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After the Match: The Million-Dollar Question What Do Millennials Want?

Cook, Thomas, MD

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000546150.32911.d6
After the Match

Dr. Cookis the program director of the emergency medicine residency at Palmetto Health Richland in Columbia, SC. He is also the founder of 3rd Rock Ultrasound (http://emergencyultrasound.com). Friend him atwww.facebook.com/3rdRockUltrasound, follow him on Twitter @3rdRockUS, and read his past columns athttp://bit.ly/EMN-Match.

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“The video that broke the internet” has more than five million hits, but it is not even close to the top of the list of most viewed YouTube videos, which are almost exclusively music videos with views in the billions. This video I found is very popular for an 18-minute discussion on a controversial topic. It's not funny or glamorous—it's just an interview with a man most people have never heard of called Simon Sinek. I stumbled across it while searching for information on millennial thinking. “The video that broke the internet” sounded pretty provocative, so I clicked on the bait.

Mr. Sinek is charming and articulate. He has a number of books on bestseller lists. He was asked the question that parents, educators, and most attending physicians want to know in the video: “What do millennials want?”

Mr. Sinek condensed his answer into four categories: parenting, technology, impatience, and environment. He was quick to note that the perceived shortcomings of millennial behavior are not the fault of millennials but rather the circumstances under which they live. (http://bit.ly/2LugX2g.) He brought up the common dilemmas of helicopter parenting and “everyone gets a trophy,” but he also worked in unique components of modern society and how they affect young adult behavior. Has Mr. Sinek put together a cohesive way to understand why this generation seems so different?

Consider the following: “[Young people] have exalted notions because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things—and that means having exalted notions. They would always rather do noble deeds than useful ones: Their lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by reasoning—all their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They overdo everything—they love too much, hate too much, and the same with everything else.”

It certainly sounds like someone is describing millennials, but these words are from Aristotle. Older and younger adults have struggled to understand each other for thousands of years. Are we griping about generational differences that have been around forever and will never go away? It is certainly possible. Mr. Sinek may be on to something, however, in citing the unique pressures of computer technology and how it fosters impatience and the incessant search for pleasure (AKA dopamine) in young adults of the 21st century.

Computer technology has altered how we interact on nearly every level of human activity. But there is a difference between how older adults and younger ones interact with the digital world. Those born before 1980 are “digital immigrants.” (KPBS. Aug. 10, 2009; http://bit.ly/2JDDffY.) They initially learned nondigital ways of acquiring information and interacting with other people. Rotary phones, snail mail, newspapers, and card catalogs are just a fraction of the tools that are now essentially useless. Just as the ability to become truly fluent in a nonnative language requires exposure before the age of 10, our ability to think completely in a digital format will be always be limited by how we initially learned to communicate with others and the age at which we first start to think digitally.

Those born after 1980 are “digital natives.” They do not know a world without computers, cell phones, video games, and digital music. By the time they graduate from high school, they will have sent more than a quarter of a million emails and three million texts, played 10,000 hours of video games, talked on cell phones for another 10,000 hours, and watched more than 20,000 hours of television. Interestingly, they will spend less than 9,000 hours attending school. The net result is that their brains are completely fluent in digital interfaces. They may struggle to read a book and have lousy penmanship, but they move intuitively through any digital task. Even their brains are different. Functional MRI studies revealed activity in entirely different areas of their brains compared with non-millennials. (Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 2009;17[2]:116.)

But Mr. Sinek also described the downsides for millennials living in an age of abundance. Instant digital gratification impairs patience and the ability to understand that living an impactful life requires time and grit. Frustration breeds easily when you spend the first two decades of your life getting more and more of what you want and expending almost no effort. Mr. Sinek's video moved me to think differently about the young adults with whom I work, and, in particular, the residents who have entrusted me to guide them through some of the most amazing years of their lives. Take a look at the video yourself, and let me know what you think.

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