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Charlie Mitchell: Mississippi's millennial drain

 

Charlie Mitchell

 

 

OXFORD -- The new crop of Americans has several markers, experts say. One helps explain why fewer of them choose to live in Mississippi. 

 

First, some of the other distinctions: A primary trait is their tendency to "silo." 

 

The internet has changed how we communicate, and it has changed how we make choices about what to read or watch. 

 

In years past, if a young person became interested in baking, the Dallas Cowboys or fashion, there were limits. Information about baking was in cookbooks. Information about the Cowboys was sometimes in the newspaper; sometimes the team could be seen on TV. Information about fashion was in magazines. That was it, pretty much. 

 

Today, any young person interested in any topic can scour the internet, watch videos all day and all night and still experience only a bit of what's available. YouTube offers 250 videos in multiple languages on "how to make biscuits." A Google search of "Dallas Cowboys" takes .96 seconds and generates 46 million hits. There are 222 million sites (approximately) selling women's clothing online. 

 

Obsess is a strong word. But the ability to deep dive into a single topic has led youths to do so. Because there are still only 24 hours in a day, attention devoted to one interest comes at the expense of variety. The result is more specialists in their own silos, so to speak, and fewer generalists with broader-based knowledge. 

 

Younger people are also expert fraud detectors. 

 

This skill springs from the overwhelming number of "inputs" their brains receive each and every day. Unlike any humans before them, they have learned to (1) type with their thumbs and (2) scroll through a digital feed at lightning speed. 

 

Their brains decide "not important, not important, not important, maybe important (.5 second), important (3 seconds), not important, not important, not important..." 

 

In addition to speed-sorting information for relevance, there is a companion quest: truth. 

 

Yes, it's still possible to fool some of the people some of the time, but authenticity resonates with the rising generation. They cast aside words or images that don't inform or entertain or otherwise resonate. "Don't have time for that," the saying goes. 

 

One interpretation of this is to carp about shorter attention spans. Another complaint is that young people are self-centered. Maybe, but both descriptions are way too confining. A better view is they simply don't allocate time to topics or information not interesting to them. Don't think they lack intellect. They're smart. What they know, they know chapter and verse. 

 

Now to the factor relating to the great exodus from Mississippi. Headlines affirmed this state leads in the proportion of young people choosing to live their adult lives elsewhere. There has been a net decline of 3.9 percent in the total population of Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000) since the 2010 census. 

 

Some reacting by blaming Republicans. Some people blamed racism. Some people blamed the state's hostility to gay rights, on clinging to the Confederacy, on too few jobs and lower than normal wages and salaries. 

 

And they were all correct. Those are likely factors, along with heat, mosquitoes and water moccasins, which people forgot to mention. 

 

Problem is, Mississippi far from alone in young people's rear view mirrors. Millennials are leaving California, Michigan, New York ... 

 

Mississippi doesn't need to beat itself up about this. Another trait identified among younger people applies: They are more "holistic" than previous generations. They may dwell in their own silos of interest, but they seek a quality of life that offers endless options. 

 

They want parks and natural areas that are respected and preserved. They want rapid transit and lots of dining options. They want personally and financially rewarding employment. They want to contribute to a better world. They want to be away from crime and violence and poverty. And they can be. 

 

At first it may seem wanting the lights of Broadway and the quiet of an isolated beach (both with high-speed wifi) is inconsistent, but there are areas -- mostly progressive urban areas such as Nashville, Houston, Orlando -- that are bursting with energy and innovation. 

 

If leaders if Mississippi are interested in reversing the drain, they'd be well-advised to look at what's drawing hearts and minds. It's not high pay alone. It's not entertainment alone. It's not natural areas or any of the other plus factors. It's all of them. 

 

Generations before have created a country where their progeny can seek, in holistic terms, the good life. We can't fault them for doing it. 

 

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at cmitchell43@yahoo.com.

 

 

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