Life clears out the old to make way for the new.
Many middle-aged and older people consider young people and teen-agers very self-absorbed. They seem to have little interest in family, local, or world events. How will they solve the seemingly insoluble problems that keep emerging everywhere in the world with startling rapidity? (1)
In a couple of decades, most of the older folk will have died off and the world must continue with those who are young now, but will inevitably emerge to “inherit the earth”. How will they solve the difficulties they must eventually face? Let’s examine the different generations and how they might approach the seemingly insurmountable problems.
Naming the Generations
In Western culture, the generation names are based on major cultural, political, and economic influences. The following is a summary from a fairly detailed listing of characteristics. (2) (3)
- Lost Generation – Broadly refers to a generation that has ‘lost’ its values or morals, etc. Directionless, aimless young adults after the First World War.
- GI generation (1901-1926) – self-named: the greatest generation
- Silent generation (1927-1945) – Went through their formative years during an era of conformity
- Baby-boomers (1946-1964) – save-the-world revolutionaries, and the career climbers. Now in their ‘50’s and ‘70’s.
- Beat generation (1950-1960) – Rejected conventional society and favored Zen Buddhism, modern jazz, free sexuality, and recreational drugs.
- Generation X (1965-1980) – Latch-key kids grew up street-smart but isolated, often with divorced or career-driven parents
- Generation Y/ Millennial (1981-2000) – Nurtured by omnipresent parents, optimistic, focused, respect authority
- Generation Z (2001-2015) – Two age groups – tweens and teens. The term “iGeneration” acknowledges the crucial difference for this age group – that they never knew a world without the Internet.
Other countries in the world have different names for the generations, but all refer to the differences between the age groups. Each carries the values and experiences of the life stages and everyone agrees on the timeframes that mark the generations.
World’s Greatest Country
With elections in the air, politicians keep claiming that America is #1, the greatest country that's ever existed. All the Presidential candidates are in the age groups 45-75 and they repeat that mantra; Donald Trump’s slogan is, “Make America Great Again”.
To progressives, that’s a challenge to fulfill our commitments to our children, etc. To conservatives, it's often a license for passivity. Yet, our education system is wildly dysfunctional and confused, and our health care system isn't much of a system at all. But still, somehow, underneath it all, most Americans like to cling to the idea of world leadership. Politicians, all Baby Boomers, perpetuate the phrase. Bernie Sanders uses the slogan, Future to Believe In.
The millennial generation was the most educated in American history, but that education came at a price. Average debt for graduates of public universities doubled between 1996 and 2006. Students chose to take on the obligation because they expected to find a job that paid it off; instead, they found themselves stranded in the worst economy in 80 years.
Young people who skipped college altogether have faced something worse: depressed wages in a global economy that finds it easier than ever to replace jobs with technology or to move them to low-cost countries overseas. The only alternatives are unskilled jobs with no educational requirements and relatively low wages. (4)
Paradoxically, some studies find millennials, young adults now between 18 and 33, to be inexplicably positive despite facing higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than any other generation in the modern era. But other surveys present a somewhat depressing portrait: just 19% of milennials believe that “most people can be trusted,” compared to 40 % of Baby Boomers and 31 % of Generation X.
Most millennials are strongly connected to online communities and friends. The average millennial has 250 Facebook friends. Strong Internet connections may lead to closed social networks and wariness to put too much trust in people who are not part of the network.
With troubles everywhere and popular culture disrupted beyond recognition, the world is looking for a new generation to rebuild it. Enter Gen Z, the generation born after millennials, and now emerging as the next big thing for cultural observers and trend forecasters. The oldest members of this group, the teens and tweens of today are primed to become the dominant youth influencers of tomorrow.
It’s clear that teens in 2015 really do inhabit a substantially different world than one of 2005. Millennials were raised during the boom times and relative peace of the 1990s, only to see their sunny world dashed by the Sept. 11 attacks and two economic crashes, in 2000 and 2008. Generation Z, by contrast, has had its eyes open from the beginning, coming along in the aftermath of those cataclysms in the era of the war on terror and the Great Recession. (6)
Gen Z kids are “pragmatists” who will navigate a tougher world defined by 9/11, the financial crisis, and gender fluidity. Previous generations had to worry about getting into college and finding a job. These “kids” are tasked with cleaning up their mess, though they don’t yet realize it.
During my recent visit to St. Pete, Florida, I spent some time with my teenage grandson (14) and tweenage granddaughter (11) and their friends. I found them to be outgoing and gregarious. My experiences were indeed enlightening, some surprising. Indeed, they motivated me to write this blog.
Today’s teens only know a black president. The video games they play are much more powerful than the 8-bit consoles of the previous generation. They can’t remember a time before smartphones, Instagram and Snapchat. They are not on Facebook (it’s for old people) and don’t really care about today’s fads. They watch Netflix, Amazon, AppleTV – and play video games like Assassin's Creed. (They consider Nintendo games like Super Mario kid stuff.) They buy most of what they need via Amazon, with no interest in “going shopping”. (6)
The vast majority of teenage screen time is on smartphones, laptops and tablets. They don’t watch TV. Instead they watch Youtube. I wondered at my recent spike of Youtube video hits, which turned out to be my grandson’s friends watching me strumming a guitar and singing Sioux City Sue.
Parents and adults have lots of complaints: My kids are anti-social; always face down into their phones. They have no interest in others; have lost the art of conversation; are too self-absorbed.
At a gathering of friends during my visit to Florida, I sat awhile with the adults – they were engaged in small talk, mostly about other people, which didn’t interest me.
So, I spent an evening socializing with my grandchildren and their friends. Wow, what an awakening! I did NOT find them inward looking – on the contrary! They were seemingly oblivious that there was an old grandpa sitting on in their midst and were happy to answer all my questions.
Why are you always on the phone – at dinner, or at gatherings? Answer: because the subjects and conversations are boring! They’d rather choose where they want to be, and with who. They can listen to whatever music they want, whenever they want. With a smartphone, they can choose to be anywhere and with anyone they wish to. Example: text from one teen to another during a family party: Hey, this is boring. L Let’s get outta here….
Digital communication has produced more changes over the last 15 years than the printing press did in 1570. The standout early adopters are teenagers, whose brains appear to have an extraordinary capacity to adapt to the world around them.
Digital communication is not just prevalent, it IS teenagers' lives. TIME magazine suggests that it’s harder to be a teen now. That’s not in spite of the Internet and the iPhone – it’s because of it. (7) Says a teen, “People expect more from you because they know you have a cell phone and they can contact you any time”.
There’s anxiety of having their lives documented online for all to see. They know that mistakes can live forever on the Internet. That mentality helps explain why they’re adopting the new wave of anonymous and private communications platforms, such as Snapchat and GroupMe, sometimes via their PlayStations.
The digital lifestyle affects a teen’s real-life interactions. Teenagers don’t make phone calls anymore, unless it’s urgent. My grandson seldom checks his voicemail, unless I text to ask whether he did.
Youtube says that teenagers all over the world are watching the same clips and laughing at the same jokes, indicating that they are more much global minded than anyone previously. Sharing the same jokes could possibly go a long way to breaking down some of the prejudices out there.
In my own view, Gen Z teenagers will change the world – for the better. They’ll come up with resolutions to current problems that most of us consider unsolvable.
Please share our discussion by responding to these questions directly via the blog. If you prefer, send me an email and I’ll insert your comments.
- Are you pessimistic about many different problems in today’s world?
- What is your age bracket? Are you a millennial reading this blog? A teen?
- Do you have a teenager in your family or household?
- What are your own views of millennials and teens? Please share.
- Do the millennials or teens you know seem aloof or standoffish?
- Have you talked with millennials and teens? What do you talk about?
- What kind of discussions do you enjoy? About people, politics or ideas?
- Please add your own comments (or send me an email).
- 10 greatest threats facing the world in 2014: http://goo.gl/sVd4Ys
- Generational Differences Chart: http://goo.gl/gkkWkg
- What are the origins of generation names? http://goo.gl/K64DnL
- The Six Living Generations In America: http://goo.gl/tqzH7p
- The Unluckiest Generation: What Will Become of Millennials? http://goo.gl/GGk2Cz
- 16 Things You Should Know About Today’s Teens: http://goo.gl/9VxAWD
- TIME – The American Teenager in 2015: http://goo.gl/6Uxdiz
- Social Media: The Death of Real World Interaction: https://goo.gl/1i2DP2
- Teenage brains in the digital world: http://goo.gl/7W7jsv
Carlsbad, CA. USA
27 January 2016