Thursday, April 1, 2010

Generation Text

While conversing with my wife over dinner (amazing how much we can converse when Spew Jr is on a class trip!), and the topic became what to call the current generation of youthful folks.  My wife is a baby boomer in denial, I am part of the leading edge of generation X, but what do we call the next one?

 Generation Y is pretty lame, as it reduces them to mere followers and does not provide any sense of what might bind them together, keeping in mind that speaking of generations as groups of folks in common is pretty silly.  Indeed, I tend to think of grouping people by 10-20 year hunks is pretty useless in general.  But, the trons here are free, so why not?

I propose Generation Text
  • Plays on Gen X, but without being just the next letter in the alphapbet.
  • It focuses attention on the fact these folks didn't wait to learn to type until high school, but have been attached to keyboards since they were kids.  That they grew up in houses that had at least one computer, in schools where computer time was expected.
    • My school gained regional notice because it had paper computers--simulated computers.  In high school, I did work on a Wang wordprocessing station for the high school paper.  And this was a school in an upper-middle area so it was ahead of many other schools.  Just illustrating a) how things have changed; and b) that I am an old fart.
  • This generation has not only learned touch typing at an early age so that they can play and communicate online, but they have also learned to thumb type and text each other in micro bursts of text.  I am not saying this is bad or good (and my previous post on this was just silliness), just that this is a relatively unifying aspect of this generation.  And it separates them from gen x, as we (or at least I) don't text that much and am certainly not speedy when we do text.
  • They (old folks) used to complain about gen X multitasking--that would be watching TV and doing homework at the same time.  These kids have got us beat by a mile--listening on their ipod whilst browsing the web whilst texting or chatting on their phone whilst doing homework whilst ignoring their parents. 
To be clear, I do not want to cast aspersions about "the kids today."  Every generation thinks that the next one is a bunch of slackers.  The only exception would perhaps have been the parents of those who grew up in the Great Depression and then fought in World War II.  Hard to accuse those folks of slacking.  I don't think these kids do or will have it any easier or any harder.  It will just be different.  It is a post 9/11 environment, but also an internet-connected one.  It is not post-racial, but it is the generation that has seen Obama win.

What binds an entire generation together?  Not the labels applied by their elders, but shared experiences.  The new technologies may undermine the sharing of some experiences--the number of people who watch the same TV show is much, much smaller as television has splintered.  But technology can work in the other direction--twitter, youtube, itunes, blogs and all the rest facilitate sharing.  We can now all see the same stuff, just not at the same time.  People didn't all stop and watch Leno, Letterman and Conan, but many of us caught much of it via clips. 

Anyhow, I prefer to think of these folks as Generation Text, rather than the Post-9/11 generation or the generation of fear or generation Y or generation me. 

So, what do my readers, Generation Text, Gen X, Baby boomers (all three of you), think?


Chris C. said...

I'm starting to realize how difficult it is to actually accomplish anything while multitasking. Sure I can get by and do a lot of things adequately, but I'm finding that if I want to actually innovate or truly understand something I need to block out other distractions. I just signed off from Facebook as an experiment and I'm considering blocking a bunch of news websites to stop the time waste. But can one afford to be "off the grid" and miss out on the myriad of networking and communication opportunities?

Sure, it's nice knowing everything that's going on in the world and in your friends' lives at that very second, but in the long run it doesn't matter too much (esp. in academia). What matters more is building up a solid theoretical understanding of the past, learning real skills, and formulating a philosophy of life, which is pretty much impossible to do while Facebooking, Tweeting, Gchatting, listening to a podcast, watching the latest hilarious YouTube video, etc. In retrospect, I think I tried to do much as an undergrad and as a result failed to really "learn" many things, though I have a packed (and now sadly useless) resume full of many different pursuits. My whole generation seems to suffer from this lack of focus and it's going to be interesting to see what impact that has in the future on pretty much everything, from inventions to teaching to political communication.

tt55 said...

Interesting blog, Steve. If either you or your wife were born between 1954 and 1965, then you are not Boomers or Xers, but rather part of Generation Jones (between the Boomers and Generation X). Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten lots of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press' annual Trend Report chose the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009.

It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. And most analysts now see generations as getting shorter (usually 10-15 years now), partly because of the acceleration of culture. Many experts now believe it breaks down more or less this way:

DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
Generation Jones: 1954-1965
Generation X: 1966-1978
Generation Y/Millennials: 1979-1993

Here are some good links about GenJones I found:

Steve Saideman said...

First I have heard of Gen Jones. My wife will be pleased--she hates being a boomer.

But I am still Gen X by the skin of my teeth.

And yes, it is all about shared experiences. I guess BB Gen experienced the 1960's differently than G Jones, huh?