Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Generation Y, Trust, and the Transparency Movement

Generation Y, the young people who came of age after the millennium, is the first generation in recent history to operate in a distrust economy rather than a trust economy. The last American generation to live in a distrust economy was, not coincidentally, the generation that survived the Great Depression.

Now that we are a decade into the Great Recession, with the government shut down due to partisan squabbles and a clear erosion of trust within once-functional institutions like universities, corporations and even local communities, Generation Y has no experience of the trust economy that shaped the viewpoints of their parents and grandparents. Unlike their Great Depression counterparts, however, Generation Y has unprecedented access to information and data, and is using this access to push for greater transparency and open data.

This distrust economy had its nascent fingers in the public consciousness when Generation Y was born. Communities began closing doors, and formerly-typical childhood activities, like sending children to play in a public park unsupervised, were now illegal. Generation Y watched as peers staged mass shootings in schools like Columbine, and then endured the shift to classrooms that practiced zero-tolerance policies, suspending children for carrying an aspirin or pointing a finger and saying "bang bang." It was clear even from birth that the community was falling into disorder.

According to social scientists George Kelling and James Wilson, signs of disorder in a community can help set the stage for criminal activity. Gen Y does not put full trust in the community to protect them from this. They grew up under Hillary Clinton's statement that "it takes a village," but their childhood proved the opposite was the case. Now they don't trust the village at all, instead enlisting companies like to provide extra security for their family.

The increased shift from a trust economy to a distrust economy is one of the key driving forces behind the transparency movement. If you can't trust CEO’s to be honest about profits, or governments to be honest about their upcoming plans, you have to take back that information any way you can.

The truth is out there, and we're all Mulder and Scully now.

It's no coincidence that the push towards open data came after all the kids who watched The X-Files in the tail end of the millennium finally grew up. Wild conspiracy theories weren't just entertainment to Generation Y; they were their reality. Unlike previous generations, they didn't have 30 years of a trust economy to buffet their senses when everything changed; they were barely teenagers when the economy came down, their parents' retirement funds were wiped out in an afternoon, and it became obvious that everyone from Rumsfeld to Madoff to Washington Mutual to Kevin Clash was lying to them.

By the time Gen Y became adults, it was clear that their parents' and grandparents' concept of company loyalty and a job for life was gone. Also gone were the days when you never locked the front doors and banks took care of you when hard times occurred.

So they adapted. They packed up their liquids and gels and learned the hard way that neither their college loans, nor their unpaid internships, nor any other aspects of their lives, were actually operating in their best interests.

Charlie Stross wrote a brilliant essay that illustrates why it had to be Gen Y kids who forced the issue of transparency into the national consciousness.

"Gen Y has never thought of jobs as permanent things. Gen Y will stare at you blankly if you talk about loyalty to their employer; the old feudal arrangement ("we'll give you a job for life and look after you as long as you look out for the Organization") is something their grandparents maybe ranted about, but it's about as real as the divine right of kings. And slighted or bruised employees who lack instinctive loyalty because the culture they come from has spent generations systematically destroying social hierarchies and undermining their sense of belonging are much more likely to start thinking the unthinkable."

In a society where people are lied to at every turn, where even national heroes like David Petraeus and Lance Armstrong are hoping we'll look the other way, where companies routinely create illegal internships and then demand Gen Y work for free, where young adults are consistently blindsided at every corner; of course they're going to want transparency.

The Boomer Generation, in many ways, believed the distrust economy was only temporary. Generation Y knows it's going to stick around, at least until the transparency and open government movement becomes a full-fledged national reality. The message is clear: Loyalty and trust do not come from promises. Loyalty and trust comes when the truth is freely visible.

Source: Business Vibes

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