Then there was the borderline paranoid reaction to 9/11, justifying for nearly a decade a ceding of authority to the police and other government security agencies in the name of preventing terrorism. In such an environment, it's hard to trust anyone to keep data safe, especially in light of the effectiveness of socially engineered attacks such as spear phishing. A major industrial espionage campaign by China and other countries (the so-called advanced persistent threats) have stoked information security fears as well.
I believe the trend of information being moved to where it's useful is standard human behavior regardless of generation, and as we slowly emerge from the economic meltdown and the 9/11 shock, we're returning to normal actions. We're now more educated on how we might be monitored or phished, and people can handle a culture of mistrust only so long before society suffers long-term damage. Individuals of all generations are now asserting their trustworthiness and more direct control over their lives, and in the process, they're feeding the rise of consumerization.
Two details are different today: More information is now electronic, so it's more easily distributed and manipulated. Also, people are taking control through a wide variety of devices, so it's harder to bring back the police-state-like control we had in the 1950s (a Cold War-based episode) and, as some would argue, again in the 2000s (some of the 9/11 reaction).
I do think there is a difference when it comes to perceptions of privacy. With information stored and transmitted through the Internet, it's harder to keep secrets -- you can't just move to a new town and change your name. Young people also don't yet know what they've exposed or how it could be used against them. Neither did my generation in those early chat rooms, but those were private systems, and they're now gone, along with the evidence of our young foolishness.
As reality hits home, you can bet your bottom dollar that the millennials will become more savvy about privacy in the new global electronic context we live in. Now that some malevolent or simply stupid companies are asking potential employees for their Facebook account passwords, the issue is in their face. It was already starting -- remember the rash of reports a couple years ago on how employers would Google potential employees to see what showed up?
Society too will adapt. In the 1960s and 1970s, the general population quickly learned to ignore arrest records for protesting, at the time the equivalent employer poison. Given all the photos of half-naked adults and drunk teens on the Internet, society will have to make a similar differentiation between youthful indiscretion and truly troublesome behavior.
The value of millennials
If you shouldn't look at millennials' alleged traits to define the technology portfolio and approaches for the next decade, should you just ignore them and expect them to do what the Baby Boomers do now? No, that would be equally naive. Millennials, like young people of any generation, are simply more familiar with nascent technologies and will be more easily able -- as a group -- to exploit them in unanticipated ways. They'll remain bellwethers and sources of inspiration for how to think different.
Their upbringing and the social attitudes forged in the dramatic social and economic changes of the last 20 years will certainly color their attitudes. Maybe their teenage selfishness will lead to a new "greed is good" overindulgence period. Maybe the fact that they were forced to be socially involved and carted around in protected groups will allow for more effective collaboration in the workplace. Or maybe we'll see something entirely unexpected.
As the millennials rise through the ranks, they'll make their marks. For now, they're one thread in the new technology and business fabric emerging.
This article, "Millennials aren't the villains or drivers in consumerization," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.