Excerpt From New Book 'Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World'

The millennial generation continues to perplex all the generations that came before us. In the first broad book written by a millennial about the millennials, author David Burstein explores how the millennial blend of pragmatism and idealism is having a profound impact on the spheres of politics, culture, business, technology, and politics. Read an excerpt from Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World below: 

It is no surprise that in reality, and in our own perception, we are the most global generation. We can be in touch with our peers almost anywhere in the world with just one click. We are the most connected generation. We are also the most aware of our connectedness and global reach. Our formative years have taught us that resilience and adaptability are essential for survival. We saw the 9/11 attacks. Two wars have raged on for more than half of our lives. We saw the impeachment of a president and the escalation of the politics of personal destruction. We saw our peers kill each other in Columbine. We witnessed the devastating effects on our families, jobs, and homes of a dysfunctional financial system and mega-collapses of companies and national economies from Enron, Lehman Brothers, and Greece to our own American debt downgrade. All of these events took place at key moments in our psychological and intellectual development. They shaped our view of the world, making us more focused on trying to solve the big challenges that lie at the core of our future.

But because millennials have grown up in the fast future, we think of the world practically and pragmatically. We know it as constantly changing and changeable. The problems we face seem bigger and more global, and the solutions we envision are both longer-term and more structural — and yet at the same time, more urgent than ever. We know we’ll be working on solutions to these problems for our whole lives — and we also know we need to start now.

Some skeptics will say that the youth demographic is congenitally excited, easily engaged and mobilized, but that we ultimately fizzle out. Others think of us in the same way gen Xers came to be stereo-typed — apathetic, bitter, and nihilistic. As an insider to the millennial generation, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of optimism and idealism, tempered by an appropriate if sometimes surprising amount of realism and pragmatism. Millennials have a passion for making a difference.

But we also have a genuine interest in policy, process, and institution building.

The mix of these ingredients will help make our long-term optimism sustainable.

Millennials are not strangers to criticism — or, for that matter, to having our power and influence overlooked, ignored, or doubted. Pundits, prognosticators, and politicians dismissed the importance of young people before the 2008 election. The youth vote was all “talk,” they said. But, defying these predictions, the 2008 election saw one of the highest turnouts of young voters in history, and almost all studies show that it was the youth vote in key states that created the margin of victory for Obama over McCain.

History is full of the achievements of amazing young people … Today, however, there is a new level of ease with which even “ordinary” young people — who are “merely” smart, passionate, and engaged with the world around them, not necessarily prodigies — can become standouts in our society doing amazing things … Millennials are so frequently active in forming new organizations and initiatives to address causes and issues that the fast-growing sector known as “social entrepreneurship” has become synonymous with the millennial generation.

Historically, young people have been pioneers of “The Next Big Thing.” They’ve led movements and developed attitudes that anticipated where the rest of society would go before the general population caught up. Young people are often the first to see big changes in our world and often the first to figure out how to respond. So there’s good reason to pay close attention to how this generation is thinking. … Nowhere is this more evident than in the not-for-profit field, where millennials have become key players. More young people than ever are starting their own not-for-profits and organizations, in fields from chronic disease research to climate change.

The pattern has played out in countless stories of young people across the country: ordinary people, concerned by a problem, an issue, or an injustice, have been empowered to become extraordinary and effective champions of change. This is the millennial approach to activism, as well as to business, personal attitudes, and sometimes even overall life choices. This approach comes from a mindset that I call pragmatic idealism. Millennials definitely have high ideals — and a strong commitment to those ideals, values, and beliefs. But they also know their ideals must be actionable and realizable. They therefore tend to be comfortable and confident taking small, steady, incremental, practical steps to accomplish their goals — even when their goals are ultimately big, ambitious, idealistic visions. 2010 Pew Research Center study concluded that the Millennial demographic is “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.” In opinion polling, millennials exhibited a striking openness and even consensus on issues that have been at the center of the polarization of American politics.

Millennials are part of the quiet progression toward significant, scalable, and lasting change, and they are learning that they can do extraordinary things when they mobilize their peers …Millennials are trying to incorporate issues, causes and beliefs they are passionate about into busy, complex, multifaceted lives. Millennials are looking for sustainable commitments that can engage them and allow them to contribute to society.

Critics have called us shallow, self-involved, apathetic, narcissistic, and even the “dumbest generation.” But I live in this generation, and I can assure you that we are engaged, optimistic, passionate, and deeply committed to the humanistic values that are at the core of our world. Our generation is writing our own story, with marked differences from other groups of young people that have preceded us. We are at the forefront of shaping the fast future we are all living in.

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Excerpted from Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World, by David D. Burstein, (Beacon Press 2013). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.