Getting to Know the Gap Generation
Interview by Mary Hoff
What makes this generation special?
People growing up with the Internet are growing up with a fundamentally different DNA, a different inbred sense of who they are and how to connect with the world. That's really been the focus of the shift that's been going on and the leadership that this generation will take going forward.
What does your book have to say about them?
I focused on the transformation from the pre- to the post-Internet age and the differences in those who grew up before and after the Internet. Millennials are 1982 to 2002. The Internet comes right in the middle, in 1993, [so] the millennials really are two different generations. What I discovered in my research was this five-year bridge generation, 1991 to1995, carries a tremendous amount of the baggage of the pre-Internet age, but also provides our first vision into the Internet natives, the post-Internet age. They have lot of the characteristics and qualities I believe we will increasingly see in society and people.
As pioneers they're leaders. As leaders they're builders, and their focus is on building a more stable future and a more tolerant society, doing social good, using online tools to bring people together, creating more balance and equality in their lives. They've not only grown up with the Internet, they've grown up with two decades of technology acceleration, political polarization, 9/11 and a war on terror. They've grown up with a life of chaos. For them the Internet has become their community center where they go to find and create stability in their lives. For us older people, the Internet is disruptive, creating chaos. This generation is the first to see the Internet as source of stability. They're the first generation that's going to be moving into adulthood, into the workforce, with a focus and skill set to use the Internet to create stability. The first three chapters fit into that.
The subsequent chapters look at the influences on them—entertainment, religion, everything from Harry Potter to Sponge Bob and Rugrats, music, politics—and how they're going to influence various aspects of civilization: politics, education entertainment, gaming, globalism. It talks about the effects of wikis, Internet advertising media, Facebook, Google, privacy. The book gets into a lot of specific details [about the impact] this generation is going to have and why I believe they are the next great generation.
You've said the gap generation gives us hope for the future. Why hope?
Because of the nature of the environment in which they grew up. Because they had the Internet to turn to, they come into their adult years with a very different perspective on both themselves and those around them—in person and online. Unlike the older millennials, this generation is very social and very collaborative. Human equality, diversity, human rights are birthrights for them. They were born into an online culture where equality is the norm. Because of the environment in which they grew up they're seeking stability – political, economic, social—and balance. They have grown up in a global world where everyone is equal. They're turned off by the collapse of the economy and financial ethics.
They're also a very female-centric society. Sixty percent of college graduates will be women. Women are going to be increasingly dominating all aspects of society, culture, education, business. And that brings a different mentality.
When asked about their goals, almost none [of those I surveyed] said financial. Instead, they uniformly talked about being in careers that were fulfilling, not only for them but meaningful to the greater good. They're the first generation not to aspire to do better financially than their parents. So they're aspiring to have careers that are meaningful.
What are the implications for mainstream media?
The Internet pioneer will embrace interactivity. They'll be much more engaged online with all media, less engaged with traditional media. They'll migrate toward programs that embrace equality and tolerance. Entertainment and variety programs will appeal because of the interest in looking for escape. Amateur videos and short form documentaries will find increasing voice.
What effect will this generation have on politics in America?
They are a moderate progressive group. They will become increasingly progressive. They're much more global, much more international. They've grown up with incredible diversity. They don't necessarily believe America is the greatest economic power or that it will continue to be the greatest economic power.
I believe this generation is going to be at the forefront of rejecting polarizing politics and rejecting politicians that follow a political platform that's unbending. They're left of center, but left of center is far more right than it used to be.
What are the implications for the future of environmental protection and sustainability?
This has been a generation that's all about sustainability. Eighty-five percent believe climate change is real. They also across the board on almost every issue follow progressive to moderate view. Only 10 percent say they don't intend to vote. They're not activists, but they are online spreading the word. They're incredibly sophisticated in their ability to use online social media to achieve their ends.
What's interesting about the hooked-up generation is that when you talk to them about environmental sustainability, human rights, diversity for the most part they don't really understand the question nor the issue. But they do understand that there are those who do not agree with them. Rather than argue, their feeling is they don't want to polarize. Their position is to listen to other opinions, and they expect the other person to listen to their position. Unwillingness to listen—they find that intolerable.
What are the implications for the workplace and for business?
What I fundamentally believe about this generation is they're going to be very sought-after employees. They will not be all that well paid, unfortunately. But they're going to make enormous contribution. One thing, frankly, that is going to be a major challenge is to have a 20-year-old intern walk into a CEO's office and say, “What's up, dude?” They will not be influenced by the fact this is a powerful person who's in charge. On the Internet no one is in charge, so they come in with a different perspective on who will be listened to and who will be heard.
Entrepreneurial companies will continue to sprout up and have increasing influence—[especially] companies that embrace the relationship, embrace the online experience, embrace the engagement the Internet allows. Those unable to do this will shrink. It will take two decades before we see the results, before culture's transformed. I believe in 2030 when we look back we'll look back with wonder that society was able to sustain itself through this period.
Media Ecologist Jack Myers
After 25 years with his finger on the nation's media and marketing pulse, media ecologist Jack Myers has a unique perspective on the way in which interactions between people and technology are shaping our future. More than a decade ago, he predicted the shift from the information age to a “relationship age” in which social media blurred the boundaries between relationships with people and relationships with machines.
Of late, his focus has been on what he calls the “gap generation” – the individuals, now older teens and young adults, who are the first among us to have never known a world without the Internet. What he found could fill a book—and has. In Hooked Up: A New Generation's Surprising Take on Sex, Politics and Saving the World, and in this recent interview with spoke to Momentum and Terry Waghorn of Forbes—Myers discusses the distinct traits of the currently fledging generation and the hope he believes they bring to us all.
- © 2012 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer
Last modified on January 23, 2012