The Declining Relevance of Generation Gaps

Something I think is already happening and will accelerate in the future, is that traditional generation gaps are going to stop being relevant.

  1. In terms of cultural artifacts, we are shifting to an on-demand system, in which all the media from all of the ages just exists in a giant pile on the internet for anyone to peruse at any time. Interested kids already have the ability to educate themselves about any classic works or past subgenres with great ease, and likewise adults armed with search engines can easily educate themselves about any new fads younger generations have concocted. The increasing fragmentation of entertainment outlets suggests that what will matter most is not so much what generation you’re from, but what micro niche you belong to.
  2. Computers interfaces are getting easier to use and increasingly dumbed down. So the younger generation is not likely to have any native technological advantage over the older generation, in the way that millennials have had a significant advantage over baby boomers.
  3. Relatively fast adoption of new technologies is already pretty much a necessity for adults today. So the idea that young people adopt things more readily or more quickly while older people end up frozen at a certain technological moment will probably fade.
  4. Better health and medical technology will make the physical differences between the young and the old increasingly less salient. Eventually cognitive advances may improve the brain plasticity of the old as well, which has probably always been one of the primary driving factors behind generation gaps.
  5. The increasing difficulty of finding a job, the growing impermanence of jobs that exist, the inevitable transformation of higher education, and the continued decoupling of education from work—all of these trends are going to undermine the idea that older generations are necessarily more stable and settled in their careers. Everyone, young and old, is going to be scrambling to stay afloat.

3 thoughts on “The Declining Relevance of Generation Gaps

  1. What I’d add is that the more traditional elements of generation gaps – namely the cohort/group you identify with – will remain. I’m thinking here of “You were in *this* age group when *that* global event happened.”

    Still, on the surface I can’t see anything to disagree with. Surely, the maturation of IT is definitely levelling the operational playing field quite a lot. When I started using PC’s, it was considered more akin to, say, having a “chemistry set.”

    Now, my son, my parents, and my grandparents all use the computer as a productivity device in a variety of overlapping fashions. I suppose one could argue against this, claiming (correctly) that all generations have enjoyed TV, but that’s a consumption device, a small but very important distinction.

    As for education, you ain’t kidding. In fact, noticing how my son and his peers use or do not use the internet with sufficient interest gives rise to an INTEREST gap. Namely: If you care to invest the effort, you can excel. If not, you don’t have too many excuses.

    Regarding point #5, that’s (at least) true for Gen-X’ers and younger. The idea of workplace stability seems almost anachronistic at this point. :)

    Great post!

    • You make a good point that being a certain age at a certain historical time period will still probably produce a sense of identification with one’s own generation.

      The “interest gap” is a really good point too, and something I’ve thought about. People have access to nearly unlimited knowledge now, but they still have to be motivated to explore it.

      • Yeah, the age-cohort thing was something I really began appreciating when I investigated the works of Strauss & Howe, since our position in history, coupled with our age, results in a different pallete of perceptions.

        As far as the interest gap is concerned, here’s a nice personal example: My son will often ‘blow through’ his studies, only ever picking the low-hanging fruit from internet searches. I’m old enough to remember that when you wanted to research things, you rode your bike a few miles to the library and performed tedious searches through card catalogs.

        When the internet started to explode, I thought “Wow! Finally, people will be able to research so much easier. The quality will be so much better!” This is where the astute reader should be *laughing* at me. Hard. :)

        Turns out that’s not true. Those with the interest to pursue knowledge are living in a golden age. But even with libraries (largely) irrelevant to term papers, you still gotta WANT it.