Generation Tech

13 May

As personal technology has become ubiquitous, generational stratification in the US is increasingly being defined by how one interacts with tech. My friends of all ages tend to be early adopters and my personal experience is skewed, so sometimes I need to look up from typing, put on my anthropologist hat (a spiffy pith helmet, of course) and look at a bigger cultural picture.

For reference, based loosely around birth year, the generational labels most often used are:

  • 2001-Present – New Silent Generation or Generation Z
  • 1980-2000 – Millennials or Generation Y
  • 1965-1979 – Generation X
  • 1946-1964 – Baby Boom (“Boomers”)
  • 1925-1945 – Silent Generation
  • 1900-1924 – G.I. Generation (G.I. and Silent are sometimes grouped into “Greatest Generation”)

Joel Stein recently made a video for Time in which he tried to “live like a Millennial” for the day [watch it here]. Stein is part of Generation X, slightly younger than I am, yet I squirmed in discomfort at his apparent cluelessness. It makes me wonder if he’s close to the norm or off on the low-tech tail. He still has a landline?

Penelope Trunk wrote a future-looking post in December entitled “How the next generation will surpass Generation Y” , followed up in March with “How to think like the next generation“. I think it’s a little early to be making some of the assertions she does, but her characterization of the relationships between Y and Z and technology seems spot on. Specifically:

Gen Y’s obsession with travel is rooted in their acute need to feel special and different and document it in a way their friends approve of. … Gen Y lives on Facebook and Instagram, and their reality is whatever is in the photo.

The Pew Institute reports that they’ll (Gen Z) choose their devices based on battery life. … Gen Z communicates largely through video. … They use YouTube like it’s Google.  …  This will be the age of verbal communication rather than written, and Gen Z will shine. … Generation Z needs no shelf space. Everything is digital.

I recently completed a college degree and spent three years surrounded by members of Gen Y. Though I care less about documenting my every move than they do, I attribute some of that to stage of life rather than comfort with technology; I was sharing selfies online when I was in my 20s, too. Classmates were most likely to contact me via text or an always-open chat window than email, and certainly never by voice call. I learned to appreciate Twitter as the best source for timely information: with a good hashtag, the real-time updates pour in long before they reach the television, radio, or news websites.

My Gen Y classmates were more comfortable with the concept of digital identity, though not really more experienced in virtual worlds than the few older people in my classes. Perhaps that’s because many virtual worlds and MMORPGs still require desktop computers with excellent graphic capabilities and speed for optimal performance and desktops are less common among the young. Laptops can handle the load, but not as well; my top-of-the-line gaming laptop was quickly outdated, expensive to update, and too heavy to carry around. Virtual worlds need to be portable — running well on smartphones and tablets — and adaptable to casual as well as immersive use if they don’t want to become “something old people do.”

Shared below: a slideshow on digital device usage broken down by demographics, based on data from the Pew Research Center.

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Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Usage Patterns


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