I’ve been reading a book by several well-known scholars of civic engagement, “A New Engagement? Political Participation, Civic Life, and the Changing America Citizen.” It has been interesting for a number of reasons: the authors compare and contrast four cohorts—the generation prior to the Baby Boomers, which they call “the Dutifuls,” the Boomers, GenX and the youngest cohort—the one we tend to refer to as Millennials, but they dubbed the DotComs.

There is a lot of interesting material about the differences in civic and political attitudes and skills among the four cohorts. The researchers note one in particular that I have noticed in my own students—unlike the Dutifuls and Boomers, the DotComs are far more likely to participate in civic life than in political activities. They haven’t opted out, as so many of the GenX generation has, but they have directed their energies to volunteerism and nonprofit activities rather than politics and government.

The authors attribute this political “opting out” in part to the fact that the DotCom generation was socialized at a time when anti-government rhetoric was ubiquitous—when Reagan’s “government is not the solution, government is the problem” had become an accepted axiom. Other attributes of the DotCom generation, however, fly in the face of this tidy conclusion. DotComs are far more supportive of government activities and programs than the generations that preceded them, for example. They are more likely to label themselves “liberal,” and not just on social issues. They are more likely to support affirmative action and other government efforts to ameliorate inequality, and more likely to support government-provided healthcare and other social safety-net programs.

The researchers cautioned that it is difficult to know what portion of the differences they saw are generational attributes that are likely to persist, and what portion are “life cycle;” that is, attitudes that will change as they grow older, establish households, have children, etc.

We have an advantage over the authors. The book was written in 2003, and the research was conducted in the two or three year period prior to that. In 2013, some of the open questions can be answered, at least tentatively. The authors worried, for example, that youth voting turnout would continue to decline; as we saw in 2008 and 20012, it has increased. The inclusive attitudes of the DotCom cohort are largely responsible for the profound changes in the politics of same-sex marriage, and the increasing pressure for immigration reform.

It is still the case that DotComs disproportionately invest their energies in civic rather than political causes, however. If that changes—if this generation ever devotes as much energy to the political system as it does to organizations working to save the environment, address community problems, and help the less fortunate—look out! Things will change, and in my opinion, those changes will be for the better.


  1. The idea that there are “DotComs”, “Millennials”, “Boomers” and the other categories is intriguing, but more hype stemming from the desire for simple explanations than established fact. In fact any “research” that looks into differentiating group so they fit into those categories is often silly and poorly executed. The categories fit more into a developmental framework, so as a group ages, it becomes more like the next group, etc. In any case, it’s at least nice to think about a group morphing into something better, working toward the common good. I’m for that 100%.

    I would be happy to post the names and dates of authors of some of the more important work on this subject if anyone is interested.

  2. Perhaps grouping them as “unnamed individuals” and listing them by decades would be established fact…or maybe not. I am proud to be a moocher belonging to “the Dutifuls” and look on the “dot coms” as the current generation who cannot sit, stand, lay, move, drive or be inert without a cell phone pressed to their ear. I doubt they are conversing about politics or civic duty; they are just addicted to constanting talking or texting someone about nothing. They would not and could not survive the generation of “the Dutifuls” and this discintigration seemed to begin with the “Boomers” and what they considered progress but for the most part was taking the lazy way out. I had one phone, voted using paper ballots till becoming a victim of “hanging chads” while living in Florida. The “Boomers” may belong to civic groups with potentially helpful titles but have lost all semblence of being neighbors and/or friends who helped one another and family life is unecognizable these days – and I do consider same-sex marriage partners as being a family. Prior to the November election I received 2 postcards (no idea who sent them) listing my neighbors by name, address and if they did or did not vote. This is none of my business; neither is my voting record they business. It this political or civic action? But we cannot get a Neighborhood Watch group organized; my generation did not need an organization to be watchful in our neighborhods. In my opinion, most people today have opted-out and I doubt their life-cycle will bring about improvement but will continue being separate entities connected by cell phones and text messaging.

  3. While I share a certain amount of your sentiment, I believe you lay too much blame on the generation itself, and not the addictive power of technology. I must admit in advance I am a millennial myself. Teenagers and young adults generally exhibit the same attitudes across generations (rebelliousness, the need for diverse social interaction, etc.). It just so happens our generation is among the first to grow up with the internet and its immense power. Those before us were being scolded because of their admiration for the likes of James Dean, Elvis Presley, and that blur of time we refer to as “the 60s”. I find it hard to believe that many adolescents would be able to resist the temptation Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging provide (I can provide numerous examples of parents and grandparents being extremely active on Facebook). I do not believe this problem to be a reflection of the generation, but just the first of many examples to come of hyper-connectivity. Now, by no means am I saying this cannot produce serious negative effects (instant gratification and a sense of loneliness just off of the top of my head), but I believe it is unfair to confine it to one group of people.

    I am one of the optimists. I believe our generation will continue to work for what we loosely describe as the public good, though it may be unconsciously. As a generation we are more educated, more inclusive, and generally speaking, more open-minded. These attributes can go a long way in shaping a culture and country, it’s just that they take a back seat in the current plutocracy we operate in.

  4. Rusty; I don’t know your age but I am 76 years old and obviously use Facebook. I am also deaf so rely heavily on E-mail for personal, medical and business communication. I am active politically on line, sign petitions in support of many community issues and do research I would otherwise not have access to.

    “dot comers” are not confined to one generation as I see people of all ages using cell phones and texting; including my children who are in their 50’s. It is the obssessive level of use which has reached epidemic proportions and at times is dangerous. The dozens of people of all ages I see everywhere talking on cell phones cannot possibly be dealing with important or urgent matters and using them while conversing with others is the height of rudeness and inconsideration. I have been stalled in checkout lines while the customer ahead of me continues a conversation as the cashier tries to get their attention. And; I’m sorry to admit that the vast majority of them are females of all ages. These phones are phenominal inventions and very useful in most instances but have become a form of recreation for too many. I had to adjust to push button phones after years of using a dial phone but moved smoothly into the computer age – mainly due to necessity.

    You must be young and extremely intelligent and strong enough to stand up for your generation. I know, probably moreso than you, that the future of this country will soon be in your hands. I do hope you continue to remain enlightened regarding political, civic and humane conditions and seek to inspire others of your age group to do the same.

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