X, Y or Z?

When talking of digital natives and the new generation, names and definitions are changing rapidly. Thoughts on today’s Generation Z and the differences between Austria and the U.S.

The Baby Busters

Generation X, (often also named the 13th Generation or Baby Busters/Baby Boomers) was shaped by political experiences such as the end of the cold war and the fall of the Berlin wall and defined as those born after the baby boom ended (birth dates 1961 to 1981). They are characterised by being the first generation with widespread access to television and shaped by the attention they received from the media. The term was used in a wide range of fields from social sciences to popular culture. It was popularised by the author Douglas Coupland in the novel “Generation X. Tales for an Accelerated Culture” (1991).

The Millennial Generation

The demographic cohort following Generation X is – surprisingly enough – described as Generation Y. It is also called Millennial Generation, Net Generation or Echo Boomers. Many sources have Generation Y spanning from the 1970s (during the late years of the Vietnam war) to the late 1990s, others between 1980 and 2000 (cf. Tim Walters, Ph.D. from Forrester Research). Characteristics of this generation vary, depending on region and social conditions. However, it is generally marked by an increased use of communication media and digital technologies. Shaped by the events of its time and the rise of communication technologies, it’s members, who have not yet hit 30, are familiar with almost all aspects of the internet, websites like YouTube and social networking sites. This may explain why they are rather peer-oriented due to the easy use of communication through technology. Compared to their elders, they seem to have a very different social behaviour and are often seen as spoiled children who demand good salary conditions and best time to work.

Participation vs. command-and-control

When conducting a survey with Swedish youngsters via Internet and Facebook (report entitle e-revolution), PricewaterhouseCoopers found out that collaboration and participation are not just words and that this generation is one of the most innovative. Attitudes and opinions are formed through the net, young people having a clear vision of it’s role. Generation Y strongly influenced the U.S. presidential election in 2008. 71% of those under 30 years went to the polls for the first time and two-thirds voted for Barack Obama. With a “speak your mind” philosophy, they are much less likely to respond to the traditional command-and-control type of management and don’t fear authorities. Plus, work-life balance is becoming increasingly important.

The Y in Austria

In Austria, Generation Y may be a much smaller cohort due to technical and cultural factors, especially the later introduction of the internet and most other services (in 1999, only 16 % of the Austrian households had access to the net compared to 42 % of the U.S. households in 2000, although there has been a significant increase from 2000 onwards. By the turn of the millennium, statistics showed that the Internet usage in Europe was still lagging considerably behind usage in the USA. Of all people aged 15 years and older, in the U.S. 53 % were online during 14 days, while in Europe only 27 % were online.

The iGeneration

The next Generation, Generation Z (sometimes referred to as Generation M, Internet Generation, iGeneration, Generation Silent or Generation Next), is already knocking on the employment market’s door. Born between the mid-1990s and the end of the 2000s (some sources also name 2004) as the children of Generation X, their members are equally if not more peer-orientated than their elders. They grew up with the internet, multi-tasking and multimedia mobiles. Interactive sources of information and networking are preferred over traditional information channels like press and television. Live without the internet is unimaginable, the whole life being mirrored in online services.

Microblogging especially for grown-ups?

Generation Z makes use of a variety of social networks and interactive services independently from time and location. Microblogging is popular and messages tend to get shorter. Interestingly enough, people under the age of 25 make up almost a quarter of all U.S. Internet users and yet only 16 percent of Twitter’s audience in June of 2009. Conversely, the large majority of Twitter users (64 %) fell into the 25 to 54 age group. However, with 10 million users, the service is excessively used in the U.S. and the trend is currently shifting – microblogging service is becoming increasingly popular with the younger users in the U.S. with younger age groups flooding in the fastest.

On the average, the youngsters of today’s Generation Z are highly connected, eager to share information with friends and to combine many different services on their common place, the internet. They are sometimes criticised for lacking verbal communication skills. However, this generation is still being born and very young. It is therefore hard to describe all its characteristics without speculating.

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