Generational differences get everyone’s attention. People like to think about generational differences because they easily explain the differences we all face. They make headlines because the enable one group – generally the older one to paint the other generation with over simplifications.
Clay Shirky in his new book Cognitive Surplus evaluates the social context of the generational differences and finds the following ….
“One of the weakest notions in the entire pop culture canon is that of innate generational differences, the idea that today’s thirty-somethings are members of a class of people called Generation X while twenty-somethings are part of Generation Y, and that both differ innately from each other and from the baby boomers. The conceptual appeal of these labels in enormous, but the idea’s explanatory value is almost worthless, a kind of astrology for decades instead of months. Generations do differ, but less because people differ than because opportunities do.” (page 121)
Shirky puts his finger on an issue that I have observed in my travels and working with IT organizations. When you describe the expectations of Gen X or digital natives to others, you find few people who say that they would not like to work in an environment of flexible hours, more powerful tools, greater choice, increased personal control and greater recognition.
It is like the Jobs.com commercial sarcastically said, “When I grow up I want to be a corporate tool.” No one aspires to be a tool whether they are a thirty year old, a forty year old or someone just out of college.
If there were real generational differences, then baby boomers would not be adopting and applying the internet and advanced tools to their work. Apple would not sell more than three million iPads in the first 80 days. Senior citizens would not be a fast growing part of the internet.
The ability of people to use technology is not tied to their age. If it were, then my parents would not be on the internet, they would still be watching black and white TV with Rabbit ears, and forty-somethings would only be able to listen to music on Sony Walkman’s. These examples are deliberately extreme to make a point.
I am not saying that younger people do not incorporate technology into their lives differently. They do. But, I believe that is a due to the context of the time they were born, not something that is innately different about their brains. I believe that if you transported a baby born in 1880 to 1980 as a baby, they grow up just as digital as their peers.
This is good news, because it means that we can all benefit from new technologies and help create new applications of those technologies. If you disagree, then you are advocating
So its time to take the “X” out of one generation as we are all able to change, to learn new things, to gain value from technology.