A millennial examines how his generation is profoundly impacting politics, business, media, and activism
They’ve been called trophy kids, entitled, narcissistic, the worst employees in history, and even the dumbest generation. But, argues David D. Burstein, the Millennial Generation’s unique blend of civic idealism and savvy pragmatism, combined with their seamless ability to navigate the fast-paced twenty-first-century world, will enable them to overcome the short-term challenges of a deeply divided nation and begin to address our world’s long-term challenges.
With 80 million Millennials (people who are today eighteen to thirty years old) coming of age and emerging as leaders, this is the largest generation in U.S. history, and by 2020, its members will represent one out of every three adults in the country. They are more ethnically and racially diverse than their elders, and they are the first generation to come of age in a truly global world and in the new digital era. Millennials have also begun their careers in the midst of a recession that has seen record youth unemployment levels, yet they remain optimistic about their future. Drawing on extensive interviews with his Millennial peers and on compelling new research, Burstein illustrates how his generation is simultaneously shaping and being shaped by a fast changing world. Part oral history, part social documentary, Fast Future reveals the impact and story of the Millennial Generation in its own words.
“The millennials are a unique generation with a strong entrepreneurial streak that has seen them create some of the most impactful businesses of this century. As a millennial entrepreneur, I found Fast Future to be an inspiring and powerful account of the world we live and work in every day.” —Ben Lerer, Founder & CEO, Thrillist
“In Fast Future, David Burstein provides a personal and compelling picture of his generation. Millennials are pragmatic idealists and the first digitals, able to handle the fast pace of today’s world while they remake our economic and democratic political systems. Read this book not only to understand the future but also how the millennials are poised to shape it.” —Michael D. Hais and Morley Winograd, authors of Millennial Momentum
“David Burstein’s generation-a diverse, connected, and entrepreneurial lot that came of age around the Millennium-has already changed the face of politics from Washington to Cairo and beyond. Millennials are distinct and powerful, though scholarship about them has been slapdash and haphazard. Enter David Burstein. With Fast Future, Burstein cements his reputation as the millennial generation’s most thoughtful and insightful public intellectual.” —David King, Harvard University
“Today’s young people really are unique. Technology has made them the best informed generation of young people that the world has ever seen. Their understanding of the problems facing the world has made them the most socially responsible generation ever. And finally their knowledge and understanding of how to use the tools of the digital and social revolution has made them the most powerful generation ever. David Burstein’s excellent book tells the story of his own generation: read it and you’ll know why we should all be listening to them.” —David Jones, Global CEO, HAVAS & Co-Founder, One Young World
“Young Boomers once transformed America’s inner world, creating new visions and values that dazzled the firmament. Today’s young Millennials are transforming America’s outer world, moving at lightning speed to build new institutions, communities, and infrastructure that will actually realize the ideals of their parents and grandparents. David Burstein, a Millennial at the forefront of his generation’s obsession with making things work again, explains why this generational revolution started, how it is spreading, and where it is going.” —Neil Howe, coauthor of Millennials Rising
“This book is passionate, optimistic, witty, inspired, and inspirational. David Burstein writes about his generation with great hope and confidence, but also with an uncanny ability to keep his feet on the ground and realize that his is not the first group of young people who expect to change the world. Yet his belief that his generation can in fact change the world will be refreshing and uplifting to readers of all ages.” —Michael O’Hanlon, coauthor of A War Like No Other and Bending History
“We are leaving the young with an unacceptable future-ballooning debts, unthinkable tax increases, historically slow growth, an economy vulnerable to crises, and a paralyzed politics. Until now, the involvement of the young has been viewed as a combination of ignorance and apathy. I was delighted to read Fast Future, a book with such a hopeful outlook.” —Pete Peterson, Former Secretary of Commerce and Co-Founder, The Blackstone Group
“Fast Future is an incisive look at the generation that elected Barack Obama and is changing the way we do everything. David Burstein has written a mustread book about the most individually empowered generation in history-his own.” —Howard Dean, Former Governor of Vermont
“Exponentially growing technology that we have all experienced over the past decade is daunting. But the generation at the forefront of this change is far from challenged. From technology to radical new business models, in Fast Future, David Burstein tells the compelling and truly unique story of how his generation is seizing opportunities to create a world of abundance.” —Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman and /CEO, X PRIZE Foundation, coauthor of Abundance
“David Burstein breathes the pulse of the Millennial generation like no other. People may struggle to define us, but through David’s voice we have a resounding advocate who expertly understands and articulates our commitment to social change.” —Adam Braun, Founder and CEO, Pencils of Promise
“The Millennial Generation is the biggest and most diverse in American history; soon they will run the country. In the great tradition of writers who help define their own generations, David Burstein offers a moving and insightful portrait of Millennial America.” —Peter Levine, Director of CIRCLE (Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement)
“David Burstein is living proof of why the millennial generation is so promising. Like other millennials, Burstein is idealistic yet pragmatic, globally minded, and determined. In Fast Future, Burstein pulls from his own experiences and observations to depict a generation well suited to tackle the seemingly insurmountable challenges before us. Fast Future is at least as much a telling of the generation’s story as it is a declaration of its potential.” —David Gergen, Senior Political Analyst, CNN, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School
“Here David Burstein tackles how new technology and the millennial generation will forever make an impact on our country and the world. Whether it is through politics, economics, or computer science, David deftly demonstrates the large and small changes that are being made. A must read for anyone looking to understand where the world is going and how we got there.” —Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)
“David’s reflections are a fast, fun, informative read.” —Nancy Lublin, CEO, DoSomething.org
“As young social entrepreneurs, Fast Future spoke to our core by telling the story of an exciting turning point that will change the course of history. That is, if we can channel this energy. David Burstein takes a deep and nuanced look at the potential young people have and the terrible missed opportunity of not capitalizing on the innovation of the millennial generation. David himself represents the savvy impatience, the industriousness, and the possibilities of the millennial generation: this book is not to be missed or ignored. And, in Fast Future, he presents us with the opportunity to re-imagine how generations can work together to create a more innovative, equitable world-today.” —Jessica Posner Odedeand Kennedy Odede, Co-Founders, Shining Hope for Communities
“With careful research and thoughtful observation, David Burstein holds a mirror up to his own generation and tries to help all of us better understand who they are, what matters to them, and how they may shape the future. Everyone who is fascinated by Millennials-and how can we not be?-will learn something from this book.” —Judy Woodruff, PBS NewsHour
Review: Kirkus Reviews - December 1, 2012
“An inspiring look at what the millennial generation is doing in America.”
In the fall of my sophomore year in high school, two friends approached me with an idea. Many of our peers in film class had produced great work, but there was nowhere beyond the classroom where these films could be shown. We had a solution: create a first-of-its-kind film festival exclusively for high school students. It sounded like a fantastic idea, and we couldn’t wait to get started. During the next seven months we built a team, raised thousands of dollars, gathered submissions from around the world, secured corporate sponsors, and convinced a local movie theater to donate their venue to us. In May 2004, the first Westport Youth Film Festival took place. We screened sixty films, and hundreds of people flocked to see the work of young filmmakers they did not know. It was a success. And it has lived on: I’m happy to say that the festival will celebrate its tenth anniversary this year.
This story illustrates two things that I think are unique about my generation. First, looking back on it, I find it remarkable that not one of my collaborators ever stopped to ask, “Can we do this” We never thought, “We’re just high school kids, we can’t put on a film festival.” We had no earthly idea how to go about it. But we learned how to do it quite well by “bootstrapping,” a term from today’s entrepreneurial language that we would have used then if we had known it. Just two decades ago, it was unusual for high school students to start their own organizations, businesses, and initiatives. But, as you’ll see throughout this book, today it has become far more common. The fact that a group of fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds believed we could create a film festival without any prior experience is a true testament to our generation’s potential.
The second thing that strikes me was the sophistication, quality, and content of the films we screened. Most of the films were thoughtful and dealt with important, relevant themes. We screened films that dealt with gang violence in students’ neighborhoods, teen suicide, drugs, and education. One student made a documentary about her parents’ interracial marriage. Even the comedies were smart and original rather than sophomoric. Devoted young filmmakers have been able to create their own work for several decades, but the new affordability and accessibility of film technology and tools have allowed virtually everyone to be a creator, and many are creating meaningful content.
The following November, I invited two dozen friends (many of whom were part of the festival team) over for an election-night party. There was pizza, popcorn, soda, and the self-caricaturing madness that is cable news election coverage. We watched as each set of polls closed and results were projected state by state. All the safe states for Kerry and Bush were called first, putting Kerry at a mathematical Electoral College advantage. It was a school night, so my friends peeled off and left by midnight, even though the outcome was still unclear and the biggest states were yet to be decided. We were all expecting that young people would turn out at the levels so many youth activists had hoped and worked for. But the anchors and pundits declared it another disappointing turnout by young voters.
While I couldn’t yet vote, the 2004 election was the first in which I could understand the details of the election and the candidates. I understood the importance of the youth vote. I also knew that young people did not have an impressive record of participation. When the final numbers came in for the 2004 presidential election, youth turnout was actually up 11 percent from 2000. Even so, that meant that just 48 percent of young voters had voted in 2004. Beyond my frustration with turnout levels, and with the media calling a substantial 11 percent increase in turnout “another failure of the youth,” I was most concerned with the implications: a few hundred thousand more young voters could have changed the course of history. My high school peers and I were active and engaged. We cared about politics and policy. While I knew the same was not universally true of my generation--indeed, it wasn’t even true for everyone in my school--I also knew that if we didn’t step up, our generation’s voice would get shut out of the political process. If the crucial connection between our future and our vote could be made clearer, our generation could become a political powerhouse. It was then that I decided to throw myself into what would become a massive effort to turn out young voters in the next presidential election in 2008.
Setting out in 2005 armed with nothing but a camera and a big idea, I began work on a documentary film called 18 in v´08, designed to encourage my peers to vote. In retrospect, I realize I never paused to ask how to make a film, I just started doing it. I traveled all over the country, interviewing a cast of over one hundred political leaders and thinkers, including senators Barbara Boxer, Robert Byrd, Chris Dodd, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and John McCain, Representative John Lewis, Governor Jeb Bush, Newark mayor Cory Booker, strategist James Carville, General Wesley Clark, and Academy Award¬±winning actor Richard Dreyfuss, as well as many young people from communities all over America.
The thirty-five-minute film that resulted premiered in 2007. Soon afterward, I created a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization, now called Generation18, that used the film to register, engage, and mobilize young voters. We held over 1,000 screenings, each followed by discussions and voter registration. Ultimately, we registered some 25,000 new voters, developed a celebrity get-out-the-vote public service announcement series, and 18 in v´08 was adopted in educational curriculums across the country. I was asked to explain young Americans’ political attitudes to visiting foreign correspondents writing about the United States election. I met with government officials from Botswana to help them figure out how to bolster youth involvement in their country. As I traveled our country, I was continually inspired and reminded of the power, promise, and potency of my generation. Much of what I was doing then and continue to do today was not possible for a young person to do just a few decades ago. The technological, media, and social networking tools we have available to us, and the recognition and respect now afforded to young people, have combined to provide my generation with incredible new opportunities.
As the campaign drew to a close, something else started to come into focus. I saw that my generation was reshaping areas outside of politics. I met members of my generation who were starting new kinds of businesses, organizations, and initiatives in record numbers. Their experiences turned out to be neither aberrational, nor occasional like the election cycle. While the national media had been focused on the role of young people in the election, a much bigger and largely unreported story had been unfolding. In these pages, I’m eager to share this story with you. Removing all of my own bias is impossible, but there is no better way to understand a generation than to hear about its experiences and worldview straight from the people who are in it.
Introduction: Welcome to the Future
Chapter 1: Pragmatic Idealists
Chapter 2: Fast Future, Present Shock
Chapter 3: First Digitals
Chapter 4: Twenty-First-Century Capitalism
Chapter 5: Political Pivot
Chapter 6: Globalized
- Click here to read an opinion piece on a CNN.com story about Millenials and the GOP where Burstein is quoted and Fast Future is mentioned
- Click here to read a Q&A with David Burstein in the New York edition of The Metro
- David Burstein is profiled in CS Monitor and mentions Fast Future
- Click here to watch David Burstein on MSNBC's The Cycle