The year was 1980.
A group of college hockey players stunned the world by beating the Russian team at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics. The Post-It Note debuted in the U.S., forever changing how people decorate their desks. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen was a #1 hit.
And two famous groups were born: CNN and the Millennials
These two are connected, but I will get to that in a moment.
In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell profiles several innovate and successful individuals. In each case study, he reveals little things that at first seem disconnected, but upon further investigation those little things ultimately shaped the individuals in significant ways.
For example, the pivotal group in Gladwell’s book is a group of incredibly successful Jewish lawyers from New York. He examines these men, profiling their faith, their education, and their professional struggles. Being Jewish appeared to be a huge disadvantage, because they were often discriminated against. This discrimination shaped their skills in a way that ultimately propel them to lead the most prestigious law firms in the city. Things that initially seemed disconnected suddenly appear to be connected.
Of all the conversations that exist regarding millennials, one of the most common is the concept millennials place a high value on purpose in the workplace. While millennials are certainly not the first generation to desire a greater purpose, we are seemingly more passionate about pursuing it than previous generations.
Like you, I have read countless articles about millennials and our desire to live with purpose. Rarely a day goes by without some update on the topic on my social media feeds. But this conversation seems to be avoiding an obvious question: Why?
Why are millennials so interested in pursuing purpose in their careers? Why are millennials so passionate about social justice causes and companies that support them? Why do we so freely lend our support to things we hold dear?
One answer, I think, can be found earlier in this article. Remember when I mentioned the 2 famous groups that were born in 1980?
Yes. In case you have not figured it out, I think CNN-and the 24 hour cable news industry as a whole-has had a profound impact on millennials and purpose.
Why 24 Hour News Impacts Us
Think about it. Prior to 1980, people only saw the news in the morning paper or the evening news. There were no cell phones, so you could not get real-time alerts when something happened. You may not know about a global tragedy until hours or days after it happened.
But when 24 hour news appeared, people began gaining faster access to the news, And for the first time in history, they began seeing the news unfold in real-time. No more waiting to see edited clips in the evening broadcast. Now, a reporter could be live in the field and share the news as it happens.
Unlike other cultural shifts or technological advances, no one in the millennial generation grew up without 24 hours news. Some of the older millennials may even remember seeing footage of the Berlin Wall falling (or at least David Hasselhoff dancing on the Berlin Wall). We saw clips of the Gulf War as it unfolded. We watched the chaos in Atlanta after the bombing during the ’96 Olympics. We saw the aftermath of 9/11 on televisions in our classrooms.
I even remember seeing the second plane hit the World Trade Center on CNN from my 9th grade history room.
And since social media has become so prominent in our world, we are now hit with more sources to get live news. The only way to avoid the tragedies and triumphs of the world is to live alone in the woods.
How News Impacts Our Desire For Purpose
How does constant access to the news impact us? Does CNN impact our desire for purpose? What causes millennials to desire greater life purpose? I think there are two answers:
- The news reminds us of our mortality. “If it bleeds, it leads.” Negative news is all over the place. You can hardly check your Facebook News Feed anymore without seeing a story of someone tragically dying or a natural devastation somewhere in the world. Many of the trending topics are often associated with lives lost. When we are hit with these stories, I think we are subconsciously reminded that we could be the person in that story. Our story could suddenly end with no warning. When you are faced with that reality, you can’t help but think different. When you live in light of your own mortality, you live each day differently.
- The news reminds us of the potential for positive impact. Encouraging stories are becoming more prevalent on the internet. Whether it’s the story of teenage boys cutting grass for free all summer or a deployed soldier seeing his family for the first time in months, we have the opportunity to see some good in the world. What happens to us when we see the stories? Yes, we are encouraged. And yes, we feel good about humanity. But deeper than that, I think we realize our potential make a difference. We understand we are able to do some good that helps people.
Perhaps the two above points can be summarized simply: Cable news has helped shaped our purpose to have both urgency and a desire to do good. This sense of purpose is not unique to millennials, but it has been shaped a way never seen before 1980. We still don’t know the full impact of cable news and millennials, but stay hopeful.
As long as this generation maintains their sense of purpose, our companies, communities, and countries will see a positive difference.