Looking back on history, we can define the baby-boomer generation as one that revolted against social norms and questioned the status quo. This was exemplified by everything from civic protests to journeys to the moon. This trend was admired and studied thoroughly by subsequent generations.
Today’s young adults, specifically those who are grouped as Generation Y or Millennials, are already demonstrating a lasting trend that will undoubtedly have ramifications on the future of business, commerce, society and life: valuing life experiences over tangible things and status symbols.
Just as prior generations valued more traditional things like home ownership, job stability and the attainment of college degrees, millennials simply aren’t following suit. Home ownership among this group is on a decline and will likely not uptick any time soon.
In once-stable sectors like education where advanced degrees were thought to be highly desired by young adults, evidence is showing growing skepticism of the value of such an investment.
Traveling. Seeing. Tasting. Participating. Doing. These are all things that have become staple activities among leaders in most social circles of today’s millennials. Unique experiences have become the new accomplishment and the new social currency.
Why is this the case? Just as prior generations received social validation by talking about what their zip code was, how big their house was, what company they worked for and what school they attended, many within our generation find more value in showcasing the rare places they’ve been and life lessons they’ve gained.
A notable Silicon Valley venture capitalist commented on this topic [at the 10:00-minute mark] and highlighted the abandonment of once-normal preferences in exchange for experiential values. While I don’t believe that we’ve reached the bleeding edge of this shift, I do think we are getting closer to an entirely new level.
The explosive growth of all the photo and social-related websites and apps in the past 5-10 years is a further indicator of this. People now appear to have an innate need to share their experiences, particularly when it goes beyond daily activities.
This provides a level of social validation that is unprecedented compared to prior generations.
In the same vein that our parents may have sent postcards to just a small circle of family and friends during trips, young adults feel obliged and validated by announcing their experiences through moment-by-moment pictures on Instagram and Twitter to everyone they know and barely know.
Being able to say ‘I did this’ by posting pictures of your country-hopping vacation or your dinner at the amazing restaurant is an extremely easy and effective way to demonstrate what your experiences are and have been. A more extreme example of this paradigm shift is the notable attendance growth of experiences like Burning Man.
So why does all of this matter? Because many of the powerful industries and institutions that were developed on the principles of our parents will experience massive change. Those changes will have trickle-down effects in ways yet to be seen.
How society will evolve in the next 10-20 years is anyone’s guess. The only confident bet that I will make is that we will not grow old in the same America that our parents did, for better or worse.