As Fortune editor Geoff Colvin argued in his cover story this month, humans are under-rated. Even as technology advances into every facet of our lives, the qualities that make us human are more valuable today than ever before.
I couldn’t agree more. In fact, the only thing that surprised me about Colvin’s piece was that it made no mention of the generation most closely linked to technology’s rapid ascent: millennials, the 20 and early 30-somethings that everyone is talking about.
Whenever I go online there’s a new article about why millennials are lazy or shallow, non-aspirational or undisciplined. Everyone’s got their own perspective on what makes this group so different from those who came before them.
I almost feel badly. It's like a roast of millennials – all playing out before billions of eyes in the public arena.
But these discussions miss the point. The so-called “millennial” has become more than a demographic age group; it is a mindset. A way of looking at the world and, regardless of age, declaring, “there has to be a better way.”
The millennial mindset says there has to be a way to make this easier, faster, more flexible and efficient. Mobile, adaptable — everything I need, and nothing I don’t. A way to make the way we interact with the world more personal, inclusive and intuitive.
It’s a mindset connected to the age group that came after Generation X because this is the first generation that grew up almost entirely with technology. Millennials don’t look at technology as an extra. They expect to be able to use it in all aspects of their lives, including at home, in the community, and on the job. They are becoming a primary consumer and the essential customer at work.
As Colvin argued in his piece, it is precisely because technology is playing an increasingly pervasive role in our lives that we must tap into our most fundamentally human skills and traits to succeed in the workplace.
Most importantly, the millennial mindset has given rise to human-centered technologies that are transforming the way humans of all ages live and work. Unlike the technology that was born in the 1990s and earliest days of the 21st century, we are now seeing the emergence of technology that adapts to humans, rather than forcing humans to adapt to it. Think smart thermostats that allow you to save energy by monitoring your house's heating and cooling from your phone; online music platforms that know which song you want to hear based on prior listening; client relations management systems that know what your clients want before they do.
We are all social beings by nature, as Colvin emphasizes, and this desire to work alongside people—not machines—to solve problems or build relationships has contributed to a more human side of technology, one that allows us to better co-exist and adapt together.
Technologies borne of the millennial mindset give us flexibility, agility, mobility, and a personal touch. These qualities improve life for all of us, regardless of our age or generation.
Right alongside those questioning the merits of millennials, a number of recent headlines have warned that because we’re in an age of digital natives, technology is taking over our lives. Some even predict that in a few short years our human workforce will be replaced by robot supercomputers with artificial intelligence. That we’re approaching the “end of work.”
These concerns are short sighted and overblown. In fact, their argument is upside-down.
Technology — at least those that will survive into the next generation — is not taking over our human lives; instead, it’s adapting to them. Technology shouldn’t rob us of our human-ness. At its best, technology should make us more human by channeling the incredible intellectual power we naturally and intuitively possess, and allowing us to live and work more efficiently, collaboratively, and creatively.
So, enough with all the talk about generations being alike or different. Let’s end the millennial roast, because, really, the conversation should be about something much bigger. It should be about a mindset.
Art Papas is founder and CEO of Bullhorn, Inc., a provider of cloud-based CRM solutions for companies in business services industries.