Studying generational similarities and differences is always interesting and often tricky.
Nobody completely fits a defined "generation" in their core, work and personal values. However, as I have seen in my research over the past 25 years, the majority of people born between a rough set of dates actually do share many of these characteristics. Much of this is in my previous book, Me, MySpace, and I: Parenting the Net Generation, where I chronicle specific generational characteristics and highlight research on their similarities and differences.
In general, researchers agree that everyone born between 1946 and 1964 belongs to the Baby Boomer generation. Those born before 1946 are often called the "Traditional" or "Silent" generation. There is fairly good agreement that people born between 1965 and [insert year here - although I prefer 1979 people vary across the board on the end date] are called "Generation X." Typically this name is attributed to Douglas Coupland's book of the same name (which was published in 1991 when the youngest Gen Xers were entering adulthood) with the label "X" meant to signify a somewhat vague generation. I don't mean that Gen Xers are vague, only that compared with the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers are simply not as easily categorized.
Then came the 1980s and the birth of the World Wide Web, which brought the power of cyberspace to the masses. Call it what you may, this new generation of web surfers was very different from its predecessors. When it came to naming this generation, we start to get a bit sketchy. The most common label is Generation "Y" with an obvious reference to being the generation after "X." Others who stretched the generation past 1999 and into the next decade often refer to them as "Millennials." To me, quite honestly, this is an insult to our first truly cyber-generation. They should not be defined by the next letter in the alphabet, nor should they be named after a chronological identifier. If we are going to call them anything, I would prefer to use Don Tapscott's name - the "Net Generation" - to reflect the impact of the Internet in their lives.
With the rapid change in technology and its impact on our lives, it is clear that the Internet is no longer the defining feature in the lives of children and teens. Based on our research, we have now discovered a separate generation, which we label the "iGeneration" with the "i" representing both the types of mobile technologies being heralded by children and adolescents (iPhone, iPod, Wii, iTunes) plus the fact that these technologies are mostly "individualized" in the way they are used. My colleagues and I feel that this new generation encompasses those children and teens born in the new millennium and are defined by their technology and media use, their love of electronic communication, and their need to multitask.
INCREASED MEDIA CONSUMPTION: In our studies of thousands of children, teens, and young adults we have found massive quantities of media being consumed on a daily basis. In our studies we ask, in online anonymous surveys, about the hours of daily use of a variety of activities including being online, using the computer other than going online, listening to music, playing video games, talking on the telephone, IMing and chatting, texting, sending and receiving e-mail, and watching television. We compute a total, being cognizant that many of those media activities are being done simultaneously through multitasking. Based on our work, and that of others including the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Pew Internet & American Life Project, children and teens are spending nearly all of their waking hours using media and technology. The following chart gives the total amount of reported hours of total media use for four generations from left to right: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Net Generation, and the iGeneration partitioned into four age ranges (older teens, younger teens, tweens and children). Clearly, massive amounts of media are being consumed with a peak in the Net Generation and the older teen group.
MULTITASKING: We have done several studies of multitasking, again by querying people of all generations about their media usage. One way we assess multitasking is to ask adults (and parents of children about their children's media use) which tasks out of a long list of media and nontechnology-based activities they would choose to do at the same time when they had "free time." [We have also asked this question of multitasking in other domains such as studying for a final exam or writing an important report.] The results are displayed in the chart below where I think it is clear that the teens are the biggest multitaskers as well as the larger media consumers as seen in the graph above. These data, coupled with other information gleaned from our interviews, has led us to designate these teens and children as a new "iGeneration."
E-COMMUNICATION: When you take a look at what each generation is doing with their technologies, it is clear that there are generational "preferences." Baby Boomers, in general, prefer face-to-face or telephone communication with many using e-mail regularly while Gen Xers - being the "ambiguous" generation that they are - seem to embrace cell phones and e-mail with a bit of instant messaging thrown in. The Net Generation began to define a new communication era, using many available technologies including net-based ones such as social networks (Facebook, MySpace), instant messaging, Skyping, and text messaging. Then we have the iGeneration who totally redefined communication. According to the Nielsen Company, who track a large sample of teens on a quarterly basis, the typical teenager sends and receives 3,146 text messages PER MONTH while only making and receiving 191 phone calls during that same period. This equates to sending and receiving 10 text messages per waking, non-school hour! BTW, two years ago teens only sent and received about the same number of texts and they made and received phone calls. To them, a phone is not a phone. It is a portable computer which they use to tweet, Facebook, and, of course, text, text, text [LOL - jk].
My new book - Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn - goes into much more detail about the iGeneration and I hope to be able to contribute my thoughts through the Psychology Today blog about what we have learned about how this generation including the impact of media use on health, the effect of using language shortcuts on their writing abilities, and the effect that constant techno-interruptions have on their concentration and performance. In addition, my research colleagues at the George Marsh Applied Cognition Lab at California State University, Dominguez Hills are looking at the impact of the new, realistic technologies and how they lead to a strong sense of "presence" which can be used to engage young learners. It is not a coincidence that most children's movies are being shown in 3-D. iGeners are the most technologically immersed generation and just watching the intense look on their faces as they play video games, text all day long, Skype, Facebook, watch YouTube videos, and juggle a dozen websites at a time, it is clear that they are engaged. Now, we need to rewire education to take the home iGen lifestyle and transfer it into the classroom. More on this in another post!