Generations + Technology

How the web is being used by generations

Posted Nov 02, 2011

Baby at computer.
Source: Shutterstock

Growing up in the 1980s, I was fortunate enough to have parents that knew technology was going to be the wave of the future. At 12 years old, they bought me a Commodore 64c to learn computer programming. Unfortunately, the tools back then were clunky, and I found myself quickly discouraged by programming simple DOS programs.

As I look back at why I find myself open to emerging technology, I realized that I had exposure to technology at a young age. In fact, I'm not alone. Most Gen Xers experienced a similar path of technology evolution from computers to game consoles. Take a look at this infographic that outlines the typical GenX and technology experience created by --> Gen X and Technology.

Although I did not turn out to be a computer programmer, my career requires that I transform organizations through technology. When I think about how to manage change, I think of the psychological disposition of the population I'm targeting. 

Most folks don't think about this, but our childhood experiences (good or bad) shape how we think and accept new concepts. That said, I've outlined below nostalgic experiences by generation, which helps when considering new technology in an organization.

Silent Generation/Veterans (Born 1937-1945)

  • WW2, Korean War, Great Depression, New Deal, Rise on Corporations, Space Age
  • Raised by parents that just survived the Great Depression
  • Experienced hard times while growing up, which were followed by times of prosperity
  • Work is a long-term career.
  • Communication was rotary phones, one-to-one, memo writing.

Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964)

  • Civil Rights, Vietnam War, Sexual Revolution, Cold War/Russia, Space Travel
  • The highest divorce rate and number of second marriages in history
  • Post-war babies who grew up to be radicals of the '70s and yuppies of the '80s
  • Work is an exciting adventure, a career, work and then retire.
  • Communication was touch-tone phones.

Generation X (Born 1965-1976)

  • Watergate, Energy Crisis, dual-income families and single parents, First Generation of Latchkey Kids, Y2K, corporate downsizing, end of Cold War
  • Their perceptions are shaped by growing up having to take care of themselves early and watching their parents get laid off.
  • Work is just a job, a contract.
  • Communication is cell phones

Generation Y/Millennials (Born 1977-1992)

  • Digital media, child-focused world, 9/11, terrorist attacks
  • Typically grew up as children of divorce.
  • The first generation of children with schedules
  • Work is a means to an end.
  • Communication is the internet, smartphones, email.

Reading through this list, one can see the differences across generations and why it's important to understand psychological dispositions. 

When implementing a technology solution, my goal is to understand the end-user. Looking at generational differences provides one data point in figuring out how to manage change. 

For instance, Organization Y (comprised of 10 percent Veterans, 20 percent Boomers, 30 percent Gen X, and 40 percent Gen Y) would be faster in accepting Twitter as a communication tool vs. Organization Z (comprised of 20 percent Veterans, 50 percent Boomers, 20 percent Gen X, and 10 percent Gen Y). It's not to say that Organization Z would not accept Twitter, but it would mean that acceptance and usage of the tool would take more time.

A lot of research has been conducted by the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit "fact tank" that provides information on the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, civic and political life, etc.

In fact, this infographic specifically outlines how generations use the internet --> How the Web Is Being Used By Generations.


If you're interested in learning more about their research, feel free to visit PewInternet.Org