Has anyone else noticed the recent rash of Millennials hurting themselves or dying preventable deaths falling off of waterfalls, mountains, and bridges? A 26-year old from San Ramon “…hiked with three other people to the peak of Half Dome. She fell 600 feet to her death Sunday while trying to descend a landmark rock formation.”
“An Oregon woman was in a Portland hospital Wednesday after falling 50 feet from a wilderness cliff, breaking her leg in two places and surviving more than three days on wild berries, caterpillars, and creek water.”
“A young man lost his footing, slipping close to the edge of a waterfall. A female companion frantically grabbed for him but stumbled. Another hiker followed and the three were swept over the powerful 317-foot Vernal Falls. Authorities at Yosemite National Park are still searching for two of the bodies.”
Yosemite alone has recorded 17 deaths in an unusually fatal year. “While five visitors have died…from natural causes, the others were accidental and often preventable,” officials interviewed by CNN said.
Authorities are desperately searching for answers to explain the recent rash of deaths. In other words, what the hell is going on?
The common factors between many of these recent accidents are the age of the victims and that several of them were venturing into spots they didn’t belong so they could take photographs.
People falling off of mountains while taking pictures isn’t new, of course. The most famous may have been Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside who fell to his death while snapping Rosalind Russell in the 1958 movie version of the Broadway musical Mame. But today’s death count is unprecedented.
Why the sudden need for these pictures of daring-do?
To post on Facebook, I’m sure. Today’s Millennial generation doesn’t merit an experience for the value of the experience itself; rather they value the documentation and distribution of those experiences on social media sites such as Facebook. In other words, an activity is not real unless someone else sees you do it.
Millennials have lost the ability to determine what should be private about their lives in general. Larry Constantineput it this way on his blog anaLOG: “…If I stand on a soapbox in a public square, the default assumption is that everything I say or do is grist for the mill…If I lean over to you on a panel while covering the microphone…the default assumption is that the aside is a private exchange.
(Now) there is a generation coming up that does not understand these distinctions… Couples fighting on Facebook and people throwing tantrums on Twitter are all symptoms that we are losing a crucial distinction between public and private domains…” So are people falling off mountains while taking photos.
But that’s only half the answer. The other common denominator is that today’s victims are members of the Trophy Generation where everybody wins, nobody is a loser, and there are no negative consequences. Why not ignore warning signs and railings or hike up mountainous trails in flip-flops if all the danger has always been sanitized out of your life? Millennials often haven’t learned that life is not like a video game where you can go down in flames and then just hit the reset button. There are no do-overs in the analog world — physics simply wins. That’s why it’s not called the “theory of gravity” — it’s the law.
I hate to be too mercurial about such an unhappy and preventable state of affairs but there’s an important seismic shift occurring here. If young consumers are risking their lives to share the evidence of their exploits then surely this behavior will manifest itself in other areas of their lives, including their purchasing tendencies. This should be a wake-up call to marketers, especially older, less tech-savvy ones, who pooh-pooh online marketing and communities. Companies must create opportunities for their Millennial customers to interact online and share their product-centric experiences. For example, cruise lines must provide online posting sites; hotels and destinations need to allow their customers to show and tell both their upcoming plans and their experiences; and banks and restaurants alike need to post and link photos and recaps from their networking opportunities. In fact, businesses in all verticals must find opportunities for their Millennial customers to express themselves and communicate with their cohorts. After all, while Millennial customers may be less brand loyal than their older peers, they’re just dying to be in Facebook.