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Stowe Boyd is a well-known media subversive, and an internationally recognized authority on real-time, collaborative and social technologies. His new blog is Message.
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November 10, 2004

Gen Y and the Coming Communications Revolution

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Posted by Stowe Boyd

I am scrambling to put my thoughts (and slides) together for the Corante Real-Time Collaboration Workshop that is next Friday at the INBOX conference (see this on that), and I stumbled across a few recent posts by Dina Mehta and Richard McManus that underscore one of the themes I will be exploring: The Coming Communications Revolution.

Dina reports on a recent article, examining the youth of India, and what's boiling in that pot:

Dina Mehta
[from Youth in Urban India - Businessworld Cover Story]
"IM is a kind of metaphor for the mindset of the new millennium youth. It fulfils a deep-seated need for constant stimulation. And keeps pace with their shorter attention spans. So short for some that buddies with slow typing speeds are huge turn-offs!"

"Corporate India at large seems ambivalent or unconvinced about the technology. As a Citigroup employee, when questioned on his office policy on IM, commented, only half in jest: "This may be an indication of the generation gap between me (or my company) and the 14-24-year-olds, but what does IM stand for?"

[...]

"The marketing fallout of the IM phenomenon? You can't bullshit this generation. Says ex-IMRB research consultant Dina Mehta: "They are savvy consumers who sift through an offer and reject it if there's nothing in it for them." If a product or experience does not live up to its hype, you can be sure that news will promptly be IMed to every Tom, Dick and Hari in due course. This, of course, happened in the past too but today, the speed at which such information is disseminated is simply light years ahead"

I wish she had taken the implications of this into an "always on" world which is facilitated by technology like IM, VOIP, forums, blogs and online journals (have you ever left a comment at a youth journal or blog - either at a specific post or on their guestboards, and noticed how very promptly you will get a response to your comment - not just from the author but from a whole host of readers ?), simple SMS to enhanced functions offered by new generation mobile phones. How this is impacting and changing the way youth thinks, communicates, and takes decisions. And the implications this might have for the future as they enter the workplace, bringing in their new "culture-of-use", and for marketers seeking to address this segment.

Dina, like the Businessworld author, does not go far enough: she asks the question, but does not answer it. The coming revolution will overthrow conventions of communication, and will involve the adoption of the real-time ethos and esthetic across the board.

Continuous Partial Attention is not a disorder (as I recently explained), it is a viable adaptation, a winning communications strategy, based on a communitarian sense of time economics.

As Richard McManus recently wrote,

Richard McManus
[from Knowledge Management for Generation Y]

In my travels today I came across some articles about how Generation Y (people born in 1980's or 1990's) use Information Technology. I'm a Generation X'er myself, so Generation Y has always been something of a curiosity to me - as other generations always are, no matter which part of the timeline you come from. The first article that caught my eye was from an Australian IT magazine and it was about how Generation Y are much more prone to forming communities than previous generations.

Here's an excerpt:

"Social researcher Hugh Mackay said yesterday that younger generations were herding together like never before, using new technologies such as SMS and email chatrooms to foster tight social bonds.

Having grown up knowing only "instability, uncertainty and unpredictability", Generation Y had instinctively drawn together to cope, Mr Mackay said. [...] "They are the most intensely tribal, herd-based generation of young Australians I've ever known."

The words "tribal" and "herd-based" are words you wouldn't normally use to describe a Generation X'er. We're mostly characterized as individualistic or selfish, lazy, and cynical towards society. In some respects those attitudes were a backlash against the flower-power idealism of the baby boomers, although I'm one of those who thinks environment - or context - has a lot to do with the values and attitudes that a person or group of people has. So Generation Y are both a product of the computerized environment of the 1990's onward and are also rebelling against the "bite me" attitude of Gen X by adopting a, well, a "hug me" attitude I suppose.

The aussie social researcher quoted above goes on to say:

"I'm not predicting a revolution but I think it's the early sign of a genuine culture shift away from individualism to a more communitarian kind of culture."
The communitarianism of Gen Y manifests itself in many ways, but one is that quick response mentality that Dina alludes to. It fosters close social ties to remain in contact with and responsive to your social net. And, it turns out to enable a communitarian productivity increase, although not a personal one. So what may be veiwed as laziness from traditional, boomer eyes, may in fact be the outcome of social bonding. Like the European explorers of yesteryear judging tribal people the world over as inferior and lazy, the declining boomers might be spending the next twenty years whining about this lazy, shiftless, and tribal group, who will be motivated by an as-yet-uncaptured communitarian manifesto, living and working on a real-time beat.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Technology


COMMENTS

1. Zbigniew Lukasiak on November 10, 2004 05:42 PM writes...

I wander how you define productivity. How can increase the group productivity without increase of it's members productivity? How a group can produce more than the sum of what is produced by it's members?

In the scenario you give in the Continues Partial Attention post, the individual productivity increases. There are two sides of the interruption and on both there is an individual - one is interrupted the other is getting his information when he needs it. The first has less productivity the other has more - if the balance is on the plus side than the everage (or amortized) individual productivity has increased.

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2. Stowe Boyd on November 11, 2004 10:29 AM writes...

Z -

Z -

The person being interrupted loses personal productivity, while, yes, the one interrupting gains some. If all individual work could be perfectly linearized, so that no work stoppages ever occurred through unplanned communication, individual productivity and network productivity would be maximized.

If the individual focuses on individual productivity, then they will game the social system by a/ ignoring in-bound interrupts as much as possible, and b/ attempting to interrupt others as forcefully as possible when necessary to accomplish their own tasks.

If people "go tribal", they will be open to in-bound interrupts, decreasing personal productivity for the sake of increased network productivity, believing that this will increase the likelihood of future support. As you point out, helping others does increase the others' productivity, which increase the productivity of the network, overall.

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