How the holidays – and a new formula – helped me understand the way different generations view technology.
(originally posted on Linkedin on January 9, 2015)
This past holiday season was a truly restful and relaxing one for me – especially since it was the first time in the last 12 years that I was not balancing family time with being a CEO of public company.
I was fortunate to get a couple of weeks to spend with friends and family members, whose ages ranged from two to 72. Age wise, I found myself in the middle of this group (ok, closer to the high end versus the low end) and I began to see some noticeable patterns emerge regarding technology – both in terms of usage (time spent and adoption) and attitude (from “can’t live without” to “why bother”).
And it became clear to me that the real dividing line now is what percentage of time a person has been alive during the so called “information age“.
Simply put, if the mid 1990s were the time when internet usage went mainstream, then 40 is the age of someone who has spent roughly 50% of their time on this planet in the information age (from here, I will define this as “PoTIA” , which is equal to the number of years alive since 1995 divided by total age).
The cleanest observation for me was watching the differences between those over and under 20 years of age. If you are 20 or under, then your PoTIA is obviously 100%. For this age group, there is no differentiation between “online” and “offline” – your life and technology are intertwined in a way that you either get or you don’t.
Pando wrote a great piece about this called “If you are over 20, you don’t get social but this teenager can teach you”, an eye opening interpretation of a blog from Andrew Watts, a 20 year old student at University of Texas entitled “A teenagers view on social media”.
The next natural division is those between 20-35 years of age, whose PoTIA is very high but not 100%. As such, this group has grown up understanding or hearing about this archaic concept of being “offline”, but the notion of living “offline” for an extended period brings up images of dinosaurs and horse drawn carriages.
I wrote about this group and their views on privacy in another post – and I think 30 is a very interesting “over / under” age group because it represents what will forever be the crossover generation as it relates to digital living.
Then there are folks like me – let’s just say somewhere in middle age who have a PoTIA of slightly less than 50%. I see technology as a great tool to help improve my life but I still can still live comfortably (for now) in the “offline” realm. But with every passing day and each new innovation, I find my ability to live life “offline” starting to slip away.
In short, I have quickly gone from the “who needs WI-FI at the ski cabin” guy to the “damn those mountains, it is taking way too long for this video to load on my phone” guy..
The Atlantic wrote a very rich article about how offerings like Uber are “making distinctions between online and offline increasingly feels strained” – and even though my PoTIA is less than 50%, I am feeling this strain every day.
Finally, there is the generation ahead of me, whose PoTIA is significantly below 50%. This generation seems to have a very healthy curiosity towards technology and a recent Pew research study showed that six in ten seniors now go online and just under half are broadband users.
And while these trends are increasing, I see this group’s technological usage more like a one way street – they will use it when and if they want and how they want – but they will also continue to have a very strong distinction between off and online living.
Of course, all of my observations are just that and they are certainly nothing close to scientific..but my real point here is that change is constant and for me very fun to watch.
However, as it relates to your grandma’s Tinder posting…well I won’t comment on the best way to handle that one…