I recently spent a stimulating Sunday evening with a multi-generational group of friends in a spirited discussion of generational differences. As you might expect, liberally sprinkled throughout the conversation were the terms baby boomers, generation X and gen Y.
Cataloguing is a natural characteristic that allows humans to find structure and order amid the apparent chaos of daily life. Over the past few decades, as businesses have successively sought to understand and predict consumers' behaviour, it has usually been sufficient to apply a simple age-related generational model.
The post-war period delivered us the boomers (people born from 1946-1964), followed by their offspring, generation X (1965-1979), then generation Y (1980-1994). However, such a simplistic approach no longer adequately describes or characterises the consumer base. We need something more insightful.
Technology has become an integral yet increasingly invisible part of modern society. Easy access to powerful technology, combined with affordable and pervasive global communications, has broken previous geographical constraints to human communication and interaction. An increasing willingness to interact and collaborate with others in a virtual environment has enabled the growth of global communities with unprecedented reach and influence, often without easily identifiable leaders. Driving this growth is the emergence of a new class of users- generation V (the virtual generation).
Preference for digital media
Unlike the boomers, gen X or gen Y, generation V is not defined by age, gender, demographic or geography. It is based on demonstrated achievement and accomplishments (merit), and characterised by an increasing preference to use digital media to discover information, build knowledge and share insights.
Generation V is defined around three key behavioural attributes:
1. A familiarity with technology and a willingness to use it as a day-to-day tool to facilitate communication that is not bound by location or geography. Although this is a characteristic of so-called 'digital natives', it is becoming common for digital natives to teach their grandparents (typically the boomers), who find themselves with the time to take advantage of technology.
2. Building on its communication capabilities, generation V demonstrates an overwhelming desire to participate, via active involvement in global communities enabled by their self-created online personas. Technology has delivered the means to produce content in a wide range of media formats, and the internet enables its global distribution. This can be done cheaply, thus loosening the stranglehold of traditional broadcast media, the authorities, and those with power and/or money. Key in generation V's desire to participate is the conviction that two-way participation- active involvement rather than passive consumption-is both necessary and valuable. Generation V expects a conversation rather than a communication.
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