Charles Stross writes: The public perception of America as being a democratic republic that values freedom and fairness under the rule of law is diametrically opposed to the secretive practices of the surveillance state. Nationalist loyalty is highly elastic, but can be strained to breaking point. And when that happens, we see public servants who remain loyal to the abstract ideals conclude that the institution itself is committing treason. And an organization that provides no outlet for the concerns of loyal whistle-blowers like Thomas Drake is creating a rod for its own back by convincing the likes of leaker Edward Snowden that it is incapable of reform from within and disloyal to the national ideals it purports to serve.
Snowden is 30; he was born in 1983. Chelsea Manning is 25. Generation Y started around 1980 to 1982. But the signs of disobedience among Generation Y are merely a harbinger of things to come. Next up is Generation Z — the cohort born since the millennium.
Members of Generation Z are going to come of age in the 2020s, in a world racked by extreme climate events. Many of them will be sibling-less only children, for the demographic transition to a low birthrate/low death rate equilibrium lies generations in their past. They may not be able to travel internationally — energy costs combined with relative income decline is slowly stripping the middle classes of that capability — but they’ll be products of a third-generation Internet culture.
To the Z cohort, the Internet isn’t a separate thing; it has been an integrated part of their lives since infancy. They do not remember a time before the Internet or a life without smartphones. All of them will have had Facebook pages, even though they had to lie about their age to sign up (and even though having a social network presence is officially a no-no for spooks). All of them have acquired long histories visible on the Internet, even if only through the tagged photographs of their schoolmates. Mostly they photograph everything (even though taking photographs or being photographed is officially a no-no for spooks). Many of them even use lifeloggers (which has got to be a career-killer if your career lies in the shadows). They grew up in a surveillance state; they might want privacy, but they are under no illusions that the centers of authority will permit them to have it. Steeply climbing university fees and student-debt loading have turned a traditional degree into their version of Generation X’s unattainable job for life; their education will be vocational or acquired piecemeal from MOOCs (massive open online courses), and their careers will be haphazard, casual, and dominated by multiple part-time contracts.
They saw their grandparents’ and parents’ generations screwed by the great intergenerational transfer of wealth to the baby boomers — their great-grandparents, many of whom are lingering on into their twilight 80s. To Generation Z’s eyes, the boomers and their institutions look like parasitic aliens with incomprehensible values who make irrational demands for absolute loyalty without reciprocity. Worse, the foundational mythology and ideals of the United States will look like a bitter joke, a fun house mirror’s distorted reflection of the reality they live with from day to day.
Generation Z will arrive brutalized and atomized by three generations of diminished expectations and dog-eat-dog economic liberalism. Most of them will be so deracinated that they identify with their peers and the global Internet culture more than their great-grandparents’ post-Westphalian nation-state. The machineries of the security state may well find them unemployable, their values too alien to assimilate into a model still rooted in the early 20th century. But if you turn the Internet into a panopticon prison and put everyone inside it, where else are you going to be able to recruit the jailers? And how do you ensure their loyalty?
If I were in charge of long-term planning for human resources in any government department, I’d be panicking. Even though it’s already too late.