How Millennials Will Script a Happier 2020 on the Internet


How Millennials Will Script a Happier 2020 on the Internet

Illustration: Hitesh Sonar

Ah, millennials. Maligned for destroying everything from breakfast cereal to India’s auto sector. But let me stand up for my fellow generational demographic members and remind everyone that they are also more likely to have liberal values, question religion/nationalism, are financially, politically, and environmentally conscious, and generally believe more in human rights than previous generations. Now part of this might be because of increased exposure to everything happening around them and social media, or it could also be because of events like the recession.

The recession, a financial catastrophe whose aftereffects millennials are still suffering through today, is a perfect example of how a lot of today’s problems have been caused by the so-called “boomer” generation. The older generation recklessly invested in polluting industries even though scientists have been crying themselves hoarse over the consequences since the ’70s. Corporate greed — from conglomerate-led-trusts then to Softbank-fueled-misadventures now — has not been very good for the common person, concentrating increasingly more money in fewer hands. Political crises around the world — Trump and Brexit to name two — have arisen from xenophobic boomers. And hey, that stereotypical image of millennials addicted to their phones all the time? Guess who made that addictive tech in the first place, all in the name of serving the shareholders.

But instead of the missteps of the last generation, let’s focus on the next one. The 2020s will be the decade when millennials come into power, assuming decision-taking roles in politics, culture, and business. They will form the largest voting bloc in a lot of democracies, and will definitely change a lot of things. But we’re here to look at millennials’ potential impact on just one industry, one they are inextricably associated with: the internet.

As we say goodbye to the 2010s, the once-utopian internet is overrun with misinformation, hate speech, and dopamine-boosting algorithms. Companies who have profited off the internet the most are also some of the biggest perpetrators — Facebook continues to allow lies in political advertising; Microsoft and Google have some shady contracts; Twitter is famously slow to clean up hate; and the less said about how Amazon treats workers and sellers, the better. Companies like these are primarily beholden to their shareholders (thanks again, boomers!), and it shows. Despite all the above mentioned controversies (and several more), the stocks of all companies are up, up, up.

Millennials are more likely to chase wealth sustainably.

Now, I’m not saying all millennials are angels, or that all of their predecessors are evil; indeed, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg himself technically qualifies as a millennial, as does Saudi Arabia’s journalist-murdering crown prince. What I’m saying is, millennials are more likely to chase wealth sustainably. Whatever your political affiliation, the news and peer pressure are likely to shape a more responsible world view (as we’re already seeing, as trust in internet giants plummets). There are reports showing Business Ethics — normally considered a “timepass subject” — is in much demand in business schools.

Driven by millennial demand, companies are becoming more sustainable. At the very least, even if it’s only money one is chasing, millennials are more likely to believe that investing in building trust today could lead to profits tomorrow. Technology firms do attract a more liberal mindset, and hey, if a few people have wrecked the internet today, it could be another few who fix it tomorrow.

It’s also just that… It’s inevitable. I am reminded of Russell Peters’ observation that white people can try all they want to run from us, but eventually, all of the Earth is just going to be various shades of beige.

That’s true for technology too. Immigration means we will see more egalitarian solutions crop up. Even Silicon Valley’s most ardent admirers will admit it’s a place largely tailored to heterosexual white males living in coastal US cities, not forseeing problems that eventually came to all tech platforms. It ain’t diversity for diversity’s sake — a woman’s opinion could have helped make Uber safer, for example. This will be bolstered by programmes such as Girls Who Code and CLT India whose alumni will be of decision-making age in the 2020s. It’s not unfathomable that they would use their brains to solve problems of underserved communities and not making an app that finds you a dog-walker (before you ask, yes, it exists, and Softbank pumped $300m into it).

And the beauty of the internet is, it needs only a few people to drive it and popular opinion.

Millennials are also likely to infuse climate change-fighting policies and products. They’re likely to stand up for what they believe because their transgressions will be forgiven by other like-minded people, perhaps even welcomed (all people who were fired from Google for staging activism, for example, found immediate opportunities via Twitter).

And the beauty of the internet is, it needs only a few people to drive it and popular opinion. While just falling short of millennial qualification, imagine what Greta Thunberg will do by 2030, when she turns 26. Imagine the hundreds of others, like her, now equipped with money, voting rights, and power.

I might be optimistic here, but I do think that at least online, things are going to get better. Hopefully then, we can add online misinformation and business recklessness to things that millennials have destroyed.