A few months ago the BBC had a piece about 13-year-old Scott Campbell who traded in his Apple iPod for a Sony Walkman for a week. It is an interesting read. I love the part when he says, “It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape.” I never owned a Walkman, but I did use cassette tapes. Now I am hard pressed to know where my mix tapes are. But I guess I love old stuff.
This reminded me of a presentation I made a few years on leadership, social engagement and the differences between the generations. Gen Y (that is my generation) have never known a time when everyone was not connected via a computer or mobile phone. For us a 48″ plasma/LCD TV with TiVo is just another TV. Technology is not a luxury anymore, it is an assumed and integral part of life. What our parents call ‘technology’ we call it ‘furniture’. A example is the kitchen, we cannot imagine a kitchen without a microwave, toaster, oven, dishwasher or refrigerator. For Gen X the mobile phone first came in a briefcase, we don’t know that. It always fitted in our pockets. As much as a communication tool, our mobile is an extension of our personality.
“We are the most interconnected society and generation in history, with 24-hour news, the Internet, mobiles phones and blackberries. But I feel that we are the most disengaged. It is said that my generation the so-called Gen-Y are characterised by a tendency to postpone commitments. Having grown up in a turbulent, unstable and unpredictable world, the pace of change has taught them to anticipate change and, indeed embrace change. They are the ‘keep-your-options-open’ generation; the generation who are prepared to wait and see; the ‘hang loose’ generation.
For today’s young people the mobile phone is literally the hub of their social lives. In a recent study by Rutgers University in the US, 100 undergraduate students were asked to go 48 hours without their mobiles. They were permitted to use the internet to ‘soften the blow’ mobiles were the only form of communication that was forbidden. Students could withdraw from the experiment at any time. Of the 100, 12 students made it. Only 3 said they felt better for the experience. Most common reasons given by the dropouts were: (1) Friends getting angry that they could not contact them. And (2) An ‘emergency’ which upon further questioning was almost always related to potentially being left out of a social activity. Many students reported feelings of isolation, increased levels of anxiety and irritability. These are classic early symptoms of substance withdrawal!
In 2004, the Australian Psychological Society found almost 50% of teenagers without mobiles feel socially excluded. Gen Y are so concerned with connectedness partly because they are the first generation to be unable to imagine the inconvenience of being out of touch. But being connected is very different from being engaged.
We live in a world of iPods and Desperate Housewives. (Not that there is anything wrong with iPods). Where we canonise the frivolous into top ten lists. Where everything is neatly summed up in sound bites for the media. And where the twits on Big Brother gain fame and stardom. This is the condition of the media or a reflection of the demand of the public? Sadly it is a reflection of our demands on the self-appointed gatekeepers of fashion and popular culture.”
- Global Discontent: The Responsibility of Leadership and the Need for Engagement,
7th February 2007