Over the past few weeks I’ve been looking a psychological with an eye to creating realistic characters. Frequently I’ve been hearing a lot about how the millennial generation is different from other generations. I really have not found any creditable research describing exactly what the difference is. Writers on this topic seem to be making it up based on what they think is logical for people who have grown up with computers and the internet.
Of course I have my own logic based on working with millennial age students and my own children who were born in the 90’s. Recently I was reviewing research I used for a literacy program developed as a consultant in 2005. What struck me as ironic was that one of the major points of the research was that this program required “a technological component.” However, the research paper was vague concerning the kind of actual kind of technology needed or the results it was suppose to achieve. I showed this attempt to be cutting edge without specific information to my millennial age daughter.
Her response “Technological component? It could be a digital clock, or one of those reading toys with a tiny computer inside.” The millennial generation often look with a jaded eye on the idea that technology by itself is a solution to any problem. They have grown up with instant Internet access and still see a world full of problems. Instead they want to know what specific technology will be used because they feel the pressure to know how to use it.
Of course millennials use electronic technology more than the previous generation, because it is around in greater abundance. But they are no more likely to adopt new technology as they get older than the past generations. In fact I have seen many millennials disgruntled with new versions of electronic products and software programs (or apps as they are now called). It’s not just a matter of older generation not learning technology, younger people are getting tired of constant change also. They simply are already accustom to a set of technology that was developed later.
So I find the differences in generations is more a matter of environment heightened by superficial appearances that people adopt because they want to belong to a group. As a child I watched TV more than my parents did, who listened to radio more than their parents did, who probably read penny novels more than their parents did. Attention spans, persistence and people skills really do not change with generations, rather it is the unwritten rules on what is acceptable that changes.
Despite the major technology emphasis in classes, companies think students coming from college are less prepared for the workplace than in the past – in the sixties any degree was good enough to show you could learn on the job – because change in industry always outstrips change in education. There is a good reason for this; education is supposed to provide problem solving skills which is a far more classic and non-specific skill. If you want to see where education is headed, you can look to the workplace. Computer assisted instruction and learning simulators have were employed in the workplace when Roddenberry was writing the Star Trek scripts (no he didn’t make up the computer based schools on his own). The corporate world threw itself into e-learning because of the reduced expense of not having trainers on the road, only to find that their employees simply were not learning as well from e-learning. The pendulum is swing back to learning face to face.
So maybe the millennial generation will look at their own children and ask “Why do you actually want to be with your friends to talk to them?”
Image by W.Rebel (Own work) CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons