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A Letter to Millennials: Don’t Sleep Through the Revolution

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The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

It is time to wake up and begin to think about a digital renaissance

In my last letter, I told you there was a time in the late ’60s when the most critically acclaimed movies and music were also the best selling. The Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper album or Francis Coppola’s Godfather film were just two examples. I said that that is not happening anymore, and I wanted to explore with you why this change occurred. Because I spent the first 30 years of my life producing music, movies, and TV, this question matters to me, and I think it should matter to you. So I want to explore the idea that the last 20 years of technological progress — the digital revolution — have devalued the role of the creative artist in our society.

I undertake this question with both optimism and humility. Optimism because I believe in the power of rock and roll or movies to change lives. Certainly witnessing Bob Dylan go electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 changed this Princeton freshman who was intent on being a lawyer into a passionate follower of the Rock and Roll Circus who managed to make a good living from the entertainment business for the rest of his life. My optimism also showed itself in 1996 when I helped found the first streaming video on demand service, Intertainer. Anyone crazy enough to found a service that needed broadband in 1996 had to be an optimist. That led to humility, because the diffusion of broadband was much slower than I thought, so I know that predicting the future is a humble man’s game.

In the last few years I have run the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California. At the risk of biting the hand that feeds me, I confess that I often feel like a cork tossed into a rushing technology stream. While I have no doubt of the wonders of the Internet revolution, I think it’s time to take stock of where this stream is carrying us.

We have become convinced that only machines and corporations make the future, but I don’t think that is true. In thinking about the role of the humanist in our technology-driven future, I was drawn to a sermon Martin Luther King preached at the National Cathedral in Washington two weeks before he was killed. At the outset he told the story of how Rip Van Winkle had passed a sign with a picture of King George III of England on the way up the mountain where he fell into a long sleep. When he came down the mountain, the same sign bore a picture of George Washington.

This reveals that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept 20 years, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up in the mountain, a revolution was taking place that would change the course of history — and Rip knew nothing about it. He was asleep. Yes, he slept through a revolution.

I doubt that anyone would quarrel with the notion that the last 20 years of technological disruption have constituted a revolution, but I want to understand just who has been sleeping through this revolution and who has been awake, creating the moral, political, and technical architecture of the world our children will inhabit.

The beginnings of the “cyber revolution” that King referenced in his sermon were already moving forward in 1968 as he was speaking. The origins of that technology revolution were clearly located in the counter-culture, as Fred Turner and John Markoff have shown, and the idea (in Nicholas Negroponte’s words) was to “decentralize control and harmonize people.” That the earliest of networks, like the Whole Earth Lectronic Link (WELL) organized by Stewart Brand, grew directly out of the hippie culture was a natural progression from both the political and cultural growth of ’60s counter-culture.

But within 20 years, starting with Peter Thiel’s cohort at Stanford University, the organizing philosophy of Silicon Valley was far more based on the radical libertarian ideology of Ayn Rand than the commune-based notions of Ken Kesey and Stewart Brand. Thiel, the founder of PayPal, an early investor in Facebook, and the godfather of the PayPal mafia that currently rules Silicon Valley, has been clear about his philosophy.

He stated, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” his reasoning being: “Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.”

This is a pretty extraordinary statement, and I have reread the interview he gave to the Cato Institute several times. It appears that most women, in Thiel’s judgment, fall into Ayn Rand’s notion of “takers” as opposed to Thiel’s vaunted male “makers.” So for Thiel, in a true “capitalist democracy” only the makers should get to vote, and the women and the welfare recipients will take what the makers chose to give them.

Whew! It gets worse. Thiel has made it clear that his preference (along with Google CEO Larry Page) for a “free cities” model — in which polities are privately owned and unregulated by states — would be an ideal way for capitalists to avoid the “mob mentality” of democracy. He has even suggested that companies could set themselves up off shore (out of the reach of government) on platforms that would give them true freedom to operate.

Like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, he has built his fortune on enterprises that were not taxed or regulated. He also does not believe in competition, havingstated in the Wall Street Journal that “competition is for losers. If you want to create and capture lasting value, look to build a monopoly.”

Peter Thiel, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg have not been asleep at the revolution, as their inclusion near the top of the Forbes 400 list of America’s billionaires will attest.

Since the introduction of Napster in 2000, global recorded music revenues have fallen from $21 billion to $7 billion per year. Newspaper ad revenue has fallen from $65 billion in 2000 to $18 billion in 2011. Book publisher operating profits have fallen by 40 percent, and the revenue from DVD sales of movies and TV (of the top 100 titles) has fallen from $7 billion to $2.3 billion.

The astonishing fact of the precipitous declines in revenue has nothing to do with the idea that people are listening to less music or watching fewer movies and TV shows. In fact, all surveys point to the opposite. Consumption of all forms of media is rising. So where did the money go? Two places: into the pockets of Digital Monopolists and Digital Thieves.

While the revenues of movie, music and news purveyors were falling rapidly, the revenues of the “internet platform” providers were exploding. Google’s revenue went from $1.2 billion in 2001 to $66 billion in 2014. Amazon went from $4.8 billion in 2002 to $89 billion in 2014. Apple went from $7 billion in2002 to $199 billion in 2014. One could argue that a massive reallocation in the order of $50 billion a year from creators and owners of content to platform owners has taken place since 2000. Make no mistake, while the movie studios, record companies, newspapers and magazines operate in a very competitive environment, the platform providers are monopolists or, at least, oligopolists. Competition is for suckers, and by now Negroponte’s notion of decentralization and harmony has been replaced by Thiel’s beneficent monopoly.

But this does not account for the role of the Digital Bandits. There is a wonderful picture of Kim Dotcom, who made $200 million in two years off of the stolen music and video of countless artists on his Megaupload pirate site. In the picture, the fat German thief stands on a picturesque beach with his “Playmate of the Year” girlfriend sprawled on the sand in the foreground and his 200-foot mega yacht in the background. Kim, in an attempt to fight the lawsuits against him, has appropriated the message of Martin Luther King, assuming the stance of the man who freed everyone from the slavery of having to pay for creative works. Exactly how the hard work of artists got exempted from the notions of the market economy escapes me, but for Kim to pose as some new sort of freedom rider brings us back to the whole fallacy of the libertarian economy. Ayn Rand’s most famous quote is “the question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me.” This is how Kim Dotcom has functioned from day one.

The larger question then becomes, who enables the Kim Dotcoms of the world? Type into your Google search box the words “watch (your favorite movie) online free” and you will have the answer.

Whether it is illicit drugs, stolen music, or jihadist lessons on how to blow up an airplane, Google, with a 70 percent market share of all global searches, is the beginning point of a great deal of online criminal activity.

Of course, for most of your generation, the idea of getting your music or movies for free from pirates like Kim Dotcom doesn’t seem like a big deal. But you are studying at USC to (hopefully) become the next generation of journalists, filmmakers, and musicians, so the future of the business is in your hands. Somehow you have to let go of the idea that this is a victimless crime. As I said to you in my last letter, I’m not worried about Jay Z or Beyoncé. I’m worried about the middle class musician, the journeyman that used to be able to ply his trade and make a living selling 25,000 CDs. That does not exist anymore.

But perhaps this tolerance for criminals like Kim Dotcom is part of a larger problem. As the Associate Chancellor of UC Berkeley, Nil Gilman, has written, we are plagued by a twin insurgency: “From below comes a series of interconnected criminal insurgencies that route around states and seek ways to empower and enrich themselves in the shadow of the global economy. From above comes the plutocratic insurgency, in which globalized elites seek to disengage from traditional national obligations and responsibilities.”

Just how we distinguish between the criminal, the warlord, and the rogue state actor will become harder, as Robert Kaplan pointed out many years ago in his prescient book, The Coming Anarchy. What was the nature of the massive hack on Sony this fall? Will we ever know if it was a state-sponsored act or that of an angry laid-off employee? The on-rush of the much-heralded “Internet of Things” will make the possibilities of cyber crime even more profitable. Imagine the now-prevalent cyber blackmail (“pay me $1000 to unlock your data”) played out on a larger scale: “Pay me $200 million to bring the Los Angles Department of Water and Power back on line.” Forbeshas reported a software program being sold on the Dark Web that can ostensibly hack into the “connected car” and take over the acceleration and braking functions.

Here we run into the tricky area of free speech. Google says it can filter out child porn from YouTube but not the Jihadist videos from Anwar al-Awlaki that were the entrance point of the Charlie Hebdo terrorists into the al-Awlaki network.

Just where Google draws the line seems important. Should they block al-Awlaki’s Inspire online magazine, which last month published detailed instructions on how to build a bomb that could pass through airport screening undetected? I don’t really have the answers, but I hope we can begin to have a dialogue around this issue.

Abraham Lincoln supposedly was the first to say, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” Certainly the fact that there are 3000 ISIS videos on YouTube and 10,000 ISIS accounts on Twitter should give you pause. Clearly this is a tricky area, and I don’t believe this is necessarily a matter for government regulation.

The use of their automated content identification technology could be employed to filter content being uploaded to their servers before it is ever displayed on YouTube. But then they couldn’t be selling paper towels in front of ISIS videos.

At this point you might be asking why the loss of billions in the media and entertainment sectors is worth worrying about in the face of the benefits ubiquitous Internet technology has brought you. My feeling is that media is just the canary in the coal mine, and that in the next 20 years, millions of the jobs you are training for might be automated. The Economist recently ran an article in which they projected the probability of your job being taken by a robot in that time period. Citing work from two Oxford University economists, they wrote that “jobs are at a high risk of being automated in 47 percent of the occupational categories into which work is customarily sorted.”

Larry Summers recently said that those who think that the answer to the jobs crisis is just higher education are “whistling past the graveyard.”

What a life awaits you. You can loan your car out on Relay Rides or become an Uber driver. If you can afford a house, you can rent your extra room out on Airbnb and find extra work on TaskRabbit.

We are only a few years into the sharing economy, but one thing is clear: As with Google, most of the economic gains will flow to those who own the platform rather than to those who do the work. Uber is currently valued at $41.2 billion, making it one of the 150 largest corporations in the world. That’s a capitalization larger that Delta Airlines or FedEx, all built on Ayn Rand’s motto: “The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me.”

With such economic power comes political power. Uber recently hired Obama campaign svengali David Plouffe to help it navigate the political lobbying waters of Washington, taking a page from Google’s bible. Google outspends all but a few financial and military firms in its lobbying efforts. The main financial backers of the Libertarian movement, the Koch brothers, have vowed to spend $900 million in the 2016 election cycle to ensure that the “no regulation, no taxes” principles of the movement are sacrosanct in the corridors of power.

The digital monopolists are not above using the rhetoric of libertarianism to spread the message that they alone are the guardians of freedom in the world. When the media companies tried (in an admittedly ham-handed fashion) to pass a law (Stop Online Piracy Act) that would require Google to block sites that were making millions off of stolen content, Google unleashed an online campaign stating this would amount to censorship. The uproar from the crowd quickly killed the bill.

Perhaps it is time to ask the question of who benefits from this technological revolution. Who is awake and steering the boat, and who is asleep below decks? As The Economist pointed out, the ability to substitute capital for labor has profound implications for the future of our society. In early 1929, before the stock market crash that set off the Great Depression, the top 1 percent earned 23.9 percent of national income. By 1976, because of 30 years of changes in tax policy as well as regulation, the 1 precent earned 8.9 percent of national income. But the Reagan era reversed both the tax and regulatory policies that had brought on more income equality, and today the top 1 percent earn 24.2 percent of national income.

What is clearly visible is that the great productivity gains brought on by technology, which used to benefit the ordinary workers’ paycheck, now only flow to the owners of capital. The work of Thomas Pinketty, the French economist, shows that this growing income inequality will only get worse in the coming years. The irony is the John Maynard Keynes envisioned this substitution of capital for labor in the ’30s but thought that the result would be an average work week of 15 hours, with a great deal of paid leisure for the common man.

Some have suggested a guaranteed income, but without some discussion, we risk a kind of social unrest that we have not experienced since the ’60s.

If the technology revolution has failed to bring the average worker increased prosperity, it has also created a vast new set of industries built on mining that worker’s most private data, with questionable return benefits. By the end of 2016 there will be 5 billion smartphones in the world, every one of them a vast treasure trove of personal data that can be mined by both the surveillance state and the corporate data brokers who sell your digital life for immense profits. This is where Martin Luther King’s “asleep at the revolution” metaphor seems most telling. Clearly the current corporate narrative about privacy is that it is a sort of currency to be traded to corporations in return for innovation. But Georgetown University Professor Julie Cohen argues that privacy has meaning in and of itself. Jonathan Sadowski describes her argument in The Atlantic:

What Cohen means is that since life and contexts are always changing, privacy cannot be reductively conceived as one specific type of thing. It is better understood as an important buffer that gives us space to develop an identity that is somewhat separate from the surveillance, judgment, and values of our society and culture. Privacy is crucial for helping us manage all of these pressures — pressures that shape the type of person we are — and for “creating spaces for play and the work of self-[development].” Cohen argues that this self-development allows us to discover what type of society we want and what we should do to get there, both factors that are key to living a fulfilled life.

Do you think your shrinking zone of privacy is altering your behavior? Are the pressures of social media keeping us from finding this fulfilled, authentic life? What keeps us asleep at the revolution? Could it be that drinking from the firehose of big data is a sort of deep distraction that prevents us from even asking the humanistic questions of what makes for an examined, authentic life? In the ’30s Aldous Huxley imagined a future in his Brave New World — a future in which the average citizen would take his dose of Soma (a kind of hybrid Prozac/Viagra) and go out to the Feelies, a form of entertainment so all-engrossing that the “prole” never had any sense that he was not a free human. Chris Sullentrop of the New York Times recently reported that several experts told him the virtual reality porn was going to be the killer app. Huxley would smile.

After I gave a speech on this topic, I got a note from Jimmy Bartz, the minister at the small Episcopal Church, Thad’s, that I attend. He, too, agrees that we are asleep at a revolution:

However, I don’t believe enough people can be inspired to endure what it will take to change things if they are “asleep.” You mention the uptick in opiate addiction. There are also soooo many more people on mood altering medication (some need it, but not as many as take it), then, we have food, credit, media, devices. Our ability to endure what we’d have to endure to create the change you espouse (and I espouse) has atrophied to the point that we don’t even have consciousness around it. There’s a level of “insobriety” we’ve never experienced before — data, food, pharma, credit — we’re so doped up on that stuff that we’ll never have the will to legislate the change, and Washington’s too doped up on cash to have the will to do the right thing.

This sense that we are too doped up to care is distressing, but what’s more worrying is that we are building whole sectors of the digital economy on the concept of addiction. I recently picked up a book called Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products, in which the author shows how you too can build the latest Snapchat. The schematic of a “trigger, action, reward, investment” sequence is curiously close to that of the Skinner box we all studied in Psych 101.

Like the poor lab rat in pursuit of happiness clicking on the bar for a reward pellet, we spend hours looking for the “like” reward on our social networks. Those with the most likes can turn it into currency, as was demonstrated at the myriad “gifting suites” at the Sundance Film Festival, where popular YouTubers like iJustine collected thousands of dollars worth of free merchandise in exchange for posting about the swag on their social networks. iJustine, whose fames stems from having posted a video on YouTube about her 300-page iPhone bill, noted to the New York Times, “I love products, and I love sharing if I love something. Like, you can probably guarantee that it’s going to be posted, especially if I love it.”

It would be easy to diss iJustine’s blurring of the line between her own opinion and what she is getting paid to like if it weren’t the basic currency of the Internet age. What is any hip hop star but a walking product placement opportunity? How would the TV and movie business survive without “brand integration” dollars to top up the budget? And how would Vox, BuzzFeed or even the vaunted Atlantic survive without the “native advertising” that totally blurs the line between editorial content and paid advertising? If indeed the author of Hooked is on to something, and we really are building powerful addictions to social network apps, then is Peter Thiel’s almost-spiritual commitment to “liberty” really the same as Thomas Jefferson’s “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? I don’t think so.

Here I am just a guilty as you. I surrender all of my personal data to Facebook in return for the ability to post my vacation photos to my friends.

I have no doubt that innovative developers can continue to build addictive products. Just try to walk down any sidewalk in this university while you constantly dodge people staring at their smartphones. I’ve told you that the Innovation Lab has studied Twitter and politics, and what we found was pretty disturbing. The anonymity that Twitter provides a shield that brings out the worst in humans. Plato told a tale of the Ring of Gyges that when put on would render you invisible. He asked the question: If we were shielded from the consequences of our actions, how would that change the way we act? We know the answer. As David Brooks says, we have created a “coliseum culture” in which some new celebrity gets thrown to the lions on a weekly basis. Of course, I know that writing you to resist the instant riches that might flow to you if you invent the newest addictive app, like Yik Yak, which allows students to shame each other anonymously, is probably a fool’s errand.

My deeper question comes from my position as a professor here for the last 12 years, where I have watched the lure of Silicon Valley grow stronger. If the best and the brightest of you are drawn to building addictive apps rather than making great journalism, important films, or literature that survives the test of time, will we as a society be ultimately impoverished? I was lucky enough to be involved with some artists like Bob Dylan, The Band, George Harrison, and Martin Scorsese, whose work will surely stand the test of time. I’m not sure I know what the implications are of the role-model shift from rebel filmmaker to software coder.

This brings me back to the question of what the tech plutocrats mean by freedom. Martin Luther King led the March on Washington for “jobs and Freedom.” It’s obvious now that the new freedom brought to us by the libertarian elite will not come with jobs. The fact that Facebook generates revenues of $8 billion with less than 9000 employees speaks volumes. Is Peter Thiel’s idea of corporations, free to reap monopoly profits free from government regulation, what we want for our country? Thiel’s icon Ayn Rand defines freedom as “to ask nothing. To expect nothing. To depend on nothing.” How far is this from Jefferson’s great inspiration, the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who defines the good life in these terms?

  • The company of good friends.
  • The freedom and autonomy to enjoy meaningful work.
  • The willingness to live an examined life with a core faith or philosophy.

I worry that our universities are being turned into trade schools in the pursuit of the almighty tech dollar. Are we forsaking the humanities and a basic liberal arts education all in promise to prepare students for the shark tank that awaits them in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street? As I said at the outset, I have no answers, but another phrase from Dr. King’s sermon calls out to me: “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and unguided men.”

Let us not assume that this technological revolution we are living through has but one inevitable outcome. History is made by man, not by corporations or machines. It is time to wake up and begin to think about a digital renaissance. As my colleague Ethan Zuckerman said, “It’s obvious now what we did was a fiasco, so let me remind you that what we wanted to do was something brave and noble.” Your generation does not need to surrender to some sort of techno-determinist future. Let’s try and “rewire” (Ethan’s term) the Internet.

This article was originally published by The Aspen Institute on Medium

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MONEY consumer psychology

Millennials Will Pay for Something That Used to Be Free

opening velvet rope at red carpet event
Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

Gen Y is cool paying to join loyalty programs

It’s almost impossible to overstate how much marketing types have written about millennial consumers. They’re finicky, they want everything instantly and just-so and uniquely customized for the individual special snowflakes that they are.

They drive brands bananas.

But new research shows that there’s a big potential payoff for companies willing to cater to this high-maintenance crowd.

Marketing consulting firm LoyaltyOne finds that a surprising 77% of 25-34 year-olds say they’d be happy to pay for the privilege of being part of a loyalty program, compared with just over six in 10 consumers across all age brackets. Three-quarters of younger millennials—those in the 18-24 age bracket—say the same, and just under 80% of consumers in that age group say it would be worth paying for loyalty rewards if the perks offered fit their needs.

If you’re a member of an older generation, that might sound crazy. You probably came of age with the understanding that a loyalty program is a kind of trade-off in which a company gives you rewards just for spending money on its products. The idea of pay-to-play programs turns this on its head completely.

“To millennials, loyalty programs are not just about freebies, but being part of a special club or experience,” explains Jason Dorsey, a millennials researcher at the Center for Generational Kinetics. “Members are willing to pay to get the extra benefits and feeling of being special.”

And they’re more likely to feel they deserve those benefits if they’ve put down money up front. “With dollars invested, customers inherently use the benefits they’ve already paid for to improve their payback,” says Jeff Berry, senior director of research and development for LoyaltyOne. “Free shipping, exclusive perks, and big discounts can be persistent mental reinforcements of a good decision.”

Companies love this because it creates a positive feedback loop that gets members spending more—and makes it less likely that they’ll take their business elsewhere, Berry points out, since they’d have to forfeit rewards if they walked away.

Amazon Prime, while not exactly a loyalty program, was the game-changer in how people think about customer perks. “The concept created the expectation that it makes sense to pay to get a slew of instant benefits,” Dorsey says. While traditional programs made loyal customers wait until they accrued benefits, Amazon Prime promised something new: rewards without waiting, and with an admission price.

Berry says customer fatigue also is responsible for the trend. The number of people who sign up for loyalty programs but never use them is growing, mostly because we just don’t think it’s worth the effort to participate. “Accruing small, delayed monetary rewards feels like a one-sided exchange for loyalty,” he says. Charging people to join lets companies offer bigger and better perks.

With millennials accounting for an ever larger percentage of consumer spending, expect to see more pay-to-play loyalty programs. “While the idea of paying to join a loyalty program may be shocking or even offensive to older generations,” Dorsey acknowledges, millennials think differently. “It’s a fast way to get status, access, and benefits that they might otherwise not be able to get.”

Read next: 10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On

TIME

Gen Y’s Secret Retail Guilty Pleasure

If you guessed Etsy or Urban Outfitters, you guessed wrong

Millennials love all things artisanal, hand-crafted and customizable, so it stands to reason that one of their top retail destinations is… Walmart?

New data about shopper patterns and preferences uncovers some interesting findings when it comes to the behemoth of Bentonville. According to an article in AdAge, “Walmart indexes higher with those under age 24 than Target, Costco, Kroger, Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. It’s also rated higher than all those except Target with shoppers aged 25 to 34.”

While this doesn’t mean millennials are more likely to shop at Walmart, “It does mean that millennials spend a higher proportion of their money at Walmart than older generations,” says Jared Schrieber, co-founder and CEO of InfoScout, a company that analyzes consumers’ shopping behavior, which collected the raw data used in the AdAge article.

“[Millennials] are in the first life stage where they often have complete control over their spending,” says Jason Dorsey, millennials researcher and strategist at the Center for Generational Kinetics. It’s striking, he says, “that a traditional, established brand that gets negative press around hot button topics for millennials is still able to win a large group of millennials.”

Walmart’s CMO Stephen Quinn told AdAge, “That kind of shocks a lot of people, including inside the company.” He chalked it up to young adults’ increasingly busy lives. “As millennials become time-crunched with relationships and kids coming along, it’s opening up a strong need for them to have a one-stop shop,” he said.

Schrieber said young adults are also at a point in their lives when stores like Walmart fill a crucial need. “This is highly reflective of their life-stage in that they are establishing their own households for the first time, which results in higher proportions of spend on the household goods offered by big-box retailers such as Walmart and Target,” he says.

“Wal-Mart still has something that meets the needs of this new generation of young adults — budget-sensitive and one-stop shopping,” Dorsey says. “It will be interesting to see if as millennials grow up and their incomes increase, if Walmart is able to convert this current advantage… into long-term loyalty.”

Across all age groups, American households do about 24% of their spending on groceries, cleaning supplies, health and beauty products and the like at Walmart. Among millennials, that figure is 8% higher. “Millennials spend a higher proportion of their money at big-box retailers than other channels such as traditional grocers, drug stores or dollar stores,” Schrieber says.

The InfoScout data also shows that Gen Y hasn’t abandoned its love for Tar-jay: While the average household does 8.6% of its grocery and related items spending at Target, the average millennial household funnels 11.6% of its spending in this category to that retailer. In big data jargon, Target claims a 35% higher “share of wallet” from millennials than from shoppers overall.

TIME Race

Why Millennials Can’t Afford to Be Colorblind

Protestors Gather Against Confederate Flag
Andrew Renneisen—The Washington Post/Getty Images People gather to protest the confederate flag which flies in front of the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, SC on June 20, 2015. The protest comes after the racially motivated killings of nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.

Victor Luckerson is a reporter covering tech and business for Time.

'Not seeing race' allows young people to avoid dealing with the racial rancor that still surrounds us

Because we have been taught to believe in happy endings, it’s easy for young people to view racism as a problem that will inevitably be solved, or perhaps already has been. In the history books, racial progress for African Americans occurs on a comforting positive slope, evolving from slavery to Jim Crow discrimination to the post-Civil Rights era of equality under the law. And in our own lifetimes, we reached a new racial milestone when Barack Obama became the United States’ first black president, thanks in a large part to a groundswell of support from young voters of all races who were optimistic about the future.

What the history books miss is that change rarely happens in orderly progression. There are fits and starts. There are retrenchments. There are debates. Change occurs not only on the macro level, in soaring proclamations by presidents and civic leaders, but also on the micro level, through a shift in the thinking of everyday people. And big racial progress is always met with a measure of resistance–some of it passive, some of it active, some of it horrifically violent. That is what we are experiencing right now in America. That is what happened in Charleston, S.C. last month. And it isn’t going to stop just because an older generation passes away.

Dylann Roof, the man charged with murdering nine black people after being welcomed into their church service, was only 21. He was a Millennial, and while his actions don’t reflect the feelings in the hearts of most young people, it’s now our collective responsibility to address head-on the problems in our society that allow such hate to flourish.

Millennials claim to be racially progressive but are often ill-equipped to have frank discussions about race. In a 2014 survey by MTV, 91% of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 said they believed in racial equality, and 72% said their generation believes more in equality than older Americans. Many of these young people see “colorblindness” as valuable measure of racial progress, with 68% saying that focusing on race “prevents society from becoming colorblind.” But only 37% of respondents were raised in households that talked about race, and just 20% of those surveyed said they felt comfortable talking about biases against specific groups.

This is the crux of the problem. Many young people take “not seeing race” as badge of honor that proves their progressivism and absolves them from engaging in discussions on the topic. Colorblindness allows you to escape the racial rancor that is playing out in our streets, on social media and now even in our churches.

But America is still a country riddled with systemic racial inequalities, and many are are becoming more pronounced, not less. Whites are now 13 times wealthier than blacks, the largest gap since 1989. Blacks are 2.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested for drug possession, even though about the same percentage of blacks and whites use drugs. Despite the promise of equal education enshrined by Brown v. Board 60 years ago, more than a third of black students in the South now attend schools that are almost fully minority and are often doubly segregated by poverty. Their issues are literally invisible to many of their mostly white peers who would never see these schools.

(MORE: Selma High School 50 Years After Bloody Sunday)

It’s not enough to assume that these problems will disappear when younger, more open minds rise to power. A recent survey by NORC at University of Chicago showed that 31% of white Millennials surveyed rated blacks lazier the whites, just one percentage point less than Gen X’ers and 4 points less than Baby Boomers. Twenty-three percent of white Millennials surveyed rated blacks less intelligent than whites, compared to 19 % of Gen X’ers. At the same time, even in 2015, the never-ending litany of racist incidents at college campuses continues, from the vulgar chant on the fraternity bus at the University of Oklahoma to the students who hung a noose on the statue of the University of Mississippi’s first black enrollee. More evidence that even among the most well-educated young people, individual racial cruelty is far too common.

There’s no one solution to these problems—but they are problems all of today’s young Americans will have to work to solve in the years ahead. As of 2014, most children under 5 in the United States are non-white. By 2043, most Americans will be. There are obvious financial and political dangers for people who ignore these demographic shifts, like presidential candidate/entrepreneur/television personality Donald Trump. He stands to lose millions of dollars worth of deals and sponsorships for calling Mexicans “rapists,” even as he draws large crowds. But there’s a collective cost as well. A world where all minorities are not granted the same opportunities and protections as white people–while attending school, while interacting with police, while praying at church–will be a world of even higher incarceration rates, health care expenses and education inequality than the one we live in today. These are economic costs, in addition to the more obvious moral ones, that will ultimately burden everyone.

It’s possible that the racial strife of the past year will change young people’s views on America’s racial challenges in a very permanent way. The Confederate flag, which Roof adopted as his own, is suddenly being removed from major retailers and sporting events, and South Carolina’s senate passed a bill to remove the flag from statehouse grounds on Monday.

Even before the Charleston shooting, a group of high schoolers I interviewed for a feature about teenage life in 2015 already seemed to have been made more racially conscious by protests in Ferguson, New York and elsewhere. “Within these last few years, you’re definitely seeing that there’s some stuff that’s still lingering, especially with the justice system,” said Lonnie Hancock, a 16-year-old at East Side Community High School in Manhattan. “Before I was kind of aloof to it. Now I feel like it kind of is more in your face that things aren’t exactly OK.”

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Workplace

A Huge Number of Millennials Can’t Escape Work While on Vacation

What a sad, sad shame.

You’ve probably heard about the disturbing trend of American workers not taking all of their allotted vacation days. More than 4 in 10 workers say they regularly do not use all of their days, and, on average, eight vacation days go unused.

A recent TIME cover story on the disappearing American summer vacation also noted that each year, 169 million vacation days go unused and do not carry over. So they’re just wasted.

This week, the Boston Globe called attention to the results of a survey conducted for Alamo Rent a Car, which indicates that even when Americans do take vacation days, to a disturbing degree they often aren’t truly taking these days off from work. Not entirely anyway. The survey reports:

Thirty-five percent of millennials reported that they worked every day of their vacations, and felt less productive when they returned.

That’s right: More than one-third of millennial workers say never actually take an entire day off. Ever. At some point every day during their “vacations,” they work.

In previous studies, six out of ten employees admitted that they’ve conducted some work on a recent vacation. But millennials appear to be the group most compelled to stay plugged in and productive each and every day, no matter if they’re supposedly not working that week.

We’re not talking about the “workcation” trend covered recently by the Wall Street Journal, in which employees work remotely from a vacation destination. Instead, people—young people in particular—are working during times that are, on paper at least, full-fledged vacations. And as Deborah Good, a human resources management professor at the University of Pittsburgh, told the WSJ, there is a problem if employees are pressured into never truly disconnecting from work: “There may be a backlash among employees if they feel they must work all the time and can’t ever have a real vacation.”

Taking a true break from work is essential for the mind, soul, and body. Research also shows that vacations can be good for your career. Despite millennials’ concerns about feeling less productive after they get back to the office after a vacation, or other worries about what the boss might think if you’re not reachable for, like five whole days, some studies indicate that increased vacation time is linked with increased productivity at work.

It makes sense. The point of a vacation, beyond the mere enjoyment, is to come away feeling refreshed, energized, and ready to take on new challenges at work—like trying to convince everybody in the office they need to take a vacation.

MORE: How to Disconnect from Work (Without Getting on the Boss’s Bad Side)
Why America Should Follow Japan’s Lead on Forcing Workers to Take Vacation

MONEY marketing

10 ‘Old Person’ Brands Getting Millennial Makeovers

Awkward. Like a mom wearing her teenage daughter's clothes.

As a consumer brand’s core customer base gets older, it’s inevitable that the brand itself will start to feel old as well. Some brands embrace the shift and smoothly transition from trendy mass darling to beloved old-timey classic. More often, though, brands have a difficult time accepting that their years in the sun have faded, and that hipper, trendier labels are taking over.

What’s particularly tricky about the attempts of old-fashioned brands to remain relevant and in-demand today is that millennials are notoriously difficult to reach with traditional marketing. Nonetheless, from NASCAR to Maxwell House Coffee and beyond, we’re seeing all manner of brands launching makeovers and tweaking old products to woo millennials, with varying degrees of success—and awkwardness.

  • Maxwell House

    Maxwell House Iced Coffee concentrates
    courtesy Maxwell House

    As AdAge noted, Maxwell House coffee is 122 years old, and it’s “one of the retiree set’s favorite brands.” Instead of remaining focused on its core gray-haired customers, Kraft-owned Maxwell House has been trying to reach millennials, who love coffee but rarely brew their own at home and more rarely still drink it black. Kraft’s proposed concept to woo the flavored-coffee-loving youngsters is Maxwell House Ice Coffee Concentrates. They’re squeeze bottles that are poured over ice for instant iced coffee, in Caramel, Vanilla, and other flavors. “Think of it as Mio with caffeine,” the Chicago Business Journal explained.

  • Residence Inn

    Smores on the firepit at Marriott Residence Inn
    courtesy Marriott Residence Inn Smores on the firepit at Marriott Residence Inn

    The Marriott-owned extended-stay hotel is turning 40 in 2015, and like many turning the big 4-0 before it, the brand isn’t ready to embrace old fogey status. Instead, the chain is trying to inject some hipster cred with a new program called Residence Inn Mix, with guests encouraged to mix and mingle other business travelers on various “themed nights.”

    Local food trucks show up every other Wednesday, for instance, and there are hangouts around fire pits. A few Residence Inn locations are also testing a pilot program involving an augmented reality technology called Blippar, in which guests are presented special “beverage coasters that allow them to unlock unique interactive experiences including multi-player trivia games, customizable selfies and premium Anheuser-Busch content including suggested food and beer pairings.” Food trucks, tech rewards, selfies: What more could a millennial want?

  • NASCAR

    150630_EM_MillennialBrands_Nascar
    Phelan M. Ebenhack—AP Live music and DJs have become staples at NASCAR events.

    Why are DJs, go karts, and foam parties turning up at NASCAR races? The added side attractions are all about trying to turn the children of prototypical NASCAR Dads into NASCAR Kids. For instance, ticketholders for car races this summer at the Michigan International Speedway are simultaneously granted admission to Keloorah, a two-day festival that sounds a lot like a rave, with “live concerts, deejays, video games, tailgate games, foam parties and paint parties.”

    There are also “dedicated spaces for hanging out with your friends even into the wee hours of 3 a.m.,” the Detroit Free Press reported. The overarching idea is that while millennials might not turn up for a plain old car racing event, they’ll be intrigued with a three-day festival that includes electronic dance music and late-night partying.

  • Ruth’s Chris Steak House

    Ruth's Chris Steak House
    Helen Sessions—Alamy

    The experience at this upscale steakhouse chain—butter-topped steak served in quiet, low-lit rooms draped in dark woods—is classic. But another way of saying “classic” is old-fashioned, and perhaps out of touch with what young people want today. To boost its sway among millennials and younger diners, Ruth’s Chris is undergoing a broad “Ruth’s 2.0″ renovation at as many as 15 locations this year, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Some of the dark polished wood will disappear, to be replaced with hipper (and lighter) stone. Bigger bars and more open space will be added on patios too, because, you know the youngsters like to drink and socialize.

    To avoid alienating the established clientele accustomed to the way things have always been at Ruth’s Chris, the changes will be subtle. And they’re not daring to get rid of the butter on the steaks.

  • Hyatt

    Hyatt Centric, South Beach, Miami, Florida
    Hyatt Hyatt Centric, South Beach, Miami, Florida

    Following the trend of other big travel companies introducing “hotel for millennials” concepts, Hyatt recently rolled out Hyatt Centric. The new hotel brand, with locations only in Chicago and Miami’s South Beach thus far but many more on the way, is targeted at younger customers who might otherwise use Airbnb because of a preference for city-center locations and a residential feel. Among other millennial-friendly amenities, Hyatt Centric guests always enjoy free wi-fi and are allowed to bring their pets, and the on-site lounge features “local flavors, artisanal cocktails and an occasional riff on an acoustic guitar.”

  • Chevrolet

    2016 Chevrolet Sonic RS Sedan
    Mueller/Chevrolet 2016 Chevrolet Sonic RS Sedan

    General Motors’ Oldsmobile brand was phased out more than a decade ago. But GM, and the entire auto industry for that matter, has been understandably concerned that millennials think car ownership in general is old-fashioned and out of date. To win over the millennial generation, which now accounts for one-quarter of new car sales, GM’s Chevy brand has launched huge social media campaigns not only on Twitter and Facebook, but Vine, Tumblr, Snapchat, and other “emerging” platforms. Specifically, Chevy is using social media to promote models like the Spark, Sonic, Trax, and Cruze, which are smaller, more affordable, and (presumably) more appropriate for millennials than other kinds of cars.

  • Good Humor

    Unveiling of The Good Humor Joy Squad and launch of the Good Humor Welcome to Joyhood campaign,Thursday, June 25, 2015, in New York.
    Diane Bondareff—Invision for Good Humor

    On the one hand, Good Humor is using nostalgia in the form of vintage ice cream trucks to give ice cream sales a boost this summer. While that should play well with “vintage” old-timers who remember when an ice pop cost a nickel, the Unilever-owned brand is simultaneously going for younger generations with a series of brightly-colored tricked-out ice cream trucks that blare Taylor Swift and Beyonce tunes instead of the ice cream jingles of yore. Perhaps inevitably, customers will be able to place orders with iPads at the new trucks too.

  • KFC

    Colonel Sanders
    KFC KFC's Colonel Sanders

    You’ve probably noticed that Colonel Sanders has made a comeback. While the return of KFC’s white-haired founder-mascot may not seem to have anything to do with millennials, the goofball humor of the new Colonel, now played by SNL veteran Darrell Hammond, certainly seems aimed at a new generation of consumers who may largely ignore KFC’s “finger lickin’ good” food. What’s more, the revamped Colonel is part of KFC’s larger hipster makeover that includes a screwball online video game in which players make Colonel Sanders punch people in the face and bounce babies off of trampolines.

  • Goodwill

    Goodwill of Orange County
    Michelle Carrillo—Goodwill of Orange County Goodwill of Orange County

    The rise of hipper, or at least more organized thrift store chains like Savers and consignment shops has pushed stalwart thrift brands of old such as Goodwill to take a look in the mirror and try to appeal to a broader—and younger—base of consumers. A spokesman for a group of Goodwill locations in western New York recently explained that stores were undergoing upgrades such as improved lighting and more user-friendly layouts in order to attract “young families, college kids looking at getting really good branded products at a good price, do-it-yourselfers, just getting new shoppers to give us a shot.” In some cases, the buildings housing Goodwill stores have been upgraded, or are brand new construction rather than serving as the replacement when a fading retailer like Barnes & Noble or Toys R Us fails. Improvements at Goodwill stores seem to be the inspiration for upgrades to Salvation Army stores as well.

  • Pizza Hut

    150630_EM_MillennialBrands_PizzaHut
    courtesy Pizza Hut Pizza Hut Hot Dog Bites pizza

    If any group is intrigued with tasting fast food monstrosities like Pizza Hut’s new hot dog pizza, it’s millennials. They’ve come of age as full-fledged foodies who welcome spice and quickly tire of the same-old, same-old. In addition to wacky creations like the hot dog pizza, Pizza Hut has been shooting for a youth surge with a radical new menu featuring a wide spectrum of crust, sauce, and “drizzle” dipping options, as well as gimmicks like this funky pizza box that turns into a film projector.

TIME motherhood

Millennials More Supportive of Working Moms than Previous Generations

482147905
Jasper Cole—Getty Images/Blend Images RM Mother and daughter walking on city street

Much more likely to say that moms who work have just as good relationships with their kids

Working moms are getting more love than ever. Millennials are much more supportive of working mothers than young people in the 1970s and 1990s, and there’s a broader consensus that working moms can have a great relationship with their kids, according to a new study shared exclusively with TIME.

Sign up here for TIME’s weekly roundup of the best parenting stories from anywhere.

Researchers at University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University attribute the increased acceptance to a shifting social and economic realities over the last 30 years, in which there are more single moms and few can afford not to work. The study, published Monday in the Psychology of Women Quarterly, analyzed the results of two national representative studies of nearly 600,000 respondents. They found that in 2010, only 22% of 12th-graders thought young children suffered if their mother worked, down from 34% in the 1990s and 59% in the 1970s. Adults also showed an increased tolerance for working mothers, with 35% believing that a child was worse off if his or her mother went to work in 2012, compared with 68% in the 1970s.

The researchers also found that more people believe working moms can have just as good relationships with their kids as moms who stay at home. In 1977, less than half of adults agreed that “a working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work.” In 2012, 72% agreed with that statement.

“When you have more working mothers, you have to have more acceptance of them,” says Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me and a main researcher on the study. “When people look around and see ‘this is what people do now,’ you have to have more acceptance.”

But in some areas, there appeared to be a bit of a backtracking. In the 1990s, 27% agreed that it was best for the man to work and the woman to stay home, while 32% agreed with that idea in 2010-2013. In the 1990s, 14% thought the husband should make important decisions in the family, but 17% thought so in 2010. Twenge says that probably doesn’t indicate a spike in sexism, but instead might signify an increased perception that marriage is only for a certain kind of person. “It’s possible that this generation sees marriage as something that people with traditional gender roles do,” she says. “They think it’s for more traditional people.”

Twenge says the increased acceptance of working moms isn’t just because millennials have been around more women who work– it’s also part of the millennial tendency towards individualism. “One aspect of individualism is to treat people equally,” she says. “When you treat people as individuals, you’re not going to distinguish between a working mother and a working father.”

 

TIME Demography

U.S. Steps Closer to a Future Where Minorities Are the Majority

Census finds the country's minority population has risen to 37.9%

Minority births in the U.S. are far outpacing deaths as the white population remains all but stagnant, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday, driving the country closer to the point at which minorities outnumber whites.

The country’s minority population increased from 32.9% of U.S. residents in 2004 to 37.9% in 2014, according to the Census, and four states — Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas — along with Washington, D.C., are now majority-minority. Nevada, which has 48.5% minority population, is likely next.

Non-Hispanic deaths outpaced births in 2014 for a third year in a row, something University of New Hampshire demographer Ken Johnson says has never happened before in the U.S.

“We expected to see non-Hispanic white natural decrease in the future, but it wasn’t expected to start for another decade or so,” Johnson says, adding that the recession and low fertility rates have contributed to the dip. “The white population is considerably older than any other part of the population. This means it has higher mortality. Fewer women are in their prime child-bearing years.”

The slowdown in white population increases is coupled with minority births that are outpacing deaths by three to one. An estimated 95% of the country’s population gain – a 2,360,000 increase – came from minorities last year, while whites made up almost 80% of deaths. However, the non-Hispanic white population did see a bump thanks to 155,000 immigrants, mostly from Europe. The population for whites grew by just 94,000.

“Ironically, non-Hispanic whites are now more dependent on immigration for population increase than any other group,” Johnson says.

Demographers predict that the U.S. will be majority-minority for the first time by the mid-2040s. Millennials, meanwhile, who number 83.1 million, have now surpassed Baby Boomers at 75.4 million and are the most diverse generation in history. But Census numbers show that the generation after them will be the first to be majority-minority. More than half of all Americans aged five years or younger are non-white.

MONEY home ownership

Homeownership Hits Another Record Low

150624_REA_CantAffordHome
Alamy

Still can't afford a home? You've got company

For millions of young Americans the dream of ownership may be farther away than ever.

A decade after the housing bubble collapsed, America’s home ownership rate is still dropping, according to a new survey by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Just 63.7% of American households owned their own homes in the first quarter, researchers found. That ratio is the result of 10 consecutive years of declines since nearly 70% of Americans called themselves homeowners in 2004.

What gives? Despite a bull market and improving jobs picture, many of America’s would-be home buyers—Gen Xers in their 30s and 40s and twenty-something millennials—are still trying to get out from under the financial burdens imposed by the recession.

Most Gen Xers were just buying their first homes or getting ready to trade up when housing prices peaked in 2006. As a result, they had the smallest financial cushion when the recession hit. Unable to make mortgage payments, many were forced to rent again. Today homeownership rates for this age group has fallen to a level “not seen since the 1960s,” the study found.

While Millennials didn’t fall into that trap, they’ve faced their own hurdles. The influx of older renters has pushed up what landlords can charge, making it harder for would-be first time home buyers to scrape together money for a down payment. Over the past decade, the percentage of young renters age 25 to 34 facing a “cost burden”—meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing—has jumped to 46% from 40%.

What can improve the situation? On a policy level the researchers call for loosening lending standards, such as offering loans to borrowers with smaller down payments or lower credit scores. Of course, given that was a big part of what got us into the housing mess in the first place, that seems like a ticklish proposition.

A better bet may be that the economy will bail us out, with a slowly improving employment situation boosting incomes. One thing that hasn’t changed: Young Americans still want to own homes. Among renters in their 20s and 30s, more than 90% hope to buy a home eventually, according to a Fannie Mae survey cited by the authors.

 

 

 

 

 

MONEY Workplace

The Best Places for Millennials to Work

For FORTUNE's 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials in 2015, go to California. Or Texas.

As you might imagine, with tech winning for millennial workers, California is the place to be. FORTUNE has released its list of 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials in 2015, and 20 of the top 100 are in technology, like Google, Twitter and Yelp. Some are smaller companies though, like #3 AlliedWallet.com, based in Los Angeles. Nineteen of the top 100 are in California, 17 are in Texas, while only 7 are in New York. Financial services and insurance is the second-best industry for millennials with companies like Edward Jones and Pinnacle Financial Partners.

Read next: The Best Youngest Places to Live

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