A grumbling manifesto from between two generations

People love to give things and phenomenas names and to classify them. It’s easier to deal with reality that’s systematically cut in pieces, like by the fishnet. Thereby we can move them around, reason about them, build concepts and mutual dependencies. Generally speaking, we perceive ourselves as better in dealing with describable and precise models than with formless mass of information spread in time. We also try to do it with generations of people born on different continents, in different material conditions and political realities. It’s obviously hard to do, and the inexactness of generation’s d.o.b. boundaries that we’ve came up prove it well. However, I’d like to play on this named and classified playground for a while, and look closer on two of them — Generation X and the following: Millennials.The motivation is my belief, that there’s some space in between those two, that should be filled by yet another name. A different generation, that is too accustomed with technology for being X, and too conscious about what it does with our lives for Millennials. We, 30 y.o. in 2015 are in some way special. We fill the gap. It’s equally about mentality and technology, but at the end of the day it eventually comes down to technology and its impact.

The generations

There’s a great summary of characteristics and differences between generations of 20st century made by West Midland Family Centre available online. It covers (among many others) such aspects as generation’s biggest influences, core values, experience and a bunch of work-related factors, i.e. view on retirement, life-work balance, feedback and rewards, etc. It deals with so many aspects, that I don’t see much value in delving deeper into generations specifics here. However, I’d like to sketch them briefly from a perspective that will thereafter help in highlighting what differentiates our missing generation.

Generation X — The entrepreneurs

Also called The Doers, because of their proactive attitude and a confidence, that the world is lying under their feet. We, 30 y.o.’s remember their late puberty and teenage, when they’ve raised up under the influence of a huge popularity of rock music, MTV and the prime time of pop culture. They were the first to experience free intercontinental mass media and, thanks to television, were also pioneers of the global village we’re living in today. On the other hand, they were pretty much connected with baby boomers, although it was rather a kind of “the old folks know nothing” relationship. Out of their connection with the older generation comes their entrepreneurship and willing to work, try, experiment and fearlessly follow own dreams. Most of modern tech-culture icons comes from this generation, and as being in their 40s now it’s them who shape our world in the greatest extent.

Most of X’s were idealists, they strived for something that brought a bigger meaning to their lives. They refused to follow, were definitely more hungry than our quasi-generation or millennials. Out of their idealism and control issues emerged their paths as adults: some of them continued with the rebel, becoming forever searching and questioning artists and life voyagers, while some immersed in doing business and became greedy, ruthless businessmans.

Generation X knows technology very well, as it reached its breaking point in terms of influencing human kind when they were still young and could accept the changing world easily. On the other hand, the technology was something they had to learn, something new and somehow extraneous. As an adults, they embraced it and very often made lots of money on IT business, but in terms of social behaviour and mentality, they are merely technology users/creators, separated from its influence as painter from his tools: brush or easel.

Millennials — molded by technology

Millennials are pretty much childish, and it’s not only because they’re the youngest generation so widely described. People born after mid 80s’ expect a lot from the world in a selfish, impatient and demanding way. They are very dependent on the conditions they’re given, and don’t try to form them, rather adjust themselves. That’s also because of the speed of change that was so high from the day they became conscious.

Millennials are separated from “the real life”. Social networks, screens and popular trends form a bubble in which they operate. From the perspective of former generations, they seem to be blindfolded, without much care about the difference between what the world really is, and how they perceive it.

Generation Y is generally speaking undisciplined, but unfortunately it comes with no entrepreneurial instinct at all. I disagree with some opinions, that these people follow Generation X in their everlasting searching for the unknown. What I see as a biggest upset about Millennials is they totally lack the adventurous gene, the willing to question what’s given and find new paths. Their easiness in handling technology could be suggestive, but actually in case of the young ones it’s almost a muscle memory. More conclusive is how often they copy methods and attitudes of Jobses and Zuckerbergs of our world. They easily follow the known, changing only the outer layer, seemingly the most disruptive, that is the technology. But for them, it’s also something well known. Mastered tools, learned behaviour — nothing that associates with a true spirit of entrepreneurship.

What’s absolutely special about Millennials is their bond with technology. They are a generation born in the world of internet. The whole ideas of knowledge, information, society, relationship are radically different from what they mean for us. And this list could go on: culture, patriotism, emotions, self-awareness, etc — all of those humane aspects are perceived differently, if the first photo of you as an infant was taken by a smartphone. Those kids were molded by technology, they not only coexists, they are merged into one.

In between — the modem kids

And finally, there are us. When we were kids, technology began to emerge. We were looking at our older brothers and sisters speaking english instead of russian (one of the greatest generation determinant in Poland — the foreign language taught in school), watching video clips and buying first western brands sneakers. We were very young when technology knocked to our door, so olders watched us admiringly, as we were dealing with Amigas and Commodores. And of course the modem connection and the dial tone, which for such a young man was a remarkable experience of touching this incomprehensible creature called internet. So basically we’re kind of like Generation X, and much like Millennials. But we differ really a lot from both of them.

We’re not like X

As already mentioned, we didn’t have to adapt to technology — we just intuitively coexisted with it from the day one. It gives us a great feeling of what technology is, and it’s not a matter of knowing, we have it in our guts. Every new piece of technology fits in our hands naturally, there’s not much of a complex cognitive processes we have to undergo, and which we often see among former generations.

From the mental point of view, we are no longer a revolutionaries. We balance very stable between flexibility of thought and individual freedom and, on the other side, understanding, that sometimes there’s no other way than build some structures, organize and do things how they should be done. On the other hand, we ask the big questions definitely less often than Generation X. Those questions are resounding in our heads, but we hear them being asked by X’s, mostly in form of song lyrics. We also became numb to save ourselves from growing noise, therefore it’s harder for us to recognize what’s worth hearing in this crowded world.

We also differ when it comes to work ethic and the way we treat money. We’re less focused on family and wealth, therefore we spend easier and don’t mind so much if financial liquidity is in danger. Although we see the great value in work, we’re rather into making money than working for living.

We’re not like millennials

We feel more close to Generation X than to millennials, but it’s rather a matter of age — new replaces old, so we naturally antagonize with teenagers and 20y.o.’s. That’s how it’s been for years, and probably stay like that forever. But we’re really different, mostly because of technology.

We, like Generation X, are concerned about our future. We judge often, we plan and watch closely our nearest environment. We have to analyze things, cose we’re not fully a part of this human-technology misterium that is irreversibly changing our societies. Shortly said, we also have to catch up, just like X, but it’s much easier for us.

Modem kids know that nothing is given for free, and things happen for a reason. We also notice the diversity and mentioned complexity, so it’s not so obvious for us, that every situation is more an opportunity than difficulty.

We weren’t born into digital age, we lived it as a kids. Therefore, we’re much more responsive for change and we see danger from afar. I hope we’re equally good in foreseeing opportunities.

Being a modem kid is special. We have had a unique chance to see the formation of completely different world from very close. We could touch hot lava as it was hardening. In front of our very eyes new children were born from instagram and facebook, while we were sitting and trying to guess what will happen with their social lives in the future. At the same time we admired elders for their wonders like TV or videoclips. But actually, there were not much of our own miracles, we’re right in the middle of two waves of change. And in fact that’s what in my opinion makes us the greatest observers of reality in 20/21st century. Still influenced by old, native in new, seeing people without the prejudice, through the curtains by which technology sometimes tend to separate us from each other. This observing attitude goes with some price to pay. We as a generation are a little bit passive. We don’t see world as ours, we were too fresh for the old world, and are too old for new, that has been handed over to millennials.

The world at crossroads, and what to do about it

As a gap filling generation, there’s some things about the world we see and we don’t like. We think there’s a middle way we all need to follow today. First of all, we don’t like how people (as a whole mankind) operates with technology. Young ones turned their feelings and thinking off, acting as they were physically a part of technology. They sacrificed critical thinking, so much needed when those great opportunities arise, for fluency. The elders on the other hand treat technology as tools, as something we can use, or eventually something that can use us. They’re still in 1999 with their Matrix thinking.

And both of those extremes are vivid in the digital age, or as some of commentators are calling it, digital revolution. The name is funny because of one special fact, that is also a second reason why I see world as being in unstable state. As P.Drucker said, “we are becoming aware, that the major questions regarding technology are not technical but human questions”. Modern day digital revolution has nothing to do with technology, it’s about social change caused by technology. So actually, it’s not much digital. We should see it very clearly, and give the technology appropriate place in the discussion. I’m very confident, that it’s our generation in between, that will someday moderate this discussion.

A guide through the dark valley

Diversity is good, and world is self-regulated, so there’s really no great idea of social change I could possibly want to pass here. I’m just trying to find a common way to answer questions that maybe aren’t even asked yet.

For Generation X, we wish you reduce the distance to millennials. Actually, we see it as much shorter that between you and baby boomers. The difference is mostly in your heads — deep inside those young geeks are still made of flesh and bones. And keeping in mind the change is accelerating, if you don’t find a common language, you can become forgotten earlier than you could imagine.

One of the greatest business thinkers of our times, Clayton Christensen once said something very important about modern economy.

“I don’t think that God came from heaven to attend a meeting on some mountain, to say to managers: “I want to measure success by Internal Rate of Return”. It was decided by someone, but it was not God”.

Christensen was talking about people strongly believing in financial doctrine, by which, ie. we use ratio metrics, consisting of enumerator and denominator.Both of them can be tweaked to change the ratio, and while it could mean a lot to change both proportionally, the ratio would stay unchanged. That’s a great example of problem that — in my opinion — concerns Generation X. Think twice about what you take for granted — tools, theories, science, experience — because world is changing faster than you can reason about it.

Somehow in contrary to this article, I’d also advise X’s to stop modeling and categorizing so much. Soon you will run out of fuel in your notional apparatus.

There’s still a few words for Millennials too. I call you — please, doubt, don’t accept everything so easily. It’s not about denying everything, it’s about asking questions. Don’t be blindfolded just because you feel powerful thanks to technology, that only you can tame.

Also, don’t follow. Successful people made it because they were doing everything their way, not because they mimicked anybody. There’s no proper way, there’s only yours and other’s. And if I’m wrong — OK, but convince me you’re not a follower in your opinion. World needs new solutions for new problems, not the old dressed up in new clothes.

I’d love to see younger generation to search for meaning and true value. Call it meaning of live, religion or whatever, but aim high, beyond what is visible or can be proved scientifically.

And lastly, think wider. I know there’s here and now, I agree world change fast, but despite this fact, thinking about the future can be useful. Even if you regard it only as a mind exercise.

I also wish something for my own modem generation. I hope we will find our own way and a key role in modern society. I’m aware of our capabilities and unique position, so we should definitely look very closely not to miss the right moment to make the difference.