Comparisons between generations: when technology unites or divides us

Comparisons between generations: when technology unites or divides us

"Me at your age..." Who has never heard this sentence said by a grandfather, parent or friend of more years of age who, with this incipit, answers your question or gives you advice on a situation he has already experienced when he was the same age as you? The truth is that the course of time changes places, customs, ideas, ways of life, technologies, etc. that give life to new and old generational “strata”.

We are in the twenty-first century, the century of the digital revolution, where "old" and "new" generations find themselves every day having to adapt to a society that is increasingly fast and constantly evolving.

The generational classification

How many and what are the generations to date? To answer this question, we may draw from the last Istat (Italian National Institute of Statistics) generation classification of 2016, which labels by name and defines the peculiarities of the different generations. Istat classifies and subdivides those born between 1926 and 2000 onwards into 5 categories which are precisely:

Generation of reconstruction (or silent generation): people born between 1926 and 1945 and therefore great supporters of traditions, values and principles. They lived through difficult periods of history characterized not only by the effects of world wars, but also by the presence of different political ideologies.

Baby boomers : born between 1946 and 1965, the term derives from the great demographic, economic and social boom that took place during those years in the United States of America and in most European countries.

They can be further subdivided into two micro-categories whose peculiarities have been identified and well described by Istat: the "protagonists of the great social battles and cultural transformations of the 1970s" (born between 1946 and 1955) and the so-called " generation of commitment" (born between 1956 and 1965), more linked to the individual struggle with themselves in seeking their "political affiliation" or their "vision oriented towards the achievement of personal goals".

Generation "X": is the generation born between 1965 and 1977. It is the generation of "losers" as described by newsmagazine Panorama in one of their articles or, simply, the "intermediate" or "invisible" generation. The term was first identified at the end of the 20th century defining the people of this generation as generally lazy, apathetic and cynical with little sense of confidence in the future, skeptical about traditional values and institutions.

Xennials: The identification of this generation took place between late 2017 and early 2018. Born between 1977 and 1984, they are the middle generation, a Jolly generation technologically born as analogical one, but easily adaptable to new technologies;

Millennials (or Generation Y or Generation Next/Net): digital generation, i.e. those born between 1985 and 1994. They are defined as the children of the technological boom living in the middle of the international economic crisis. It is the generation of the moment and, according to many, the one that is facing the biggest “risk”. The members of this generation "are labeled as lazy, self-indulgent and spoiled, but they are probably the most misunderstood generation in history" as reported by Pop Economy;

Generation Z (or IGeneration or Centennials): those born since 1995 are part of this generation. They are the digital natives who already handle any device (smartphone, tablet) in the early years of life and use apps intuitively, so much so that now every daily action passes through technology and where the distinction between "online" and "offline" social barriers no longer exists. Although they have the tendency to accept everything that can be innovative in society, the researchers are concerned about the future of these young people who, on the other hand, are and will be the promoters of tomorrow's society.

We could discuss for hours about the characteristics and the pros and cons of each generation; just think about the fact that some people are already starting to talk about the generation after the Z generation, the alpha, and there is a lot of material on the web about it.

Intergenerational Exchange

Once we have explored, generally, who they are and the peculiarities of the different generations, the main questions to answer are: will these generations ever be able to work together? What is the relationship that each generation has with technological progress?

To answer the first question, we can start with a curious story reported in the newspapers about the 25-year-old European Parliament Member Chloe Swarbrick, who was intent on sharing her reasons on the climate emergency and was abruptly interrupted by an older parliamentary colleague. The young, impassive woman snubbed her colleague's inappropriate speech with an "Ok Boomer" almost as if she had a grudge against the previous generation. What happened summarizes the real situation of what we can define as a sort of generational cold war where millennials and generation z point the finger at past generations blaming them for being the main cause of the economic crisis that today's young people are experiencing. On the other hand, past generations label future generations as being good at basking only in their "victim complex" and finding excuses for "not working", being therefore responsible for what is happening in the world today. In one of the above-mentioned articles, in fact, there is a statistic that shows how the American millennials, for example, are the first generation to earn much less than their parents when they were the same age as their children. Just as in America, the rest of the world is also talking about the precariousness that is afflicting young people. The described phenomenon, therefore, could be called as "a dog chasing its own tail", also with regard to the way in which the various generations approach the use of technology.

This brings us to the answer to the second question whose solution can be found in part in the 2018 Deloitte survey reported by Variety. The company that provides consulting and financial audit services has conducted a study on the use of the smartphone in the population currently most connected in the world, the U.S., as also reported by VpnMentor. The study shows that millennials and generation Z (18-34 years old) are the ones who use smartphones the most, up to 52 times a day, unlike previous generations who claim to use their phones only "often" and in case of need.

Conclusions

Have you ever seen a baby boomer or a person from generation X buy from an online store, shop online, watch their favorite soap opera on their smartphones by connecting to a streaming platform, or text on WhatsApp or Instant Messenger with someone? If you have, then it's not so difficult to think that even though the different generations have different characteristics, it doesn’t mean they cannot arrive to a fruitful collaboration. Rather than pointing the finger, it would be better to stop and think of the potential of teamwork between the Old Generation and the New Generation in combining forces to concretely solve the problems that afflict our society. For the new generations it is useful to keep in mind that for better or worse, as St. Bernard of Chartres used to say, "we are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants" and for the Old Generation it is useful to understand that even if today they feel they carry on their shoulders the extra weight of the "dwarf", their eyes will surely see higher when oriented to the common future!