The co-founders of Soccket, a soccer ball that turns kinetic energy into harnessable electricity, were in their junior year of college at Harvard when they got the idea for a product that is changing the lives of people in the developing world. Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook when he was barely 20, and Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat, is 22 and the CEO of a company with a valuation rumored to be around $50 million.
Millennials have proven themselves adept at challenging convention and finding solutions to problems in markets that previously have not existed. The tech industry is growing faster than Silicon Valley can house it (see: San Francisco housing prices) but for some reason, the culture of innovation that has proven to be so contagious in tech has had a hard time breaking into politics.
Oh wait, I just remembered the reason — because although there’s no age minimum for admittance into the million dollar club, there is an age requirement for public service.
This is not to say that Washington, D.C. needs to become San Francisco (there are plenty of reasons why the short-term disruptive thinking that pervades the Bay Area could be bad for long-term policy — also this). But it is true that something in D.C. needs to change.
2013 might be the time for a millennial senator.
As a former Silicon Valley transplant myself, I left Google to go work on Capitol Hill and change the world. Aside from the cross-country move, one of the most difficult transitions was the pace at which progress happened in Washington, D.C. as compared to the Bay Area (hint: things moved much slower in D.C.).
Shortly after moving from SF to D.C., I grabbed coffee with a new Hill staffer friend of mine. As we sipped our Dirksen-brewed coffees, he voiced his frustrations with a workflow process in their office that was incredibly inefficient. He mentioned that when he had approached his chief of staff with his concerns, the chief of staff responded, "We do it that way because we’ve done it that way for the past 20 years."
20 years ago the most sophisticated computer looked like this, could hold 16 MB of memory, and cost $6,500.
"Because we’ve done it this way for the past 20 years" is never a good reason to do anything.
In the 113th Congress, 37 senators are over the age of 65. Only 12 are under the age of 50. In the United States, you must be 25 to run for the House of Representatives, 30 to run for Senate, and 35 to run for the presidency. To our Founders' credit, it is important that our elected officials be mature enough to have developed a valuable set of experiences and a robust ethical framework before taking control of the most powerful country in the world.
But as politicians have repeatedly demonstrated in no uncertain terms, age is not necessarily a barometer for maturity or ethical frameworks.
According to Claire Potter blogging for the New York Times, "Demographically, the middle-aged, old, and elderly are governing a nation entirely unlike the one they were formed by and educated in." As Grace Wyler writes for TIME, "Capitol Hill would probably take some cues from people who aren’t afraid to move fast and break things."
Without further ado, I present to you the top five reasons for a millennial senator:
As Joel Stein wrote in his controversial article in TIME, "Millennials are nice." Shane Smith, the 43-year-old CEO of VICE, said that "The positivism has surprised me. The internet was always 50-50 positive and negative. And now it's 90-10." While Congress in recent years has found it much easier to say "no" than "yes," maybe what the legislative process needs to get things moving is a hefty dose of compassion, empathy and — oh, what's that? — compromise
Although some of our elder leaders have chosen to spend much of their time debating whether outlawing gay marriage is discriminatory or not (it is), millennials for the most part have proven to be much more accepting and tolerant of all people. This tolerance and acceptance of a diverse set of values, beliefs and lifestyles allows millennials to spend more time finding creative solutions to really difficult problems.
Washington has shown itself inept at drafting laws and regulations fast enough to keep up with the pace of Silicon Valley. Perhaps that is a good thing — the status quo of the technology industry is to be disruptive, while our legislative bodies should be deliberative. But we also need our legislators to have a thorough grounding in that which they deliberate. Millennials have grown up immersed in the evolving nature of technology and are the ones literally shaping the industry's progress.
Millenials have the energy. Why shouldn't Congress be like any other ambitious, demanding job that requires 14-hour workdays? Not ones to waste time, millennials are always looking for faster, more efficient ways to do things. And if there is one attribute the government desperately needs, it's efficiency.
After all, we are the ones who will inhabit it.