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Millennials are not spoiled — when the know-better effect comes in to play

Millennials are not spoiled — when the know-better effect comes in to play

I hear all the time how the generation of millennials is spoiled, entitled, and not patient in general. While there is certainly a change in the behavior of this generation, I’d like to propose that it might have very little to do with patience.

You might be familiar with the concept of loss aversion, which explains that we perceive losses twice as intensively as gains. If I give you $10 and then take it away from you, you will be twice as unhappy about it compared to if I just told you you didn’t win $10.

Source: Economics Help

Now let me apply the theory on a less obvious type of loss.

Imagine you grow up going to the post office to mail a package. Every time you go, there is a line and you need to wait for 30 minutes to ship the package. You don’t like it, but what can you do? This is how things are and you get used to it. 

Then, a new startup emerges. They come to your door to pick up your package any time you want. No waiting, no hassle. Awesome. You immediately stop going to the post office and are happily using the service. Then, unfortunately, the startup goes bankrupt and you are forced to go back to the post office. Waiting for 30 mins now sucks so much more! 

How much more? According to the loss-aversion theory, twice as much, because you now know how much better the world was before, and going back to this inefficient world is that much more painful.

Now, I’d like to propose an extension of the loss aversion theory — the know-better hypothesis.

The loss aversion theory is based on losing something, but is there a similar psychological effect that applies even in cases where you didn’t actually lose anything? An effect that makes you twice as frustrated. Not because you lost anything, but because you know that something can be much better and that knowledge is enough to create the same feelings of frustration?

Let me give you an example. You grow up as a millennial, and you are a digital native and a child of the service economy. You are connected to all your friends online, you order your food online, your laundry gets picked up and delivered neatly folded to your door. You understand well how technology can improve our lives. 

The election day comes and you are asked to go to vote at a polling station. You also have the alternative of filling out your ballot with pen and paper and mail it in. OMG, you know better! We know better! You cringe and squeal. It pains you so much. Technically, no one took anything away from you — it was never possible to vote online — but since you know that a better solution is completely feasible, you are in so much pain.

I don’t know whether the pain is double (it feels 10x to me), but the know-better hypothesis seems to explain a lot about the seeming impatience of the young generation. The generation is not more impatient or less resilient than the previous one — they just feel much more pain and as a result, make different choices. They know better!

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