What have Millennials, Job Snobs, Echo Boomers, the Net Generation, First Digitals, Peter Pan, and Trophy Kids all got in common?
They are all names thrown at Generation Y. Although you can never actually define a generation – these things will always be gross generalisations – people talk about a generation born between the late 1970’s and the mid 1990’s. Let’s say 1979–1994.
From my basic, generalised grasp of what Generation Y is about, we’re talking:
1. Want to be happy, and instantly
2. Concerned for their friends – very peer-orientated
3. There’s no bigger picture – less competitive, don’t trust corporate
Compare that with some observations about the way that information is accessed and engaged with on the web:
1. We want usefulness from short, scannable content
2. We use social media and constant communication
3. It’s too fast paced for big picture learning, need authority to trust
Anyone else see the connection?
Of course, it’s rather obvious. If the need wasn’t out there, we would have built a different web (or a different environment altogether). But I got thinking about what the relationship between the current teens and twenties and the emerging web really is.
On the one hand, it’s a stupid exercise, because it’s based on generalisations and can never be answered. On the other hand, I like the questions it throws up.
So which one is it?
1. If Generation Y has caused the web to be the way it is
– then what will the next generation cause?
Early comments about Generation Z, the digital natives, have little to say as yet. They’re only small, bless ‘em. But what we can see is that they have grown up with instant, connected technology and less traditional family setups. Raised by Facebook. How can we prepare for what they will demand from the web?
And if the web has been shaped by Gen Y’s values of instant–useful–peer–personal then surely they are also demanding the same things from other offline environments: traditional communications, retail and services, and education. Is the only difference between online and offline that offline takes longer to change? In other words, never mind the differences between print and the web – all of it needs to change to be relevant. Or die.
2. If the web has shaped the way a generation behaves
– then what responsibility do we have for what we’re shaping?
If each time we make it easier and social we contribute to a generation being centred on instant–self–friends–happiness, is that what we wanted to create? Are we doing a good job? For example, if shorter, scannable content is leading to shorter, shallower attention engagement, should we raise the game? This far but no further?
3. If the two are unconnected
– then we are lucky that they match so well, but shouldn’t take it for granted that the next generation will be the same.
4. If the two are interdependent
– then all of the above apply. Where will the generations take us next, and what responsibiliity do we have in shaping them?
Just a handful of trivial questions for a Friday afternoon. What do you think?