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Monday, December 10, 2007

Will the Millennial Generation Still Think S.F. Is Cool? Will They Even Use the Word “Cool”?

Posted By on Mon, Dec 10, 2007 at 9:03 AM

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America’s most populous generation yet gets ready to rule the iWorld

By Joe Eskenazi

In assessing the nation’s future as the eldest members of our largest generation in history turn 25, one could gauge optimism or pessimism via a pair of refrains from The Who: “The Kids are Alright” or “Teenage Wasteland.”*

Morley Winograd puts himself firmly in the optimistic camp: “The kids are alright,” says the co-author of the forthcoming book “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics.”

And yet, Winograd has another, double-edged word to describe the roughly 80 million Americans born between 1982 and 2003: Special.

“That is what they were taught they were. All their parents gave them lots of encouragement and raised them as special children who could do anything. They grew up thinking they could do great things – and they probably will do great things,” said Winograd, a former senior policy adviser to Vice President Al Gore

“As they enter the workforce, the zeitgeist from Millennials is certainly optimism and self-confidence. But the danger is ... a lot of child-rearing approaches their parents used tried to avoid failure and loss. Most of their youth sports teams didn’t even have winners and losers. Everyone got a trophy. So if they feel ‘If I do my best that’s good enough and I don’t need to be judged or evaluated’ – that creates problems for employers.”

But, continues Winograd, employers in San Francisco and elsewhere may just have to deal with the younger generation’s behavioral quirks. There are more of them and their way of life is taking over. The incessant social networking via an omnipresent Web, a ubiquitous iPod in the ear, conversations conducted with eyes glued to a cell phone a billion times more powerful than the ENIAC computer and enough text-messaging to fill up a phone book (“Daddy, what’s a phone book?”) – that’s all going to become routine.

Of course, the question San Franciscans may have is, what will these young people think of us? And the short answer is, they won’t care about you. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Counter-intuitively, Winograd thinks…

it’s both.

Millennials – also known as Generation Y – are so numerous because of the convergence of older Baby Boomers having children at the same time as conventionally aged Gen-X’ers. And the San Francisco both of those generations gaze at through a rose-colored (and patchouli-scented) mist may not be so appealing for their upwardly mobile progenies.

“My impression is San Francisco is no longer the young people’s city it was,” said Winograd.

In other words, the young people who made the city cool in the 60s are the old people who make it… whatever it is… today.

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“And the danger for San Francisco is it will stay locked into a sort of cultural attitude and milieu of the prior generations. Boomers all think fondly of the Summer of Love and Gen-X’ers love the edginess of San Francisco. But none of that is appealing to Millennials. There’s a possibility San Francisco will move away from being a major cultural influence and become more of an outlier. Young people will think S.F. is passé,” guessed Winograd, currently the executive director of the Center for Telecom Management at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

“It might end up looking the way Disneyland did to Gen-X’ers in the 1980s.” Where have we heard that before?

Winograd notes that young Millennials’ incredibly social nature could lead them to re-create their college existences in certain city enclaves – but that lifestyle would grow old even more quickly than the aging Millennials. Once they wanted to have kids and settle down, they’d do what everyone else does and leave town; at less than 15 percent San Francisco has the lowest percentage of children of any major U.S. city.

The author acknowledges the limitations of attempting to typecast 80 million people; that’s 20 million more than the population of France to put things in perspective (and, as we have seen all too well, not all of France behaves in one manner).

That being said, if the ascent of Millennial culture has anything good to bring to San Francisco, maybe it’s less vitriol. Winograd describes that generation as “not into the ‘Culture Wars’ debate” so “It could be good for San Francisco that it’s not rejected by a whole swath of the country as somehow being Sodom and Gomorrah. That will certainly recede into the background, if it doesn’t die out.”

So the rest of the nation may not think we’re the root of all that’s Godless and evil? As the great Carl Spackler put it, “So I got that goin' for me – which is nice.”

*Yes, we know that The Who song commonly referred to as “Teenage Wasteland” is actually titled “Baba O'Riley.” And Keith Moon died four years before the first Millennial generation member was born and John Entwistle passed on a year before the last one came into this world. Don’t you feel old now?

Top Photo | Courtesy of the University of Central Florida

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Bio:
Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

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