Generalizing Generations–Here We Go Again

A quick, fun post.

Since I read about a dozen books on this subject when writing a seminar paper in a popular culture course during graduate school (around 2009)—-including Dan Tapscott’s Growing Up Digital and others that categorized and generalized younger generations—-I had been itching, fretting, impatiently waiting to learn what would come after generation “Y.” I’ve had sleepless nights thinking about different possibilities.

Finally, there it is: it is called the Generation Z (the now young people born around 1995). We’ve started seeing a plethora of articles (books are coming) about this group of humans, most of the writers first generalizing up to their necks and then more or less quickly cautioning readers against generalization, most of them painting the new generation as distinct, some going uber optimistic, and others essentially focusing on how to monetize our understanding of the new human species.

Exactly what I was waiting for.

This is not a buzzword, folks. It’s not lazy generalization, not older people trying to sell their books (and clothing and stuff, you know) by describing young people in their old terms. It’s for real. It’s all based on research. 😉

Members of the generation Z, the latest one that is, are the most similar to one another. The Zs of big-city New York and little towns in Mississippi and Ontario and perhaps even off the coast of Guayana and up the mountains in Nepal are all “the most connected, educated and sophisticated generation in history”–they’re similar across class, culture, and what have you as well. Most if not all of them are on Facebook and Twitter, changing the world wholesale. They’re engaged in peace talks in the Middle right now (like the Israeli teens we saw on Twitter). 

The world will go wherever these “first tribe of digital natives” takes it–and that’s exactly why one 20-year-old student in my class told me yesterday that his step-mom (for whose accounting firm he works) is “always right” when she says that he should keep hard copies of everything “because she is boss and I am not.” The four-generation workplace today is going to soon sheepishly follow the wonderful Gen Zers!!! Go teach them that they should expect to rule the world, starting next year when they turn 19. 

And, by the way, let the X and Y shutter the social institutions (like schools and universities) that they created/sustained: the Zs will do it all on their iPhones and Samsung Galaxys. Hang on– we do need to find the right algorithms to replace crusty old professors giving video lectures on MOOCs, after which we the Xs and Ys can go home. Hm, why does the whole description of the new generation sound like it fits like hand in glove with the various types of “revolutions” that the Z for Zuckerberg group of people in Silicon Valley and Wall Street are trying to sell us (and the super kids)? Notice how many words—-such as venture, enterprising, disrupt–are taken directly from the playbook of uncle investor who wants to replace public education with shady stuff, no? 

But you will certainly become more optimistic if you see how authentic the research and media reports about Gen Z is: both use sensational stories of exceptionally successful super minority from you know where (and what backgrounds). Here’s a good sample from the Canadian “current affairs” magazine, McLean’s, worth quoting at some length:

Style Rookieat age 11, in the front row of fashion shows…. The child savant is a hot ticket, evident in the gush over Flynn McGarry, the 15-year-old Los Angeles cooking prodigy…. In Silicon Valley, competition for young talent is now so intense that interns as young as 13 are scouted; Facebook flies in kids with their parents to meet Mark Zuckerberg. It’s not uncommon for some to make a year’s salary in a summer, or receive a $100,000 grant—another example of how Gen Z is vaulting over the Millennials, while simultaneously becoming a threat to Gen X and Boomers. (emphasis added)

As you can see, the theorization is done by picking particularly super kids, the usual backgrounds and people (e.g., California, Mark the Z) are brought into the equation, and a “threat” is presented for the establishments of older people in the world. Thank god, at least, that the new generation is painted as completely positive. Like this one: “These kids are going to have to save the world literally.”

In short, it’s good that our 18 year olds are all set to change the world in very good ways. The only problem may be that if they don’t actually and literally save the world, we the Y folks will have to write some more books (in 5-10 years), asking “why?” In the meantime, their stories will help us achieve a lot of objectives in business and marketing, social policies, and (most importantly) the education industry, and the likes.

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