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Excerpt from "Gotta Have It Now, Right Now"

By Ronald Alsop

Winter 2011-2012 issue of Notre Dame Magazine

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The need for speed is especially pronounced with millennials, who literally grew up on technology. They were born in the 1980s and 1990s as, first, personal computers and video games, and, later, the Internet and cell phones came to dominate our lives.

My teenage son and other millennials find it hard to believe that their parents once had to sit through television commercials, search for a pay phone to make a call if their car broke down and spent hours in the library combing through books for college research papers. A college intern who worked for me recently didn’t know what I meant when I suggested he look in a telephone directory or call directory assistance when he couldn’t quickly track down a source on the Internet for an article he was writing.

Helicopter parents who hover over their millennial children have fed into the need for instant gratification by intervening to solve every problem, buying them the latest in fashion and technology, and dishing out praise for even the smallest accomplishment.

Because many things have come easily to millennials, they aren’t always willing to pay their dues. Some educators and employers worry that their work ethic isn’t as strong as that of previous generations and that they are willing to cut corners and even cheat in school to get what they want now.

For their part, millennials make no excuses for their impatience. Nearly three quarters agree that they want instant gratification, according to a survey by the career center at California State University, Fullerton, and Spectrum Knowledge, a research and training firm in Cerritos, California. “It is almost an innate instinct of ours to receive instant feedback for something we do, not because we are greedy, careless or selfish but because we grew up that way,” Kristin Dziadul said in a post on Social Media Today, an online community for PR and marketing professionals. “Many people criticize our age cohort because we are this way, but consider how you would respond to things if you grew up experiencing feedback or rewards after everything you did.”

As millennials grow older, their need for instant gratification is extending well beyond the virtual world. Teachers find it harder to engage millennials in class because many want fast-paced, interactive lessons that entertain them. I once sat in the back of a classroom at the University of California at Berkeley and observed a fascinating discussion of business ethics. I was appalled that several students were checking email and surfing the Internet rather than paying attention.

Struggling to compete with YouTube and Facebook, some professors try to connect lessons with popular music and movies. Others give condensed reading assignments rather then entire books. And some schools even provide students with video iPods for online lessons.

While I applaud such creativity and dedication to trying to motivate students, I believe such approaches could shortchange them. Already many students aren’t developing the sound problem-solving skills they will need in their lives and careers. They don’t take time to do the thoughtful research that ambiguous problems — the stuff of life — require.

Millennials also expect near daily praise and feedback from their teachers and bosses, as well as rapid promotions and steady pay increases. Julie Heitzler, human resources manager at the Orlando Airport Marriott Hotel, sometimes feels she should be further along in her career at age 29. Yet when she looks around at her peers within Marriott, she finds that she is one of the few millennials at her level. “As I’m growing older and younger millennials are entering the workforce,” she says, “I am starting to see that some of the expectations, especially timing, we have for our careers can be unrealistic.”

The Great Recession and its aftermath have certainly thwarted millennials’ desire for instant gratification in the form of a dream job. “There’s a lot of pent-up frustration,” says Jim Case, director of Cal State Fullerton’s career center. “They’re not getting jobs and a lot of postponement — marriage, buying a house — is being forced on them by the economy.”

As the millennials demonstrate so vividly, it’s technology and gadgets, from social networks to smartphones, that have really put our culture on steroids. Mobile phone owners between 18 and 24 years of age exchange an average of 109.5 text messages a day, according to the Pew Research Center, and 90 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds sleep with their phones. One new bride recently posted the happy news on her Facebook page — as she was walking out of the church. Some surveys even show that people check texts and answer cell phones while having sex because they simply can’t wait to see who’s contacting them.

While the millennials epitomize the instant gratification culture, the next generation could want things even faster. Some parents are giving babies and toddlers cell phones, iPads and other tablet devices loaded with entertaining applications that may or may not have any educational value. A new survey from Common Sense Media found that 10 percent of children under age 2 have used mobile devices, as have 39 percent of 2-to-4-year-olds and more than half of 5-to-8-year-olds. The growing number of televisions, computers and mobile devices in homes and automobiles recently prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to warn parents to limit children’s time in front of video screens so they have time for creative play and interaction with other people.