The Torch is Passed to the Millennial Generation
By Michael Schubach Strategic Deployments / Program Management Director, Infor Hospitality | May 28, 2017
There was a time during the tumultuous 60s and 70s that the younger generation was admonished to “never trust anyone over thirty.” You may have heard that quote – it was made a cultural touchstone by the likes of luminaries such as Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the Beatles. (Note: members of the younger generation who don’t understand those references should consult the Internet and the iTunes store.) Today, members of the older generation seem to apply the opposite perspective – it’s hard to trust anyone under thirty. Employers talk about a new generation of workers with a “me first” mentality who place more value on their own entertainment than on company loyalty and work output. They value travel experiences and cultural interaction, and want to see and meet the world on their own terms, by non-conventional methods and alternative choices.
The Millennial generation has been raised like no other before it. Its membership has been electronically educated, babysat, monitored, befriended and networked, with all the inherent advantages and drawbacks that represents. It’s how they read, think and interact – or not, as the case may be. They place more value on a ‘like’ from their tribe (48%) than from Madison Avenue hype (17%). If you can’t cater to, entertain or amuse them, you ought not to count on their patronage. They are contradictory, but they have our complete attention. And there are many good reasons for that – they are set to rule the world.
But before we leap to a conclusion, let’s start with an introduction. To me, the foundational question is not so much what a millennial is, but rather how we define “generation.” The simplistic answer, of course, is that a generation is the reproductive cycle that separates you from your parents, and them from theirs, et cetera, et cetera; then, now and forever, world without end. However, historians, sociologists and statisticians – those who divide us into categories and give us our pithy nomenclature – look for more tangible definitions. Historians define a generation as a span of thirty years, since that’s the approximate time it takes an average person to pass from birth to adulthood and generate children of their own. Sociologists want to link people together who live through common cultural experiences, such as the “Pepsi Generation,” or those who still recall where they were the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. Statisticians tend to look at key performance indicators (to borrow a phrase from the software industry) such as per capita birthrates, in order to detect ebb and flow and to aggregate us into the demographic groups that separate the clusters from the outliers.
Favoring the historian’s perspective is a bit of a challenge. Even if we accept the arbitrary thirty-year duration, we still struggle with appropriate keystone starting dates. Every so often the world provides us with some convenient coincidences that serve as memorable lines of demarcation. Take, for example, the end of the last world war and the population surge resulting from… well, let’s call it the “process of reunification.” Presto: Baby Boomers. 1945 is a relatively clear line in the sand that intersects nicely with the coincidental overlay of the introduction of large-scale computing in big business sectors, heralding the early dawn of the Information Age. In that case, we hit the trifecta: an historical date of widespread renown, significant social trends and impacts, and more statistical data than we could handle.
Even so, determining generations is an imperfect science. I come from a large enough family that I have older siblings who are technically classed as Boomers, and younger ones who are Gen-Xers. I’d be interested in hearing a sociologist explain to one set of parents how they managed to give birth to two separate generations.
Since the Boomer generation, time lines have become just that much murkier and harder to define. We live in an unparalleled age of widespread, high velocity technical and social change. Assisted by a worldwide mass media / informational network, social change takes place on a global scale and an hour-by-hour basis. In earlier times, it was easier to define a social generation, or even to class multiple generations together into an ‘age’ or ‘era.’ Now, from the social perspective, thirty years isn’t a lifetime, it’s two or three.
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