Neen  James

By Neen James

The Millennial Attention Gap

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Maybe my favorite generation is the millennials. I love their insights and ability to change quickly … and they can also learn from generations before them. So, I was excited when I recently watched the movie, The Intern, about a Baby Boomer going to work for a young, hip start-up company. This company was very successful, full of bright ideas and innovative ways to succeed. Initially, they looked as though they thrived in chaos, when in fact, they were suffering from the very methods that made them successful.

While the movie was a light-hearted comedy about an older generation fitting into a Millennial mindset, I couldn’t help but notice the number of mistakes the young professionals made because of information overload, a barrage of interruptions, and an obsessive need to multitask leading to a frantically fast paced life. They worked together for hours on end yet knew little about each other. They celebrated professional success while suffering personal losses in relationships at home.

The movie was fiction. The situation was reality.

Millennials weren’t the age of technological discoveries. They were born into the technological age we created. They never knew life before the internet, texting, streaming and social media. Before most of them could walk, they could operate an iPhone. Many of them watched their first programs streaming from their parents’ devices while sitting in a restaurant for dinner. As the Millennials grew up, they formed new languages ripe with acronyms as they felt there was no time, or need, to write in full, complete sentences.  Now that this generation has aged and entered the workplace, they struggle to turn their attention from devices and into real relationships that communicate openly, thoroughly and effectively.

At one point in the movie, a younger employee approached the Baby Boomer to ask for relationship advice. He admitted to having messed up with his girlfriend, and he failed to see how his attempts to mend the relationship were unsuccessful. He said he sent a “ton of text messages” – to which she never responded – and a “super long email” laced with acronyms and emojis. At which point the Baby Boomer simply suggested that he talk to her face-to-face. Guess what? The advice worked.

Now let’s hop over to real life.

How often do you, or Millennials in your life, attempt to communicate with others in this fashion? With phones buzzing, emails flying, and alerts binging, it’s no wonder we miss the connection. What if we encouraged Millennials to pay attention to relationships, not technology, and to address others in a real-time conversation, saving time and confusion from back and forth digital dialogue. Imagine the time we could save if we would focus on our relationships and began paying attention to what matters most.

Another hysterical scene in the movie came when the young CEO inadvertently sent her mom an email not intended for her to read. Watching these characters go to great lengths to undo a digital mistake made was a riot! I couldn’t help but consider the number of times we have all been guilty of hitting ‘send’ on a message not intended for the receiver, and the following countless hours/days/weeks/months/years we spent trying to recover from our lack of attention to detail. The Millennial boss was moving at such a fast rate of speed, dealing with one distraction after another, she almost risked a vital relationship in her life as a result. Ever been guilty of doing the same?

We have an opportunity to lead by example for Millennials and other future generations. We can show them how to slow down and pay attention to details. We can demonstrate how to step away from gadgets and build relational bridges with peers, employees, spouses and friends. Our time spent before the digital age could enlighten them on advantages that came with it.

Can you become like the Baby Boomer in the movie? Can you mentor young professionals and encourage them to invest in sincere relationships – getting to know each other on a deeper level? Can you lead by example by focusing on one task at a time, saying ‘no’ to distractions that lead to mistakes? Will you demonstrate what it means to stop living a ‘crazy busy’ life and start paying attention to what matters most?

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