comes to progress, much of the world will follow America, has been the case in the past.
The American Millennials are definitely the people of the Internet. Seventy-five percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 30 have created profiles on social networking sites as compared to 50% of Generation X. In that age group every fifth young American has posted a video of him or herself on the Internet, a new world of transparency. In a generation for whom the virtual world is the real world, friends are made on Facebook, views are expressed in personal blogs, even matchmaking is done on the Web. The windows of Microsoft have become windows to the world. Young people correspond with their peers the world over by email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.
This generation is the most educated in history. Half of the Americans between 18 an 24 are enrolled in academic colleges. It is also the most heterogeneous and multicultural.
The dominance of the American WASPS (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) is over. Forty percent of Americans between 20 and 30 are not white and half of them are Latinos.
This background of education, international connectivity, and multiculturalism forms a relatively liberal generation.
According to extensive public opinion surveys, such as a 2010 Pew Research Center poll, the Millennials identify themselves, in the majority, as liberals. They are less supportive than Generation X of assertive national security policies, and more supportive of a national domestic social agenda.
Only 2% of the Millennials are military veterans. One-third of Generation X are military veterans.
There are of course many opposing characteristics in this generation, but the trend is a very reformative one that will have important consequences for America’s social fabric, values and policies.
The world, regardless of attitudes toward America, is following this trend, as the young in almost all countries are affected by the same changes in communication, education and multiculturalism. The world’s Millennials – young people, be it in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, most of Asia, and even Africa, aim to reap the fruits of globalization. In this they sense a greater empowerment through the connection on social networks. They are creating alliances in their own communities and the world over. They can express their views to their political leaders without waiting for Election Day. They are mobilizing for social struggle and change of leadership by peaceful means – from Occupy Wall Street to Tahrir Square.
Social networking has become the new great democratizer; everybody is equal on Facebook and Twitter. Differences of nationality, color, race, religion, gender, and sexual identity are irrelevant. Neither Barack Obama nor a coal miner in Chile can exceed 140 characters on Twitter; neither can a multi-billionaire.
That empowerment and democratization will lead to profound changes, not only in America, but in many parts of the world, for those who will choose to be part of globalization.
The world of the Millennials will be a world in which government will be less relevant and more attentive to the new voice of the people; even non-democratic regimes will find it hard to block or censor Facebook. Young people will break the walls of fear from intelligence services and will protest for their most basic rights – the right to life, education, freedom of movement, and the right to be different.
Young women will be at the forefront of this quiet revolution with courage and determination; they struggle against the most prevalent oppressions of all, by men against women.
The Millennials understand the great value of education first and foremost for their children and themselves in higher education which is spreading the world over on the Internet. Some classes are already followed by hundreds of thousands in online education: the smartphone is beginning to deserve its name. Education is the basis for skills-based employment in order to realize the opportunities provided by the technological revolution.
This generation cares more for social causes than for national ambitions. Civil rights and equality, especially among the young, are important to the Millennials.
They are more engaged in civil society activities for the needy in their cities, countries and the world. Many volunteer at home, with the disabled, or minorities, or in Africa in child and orphan centers, bringing awareness in combatting malaria and AIDS.
The Western world Millennial Generation should take upon itself the rehabilitation of the African continent together with the Millennials in Africa.
War seems futile to most young, as it achieves nothing for their lives. A victory in war can only lead to mutual destruction and cannot lead to education, employment or the attainment of basic freedoms. The American Peace Corps is today more important to many young Americans than the Marines. Through it, they can contribute and learn. The same is true for many other young who volunteer in many international NGOs.
Generation Y has also produced many terrorists, but they are becoming more isolated in their societies. It’s a generation that favors peace, not out of a John Lennon peace ideology, but out of pragmatism in order to imagine and acquire education, employment and basic rights, in a globalized world.
In Europe, the young have long ago given up on wars. French and German young meet on campus, not on the battlefield. In the US there is a growing opposition among the young toward American military involvement, as we witnessed during the Syrian crisis. Diplomacy is preferred, not necessarily out of isolationism, but within a new form of peaceful international involvement.
What maybe affects the Millennials most, and forms their attitudes, is a new global multiculturalism. While in the past, globalization seemed to impose a Western megaculture, today the interaction of cultures on social networks together with global tourism and the great mobility of students have created a more multi-cultural environment.
Young women and men listen to African or Latin American music on YouTube or follow courses on Buddhism and yoga through podcasts. While the language of the Internet is English, there is in today’s young world a greater mixture of cultures. Racism and xenophobia have little space in cyberspace. Multiculturalism leads, by definition, to greater tolerance of each other, which is the key to more open societies and to mutual understanding among them.
The Middle East has its own Millennials.
In the Arab world, they are 60% of the population.
While most cling to religion and tradition, they also want to belong to globalization.
Education, employment and basic freedoms are the main aims of this generation. And with this comes a growing understanding that these are unattainable without peaceful coexistence.
The dictators and religious fanatics, who are still powerful, have a hard time controlling this generation, as Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi found out first-hand.
In the future, the rift between oppressors, political and religious, and those who rebel against them, will only grow. The Arab Generation Y will, with time, give birth to leadership more open to the globalized world.
Israel too has its Millennial Generation – when they were born the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was a fact of life, Israel was still entrenched in Lebanon; JFK and The Beatles belonged to the past. Young Israelis are among the most active in the world on social networks; they also study online, and contribute most to Israel as a start-up nation. They utterly distrust the government of the day, as was expressed in the Rothschild Boulevard protests. They love to travel abroad and sometimes study there. While highly patriotic, they want us to belong to the technological and scientific revolutions in the world. With time, and maybe the hard way, most of them will find out that they can reach this goal only if Israel will decide to prefer peace over settlements.
They will, without any mediators, discover that their Arab peers are not that much different in their basic aspirations.
This is not true for the majority of Israelis and Arabs, but is becoming increasingly apparent with members or the Millennial Generation, at least the secular ones.
Peace, like the advance of technology and science, is now a generational issue. One hopes that with time it will come via the young and for the young.
An example of this commonality of the Middle Eastern Millennials took place two weeks ago on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. The US State Department, well aware of the Millennial Generation, organized a conference for 120 Israeli and Arab (from Palestine, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Iraq) students of the YaLa Young Leaders peace movement.
The US had, in the previous years, sponsored online courses for these students in conflict resolution and negotiations from the best American universities. These young of different political outlooks had no problem in creating a common language in their meetings, tired of old politics, opting for a better life, in a better region – a Millennial Generation language that they had practiced for a year in their online courses and in creating friendships through Facebook.
And a word to Generation X and the baby boomers who look at the Millennials often with paternalism and skepticism – give them a chance, and let them lead.
Uri Savir is the president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator of the Oslo Accords.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.