With a number of recent derogatory comments appearing about the current generation on Facebook and from other sources, as well as endless commentary about what this generation means to us, I feel it is necessary for me to make my own stab at defining a generation, or two.
Having just this week added another member to the next generation I feel that perhaps we're running too big of a lump as a single generation. While I never end up falling into Generation X regardless of where you draw the line, currently the lines that are drawn include both my newborn son and 4 year old daughter in my generation. While I'm not a genealogist, I'm pretty sure that my kids must be in a different generation from me. That's how family trees work right?
However, I'm forced to place myself with the generation of Digital Natives, those born into a digital age. While this clearly isn't true of all people born in 1980, I was raised with a computer in my house at age 4, one in my bedroom at age 12, and internet access in its own modified form by age 14. I didn't get a cell phone until age 23 and only picked up a smartphone a little over a year ago. But as I sat in my in-law's house last week, I was surrounded by no less that six laptops, three smartphones, and numerous other pieces of modern technology. While my own kids already have a significant leap on me, I still think of the world in primarily digital terms.
Recent reports I've heard about Generation Y, or as I'll call it the Digital Generation, have indicated a number of "disturbing" trends. First off the Digital Generation is far more likely to live with their parents than previous recent generations. With large numbers of post college graduates returning to their parents homes up to ages in the early thirties. Also, we show a distinct lack of interest in buying new cars which has sent American motor companies into a bit of a tizzy trying to unlock the huge market share that seems relatively complacent to drive their parent's old cars or other used vehicles. Also, the immediacy of home ownership seems to generally be absent. I happen to be among the very few of my friends that actually own a home, even though I'm currently renting.
Many of these concrete desires of the Baby Boomers seem to hold a much lower priority. It has been suggested that some of these problems arise from a stagnant job market, inflated home prices, and unmanageable student debt. This could have some noticeable effect but I think there's more to the Digital Generation than simply being lazy or stuck in a bad economy. Most importantly, I don't think the world is ready for us, especially in education.
While innovators have for a long time been decrying the pacifying effects of a fact based education, the Digital Generation really objects to it. While even as late as the 1980s, facts were still only found in books. Anyone who has written a report before the advent of the internet remembers the struggles of both finding and then reading a vast number of books simply to get the information readily available on wikipedia today. Today facts are in my pocket. If I want to know what year Henry VIII died I could just look it up on my phone, and have the answer in less than a minute. But really, who cares when he died?
The Digital Generation not only understands how to access this information, they're rightfully insulted by being asked the question. Much like the coffee stand questions of ole, any basic fact is available by punching a few words into my phone. If you aren't going to ask a more intelligent question than that, why should I bother answering.
The truth is that what our generation never received proper education on is the practical skills that are now being demanded of us in the job market. Collaboration, project management, and problem solving are the basis of huge portions of the work that we do on a daily basis. Sociology, power dynamics, and empathy are the tools which are allowing people to climb the ladders in the work place. Artistic presentation, meaningful interpretation, and presentation skills are vital to even finding our way into an interview. The only thing we need beyond that is some sort of technical expertise that reflects our interests such as a needed programming language, understanding of the workings of medical billing, or terminology specific to the construction industry. None of the above things were I taught in school for the most part. I learned more of them in Journalism, Photography, and on the playground at lunch than I did in English, Math, or Science class.