Understanding the Technological Generation Gap
Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.
The National Psychologist
We are living in a time of incredible technological changes. Technologies that took dozens of years to become mainstream, now emerge within a period of 3-5 years. Radio took 38 years to reach an audience of 50,000,000. Television took 13 years. The personal computer took 16 years. The Internet took a mere 5 years! According to Alvin Toffler in his groundbreaking book The Third Wave, as of the mid-1970’s we had lived through three waves of technological innovation. The Agricultural Era lasted 3,000 years. The Industrial Wave lasted 300 years. The Computer Era rose and fell in 30 years. Extrapolating and updating Toffler’s view of the world of technology, we can guess that in the past 30 years we have seen several more waves with each one breaking faster than the one before.
We are in that time when rising waves meet falling
the changes are so rapid that we can barely tread water let alone get
technology. New technologies seem to
from nowhere and take over our lives.
Think back to just 5 years ago.
How many people did you see talking on cell phones?
Now look around you. All of that
happened within 5 years.
We are in the midst of four generations. Those born before 1946 make up the “silent generation.” Baby Boomers were born between 1945 and 1964 followed by Generation X (1965-1980) and the Net Generation (born after 1980). Each generation has approached technology and life quite differently.
The Silent Generation was raised without what we would call modern technology. Baby Boomers formed the first technological generation with computers on the horizon. Gen Xers were the first to be computer literate. And the Net Generation cut their teeth on computers, video games and the Internet.
To understand the differences it is important to note how each generation approaches life and change. In general Baby Boomers have a single job throughout their working career, are fiercely loyal to their job, work to live and avoid making waves. In contrast, Generation Xers will hold multiple jobs with most working for upwards of 7 different companies. Because of their mobility they tend to challenge authority rather than simply follow company directives. Work is not the most important part of their lives and they value their personal time.
Boomers learned technology after their schooling and prefer face-to-face, process-oriented meetings. Gen Xers are results oriented and since they grew up with technology, they prefer electronic communication. Boomers like routines; Xers like spontaneity.
Anybody who spends time using technology is a potential addict in the making. The statistics show that a surprisingly large percent of kids and adults spend upwards of 5 hours a day using computer technology. This includes games, the web and, of course, e-mail and instant messaging.
Technology has changed the way we live. Make sure that you are aware of the vast differences in how each generation approaches it and uses it. It may help understand issues that arise.
Copyright, 2004, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $30 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.