Generation Y, Again

Posted on May 26, 2008
Filed Under Culture & Technology |

Unfortunately, all the babble about Generation Y isn’t going away anytime soon as evidenced by post at ReadWriteWeb - “Why Gen Y Is Going to Change the Web.”

“Gen Y is taking over” according to Perez and “ignoring the voices of Gen Y is something you should do at your own peril.” She notes why members of Generation Y are different when it comes to technology (TV isn’t king, they don’t care about your ads, work isn’t their whole world, etc.) and explains how this will impact the Internet (they want control of their online socializing, marketing has to change, work tools need to mirror web tools, etc.).

Perez’s post sparked quite a debate and to be sure, her thesis makes some interesting points. I don’t necessarily take issue with all of its observations. That said, most are obvious and of questionable consequence.

But instead of talking specifics about Generation Y, I think it’s worthwhile to take a broader perspective.

Doing so debunks the overall notion that Generation Y matters more than any past generation and is prepared to usher in some sort of new paradigm that will change the world.

There’s a reason Generation Y doesn’t matter as much as some people think. It’s called reality.

Just as my biggest beef with the Web 2.0 community is the fact that its most ardent hypesters lack perspective, I find that the Generation Y hypesters also lack perspective.

Forget about Generation Y’s media consumption habits. Forget about its social tendencies. Forget about its philosophies on marketing and work.

None of these things really matter in today’s world.

Let’s instead look at the world Gen Yers find themselves in:

Let’s make no mistake about it: the brave new world Gen Yers find themselves is not pretty; it’s actually quite bleak.

As such, worrying about how Generation Y media consumption habits, “social skills,” and marketing and work philosophies are going to change the Internet (and world) seems like an exercise of limited value.

Saddled by debt, unrealistic expectations, narcissistic attitudes and their sheltered upbringings, many members of Generation Y are ill-equipped to deal with the realities of a world in which the conveniences and luxuries their Baby Boomer parents enjoyed (and have subsidized for them) without question are harder and more expensive to come by.

Their iPods, cell phones and voyeuristic social media tendencies will matter a whole lot less as Gen Yers, increasingly left to fend for themselves, have to grow up and make it on their own. Faced with an economy under siege, changing the workplace will play second fiddle to simply finding a decent job.

In other words, instead of shaping the future, many members of Generation Y will be lucky to survive it. At the most basic level, Gen Yers are sheep, not wolves. They just don’t recognize it yet.

None of this is to say that there aren’t members of Generation Y who can’t thrive in the challenging times that lie ahead, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking that many of the general characteristics attributed to Gen Yers are going to be especially beneficial to them.

The same adults who bought into the self-esteem movement are the same Generation Y groupies who praise everything Gen Y-related and fail to see the irony in Gen Yers with limited experience in the working world explaining how they’re going to change the workplace.

The heart of the issue is this: the effects of the self-esteem movement had tangible negative effects on Generation Y and while Gen Yers do have characteristics which aren’t all bad, few negate the negative ones and none put Gen Yers in good stead for the bleak global socioeconomic situation that has emerged and is likely only going to get worse in the foreseeable future.

So will Generation Y change the Internet?

My answer: asking this question will, in retrospect, be akin to having held a “Most Likely to Succeed” vote on the Titanic.

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7 Responses to “Generation Y, Again”

  1. Morgan on May 27th, 2008 6:33 pm

    I agree that the change Y will bring is way over-hyped, but I totally disagree on tomorrow’s economic prospects.

    There will be adjustments to new demand, measured in years, not generations. And in the end, when India and China have economies more like ours, there will be 10x the potential buyers we currently have in just the US and EU. I, and I would venture most entrepreneurs or businesses are looking forward to the increase in consumers and capital investment in the future.

    It’s not a static pie, it never has been, and it never will be. I wouldn’t trade my Gen X life for that of my over-romanticized parents’ lives for a second. Even more so 20 years from now. It’s always getting better and better, with obvious starts and stops, and the Malthusians have never been right, nor even close.

    In any case, anything called ‘Gen X’ or ‘Gen Y’ is annoying, but being too soft from the ease of our lives is the kind of problem I like to see.

  2.   links for 2008-05-27 by Kevin Bondelli’s Youth Vote Blog on May 27th, 2008 6:36 pm

    […] Generation Y, Again : The Drama 2.0 Show Another article that gets Millennials all wrong. […]

  3. Drama 2.0 on May 27th, 2008 11:10 pm

    Morgan: the problem with the assumption that the inevitable “adjustments” you speak of will provide solutions is that the supply of natural resources is finite.

    The earth cannot sustain the present level of consumption of natural resources, let alone the consumption fueled by billions more who will join the ranks of the Chinese and Indian middle classes.

    In short, the math just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, I think the vast majority of my fellow Gen Yers are unprepared for this brave new world.

  4. Sam B on May 28th, 2008 5:23 am

    Every generation believes the generation under them is useless, cowardly, lazy, entitled, etc. You know you’ve become old when you forget that the generation above you used to tell you that (and you proved them wrong) and you start repeating it to the younger generation.

    Generation Y has its disadvantages, but frankly, given the choice between:

    a) being a member of Generation Y, having been told that I am special and that I can do anything I put my mind to; having been denied a normal childhood, instead minibused from music practice to football practice to extra tuition; and consequently having entitlement issues, an inflated ego and no social skills, or;

    b) being a member of the post-WW1 generation, having joined the army at 15, spent four years crawling through mud, getting trench foot, watching friends die, trying to kill fellow human beings, living under the constant fear of death from artillery and snipers, suffering mental illness in silence because if I tell anyone I’ll be shot for cowardice, and finally coming home (still mentally ill) to find that women have at a stroke doubled the competition for the civilian job I was looking forward to.

    I’ll choose a), thanks very much. Generations with much bigger problems than Y have managed to grow up and not ruin society plenty of times before, and this one won’t be any different.

  5. Drama 2.0 on May 28th, 2008 8:20 am

    Sam B: the irony of your comment is that I am a member of Generation Y.

    And contrary to what’s implied in your comment, I don’t believe that Generation Y is going to ruin society. It’s not capable of that; most of its members are simply not well-equipped to deal with the society that they find themselves in.

  6. Sam B on May 28th, 2008 9:11 am

    Drama: So am I, in pure age terms. Anyway, you’ve missed the point, or rather I didn’t make it focused enough. I don’t worry about whether we’re facing social ruin or merely a glut of useless humans, because I don’t think the root problem is there to begin with. I don’t believe that this generation, whatever its problems may be, is less capable of overcoming those problems than every other generation that has come before and overcame its own burdens and neuroses.

    Every single generation goes through some sort of social change and/or traumatic events, but they always get over it. Humans are very adaptable and resilient creatures, it’s why we’re the dominant species in every environment on the planet (except underwater), and it takes a lot more than a bit of misguided parenting to take that out of us.

  7. Drama 2.0 on May 28th, 2008 9:50 am

    Sam B: if you don’t believe that the root problems I speak of (the level of overpopulation and overconsumption that exists today) have created a serious, unique and unprecedented situation that is only going to get worse, then we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    And while I would argue that humans are the not the dominant species on the planet (in terms of long-term survivability) I have no doubt we’ll get through Al Gore’s global warming and all the other negative things that will occur as part of a global rebalancing.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think unrealistic, overcoddled Gen Yers who haven’t been given all the tools they need to fend for themselves are going to find the process very likable and I think quite a few of them are going to struggle greatly.

    Half the battle is being prepared for what’s going to hit you and right now, I see a lot of deer in headlights.

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