Coalescence

The president of MTV, Stephen K. Friedman, wrote a piece in yesterday’s Post characterizing OWS as essentially a generational phenomenon and easily misunderstood for the same reasons the Millennial generation is misunderstood.  The piece reminded me of things I read in William Strauss and Neil Howe’s 1991 book Generations, published when the oldest Millennial was nine years old:

Early in the Crisis era, rising-adult Millennials (especially the first wave) will encounter economic and social hardship.  Unlike 13ers, however, they will emerge undaunted — thanks to their patience, confidence, and powerful instinct for community. . . .

The Millennials’ Civic peer personality is not preordained.  If the crisis comes too soon or (worse) unfolds badly, the Millennials will mirror the Progressives, a smart but hobbled generation that was later unable to realize the agenda of its Idealist elders.  But if the crisis allows the Millennials to coalesce as a genuine Civic type, this generation will show more teamlike spirit and more likemindedness in action than most Americans then alive will recall ever having seen in young people. (420 – 421)

The future is afterthought (pardon the pun) in Generations, but it’s the focus of Strauss and Howe’s The Fourth Turning, published six years later.  They elaborate where they see the Millennials around now:

In the next crisis, Millennials will prove false the supposition . . . that youth is ever the age for rebellion, alienation, or cynicism . . . they will revive the ideal of the common man, whose virtue is defined less by self than from a collegial center of gravity.  . . . On urban streets, young adults will begin sensing that their best path to prosperity is to follow their peers, not thier families.  In technology, they will carve out fresh concepts of public space — by designing fewer and more centralized paths of communication and by using information to empower groups rather than individuals.  In social movements, they will (initially) seem pacifist, hard to ruffle, their civic power as yet untapped.
The Great [financial] Devaluation may occur right around the time Millennials fill the twenties age bracket, just as they are emerging as a truly national generation, the pride of their elders.  Whatever their new economic hardships (and they could be severe), Millennials will not rebel, but will instead mobilize for public purpose. (294)