I was talking to an old friend last night. Well, he’s not that old, and I’m not either, at least that’s what we’d like to believe. Let’s just say we’ve known each other for over 25 years; that’s some history. We often fall into bouts of nonsensical banter and this was no exception. During the banter, however, he asked if I had ever heard of the recent concept of micro-generations. I said that yes I had, but I had to admit that really it sounded familiar, and that I’d neither read nor heard anything about it specifically.
So what is it?
It’s basically more academic mumbo-jumbo to tell parents that while there was a generation gap when we were growing up there is now a generation chasm growing so rapidly in front of us that we’re going to have a very difficult time keeping up. And what’s the bogey man in all of this? Technology, of course.
OK. Throwing pot shots at Technology (with it’s requisite capital “t”) is really too easy, and probably misdirected when we really take a look at what’s going on, but let me describe what I’m talking about.
When the current crop of parents was growing up their lives moved more quickly than the generation before them, and even then, 30 years ago, people spoke in terms of generations, where one group of people had a shared understanding of what people five years younger and five years older experienced growing up. While my sister was almost five years older than me, looking back we still remember the same cartoons, music, and how we interacted with the outside world.
That last one is probably the biggest defining factor. While my sister and I had the telephone in the house growing up – rotary dial when we were young – our parents remembered people who did not have telephones. And those who did have telephones did not necessarily have their own phone number; it was a party line and there were crazy understood, unspoken rules for how a person would get on the phone, and find a moment of quiet to contact and speak with another person without having potentially eight other people talking, or worse, listening in.
Before 1994 (give or take a few years), the introduction of new ways of contacting friends moved at what would today be considered a manageable pace. How people saw and used telephones remained relatively unchanged between 1949 and 1985. Thirty-six years of using essentially the same tools, and customs and practices for contacting neighbors and friends for arranging everything from picnics to Whiffle Ball games. And before that, it took from 1919 until 1949 to introduce the idea of telephones into the American household, and to the stand-alone phone with a ringer inside, you’re calling my house concept. Thirty years to become ubiquitous.
Imagine a Silicon Valley hotshot trying to sell venture capitalists on that one. “Oh yeah. I figure it’s going to take thirty years or so for this thing to really catch on.” Next!
My point? As my generation of parents grew up, our parents were dealing more with cultural touchstones than enormous cultural shifts in thinking. I grew up watching Scooby Doo, they saw Ozzie and Harriet, having to go down the street to the house of the rich folks who had a TV.
After 1985, people started to think differently. After 1994 all bets were off.
In 1985 the 100th cellular telephone system in the US came into service. People walked around with telephone book sized contraptions that allowed them to make phone calls to anywhere…for a price. Then everyone started getting more manageably sized handsets installed in their cars. The era of being constantly connected had begun.
In 1994 what we know as the Internet (www etc, etc, etc) became the most popular service hooked up to all the wires that actually make up the Internet. How we were connected to our neighbors, and what the term “neighbor” or “friend” meant were about to become forever changed.
We all know this, right?
But have we stepped back to see exactly how quickly we moved from having a telephone in the house, and all of the norms, and expectations, and ways we knew how to use it, to being perpetually wired?
The time between the time that cellular telephones became commonplace to the time when the Internet became commonplace on the cell phone? Fourteen years. In 2008 Nielsen declared mobile web use had reached a critical mass for advertising. I really don’t know what that totally means, but where there is advertising money involved that usually means that someone, somewhere thinks a lot of people are there.
And in between those fourteen years were IMing, texting, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube. In that time it went from voices and reading text to being able to instantly see a video of someone posted to this place that exists somewhere, but is accessible anywhere on the planet that has Internet access, which is usually now in the palm of somebody’s hand.
That’s a lot of change.
And during all of this change children have been born, and raised. And the child born five years into that 14 year timeline has had a much different experience than the child born ten years into the timeline.
Herein lies the explosion of the micro-generation. How people, and particularly children, find ways to access other people using mobile devices (no one can really call them phones any more) and the Internet changes every year. I’m still old school in that I like blogging, and reading blogs, I like emailing, and receiving emails, but emailing and blogging is the place of old farts like me. Texting and micro-blogging is the norm. But for how long? Tweeting has only been around for just under four years.
A child exiting high-school today is going to have had a radically different secondary education experience than a child exiting middle school today, and all the way down the line. All because the means that they use to interact with the outside world are changing about as fast as a newspaper’s headlines. And soon that reference won’t be relevant any more either. It definitely isn’t relevant to children today.