The story that the media has not been telling about the great recession is the effect of massive population shifts on the economy. A large reason that the unemployment rate has been increasing is that the number of people seeking employment is increasing without more jobs being created to accommodate all the new workers. The generation born in the 1980s has been steadily entering the workforce, only to find a barren landscape. Who is this generation, and what lies in their future?
The Traditionalist generation (also called the Greatest Generation) was made up of those who were alive and fought in World War II. This generation was characterized by the nuclear family living a wholesome life in the suburbs. Traditionalists worked one job for their entire careers, lived frugally, and saved wisely. They received pensions and social security, and paid off their mortgages. They retired nicely and lived long lives, many surviving into their 80s and 90s to this day.
When World War II ended, the Traditionalists had babies en masse, producing what would be called the Baby Boom generation. The Baby Boom generation was defined by the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the Vietnam War, and the boom periods of the 80s, 90s and 2000s. The “Baby Boomers” created much of the new technologies in the world today, including the personal computer.
The Baby Boomers were also defined by a shift in attitudes towards work and jobs, with the average worker working 8 different jobs during his or her career. The Baby Boomers lived day to day, spending when times were good and going broke when times were bad. Many won’t receive pensions because they didn’t work for one company for long enough. Baby Boomers didn’t pay down their Mortgages, and used their home equity to finance their lives and their children’s lives. The Great Recession has wiped out much of the retirement savings of the Baby Boomers. Many aren’t able to retire, and won’t be able to in the foreseeable future. It is likely that many baby boomers will work well into their 60s and 70s.
Generation X is the term used to describe the generation born after the Baby Boom, in the late 60s and 70s. This middle generation faced difficulty entering a workforce already saturated with baby boomers. Generation X was defined by Cassette Tapes, VCRs, and the Internet boom of the late 90s. Generation X had trouble entering the workforce in the 80s and early 90s, but eventually settled in.
The Helicopter Generation?
The next major generation consisted of the children of the baby boomers, born in the late 70s, 80s and early 90s. This massive generation grew up with video games, the Internet, and a globalized world.
The children of the Baby Boomers have gone by many names. My least favorite are “The Echo Boom”, “The Helicopter Generation”, and “Generation Y”. The term echo boom was the term given to this generation by David K. Foot, a Baby Boomer, in Boom, Bust and Echo, which was a bestseller in 1997. The book discusses the major generations in recent history. Echo Boom defines the generation by the generation of its parents, seeing the ripple created by baby boomers as the defining element of this generation. The term Helicopter Generation comes from the fact that many baby boomers had only one or two children, which led them to be much more involved in the lives of their children, hovering over them like helicopters. The term Generation Y derives from the fact that this is the generation after Generation X (how creative). All of these names define this generation by previous generations, and not by the characteristics of the generation itself.
The names “Millennial Generation” and “9/11 Generation” are slightly better, defining the generation by watershed events that occurred in the lives of individuals in the generation. I don’t think that either of these events truly define or explain the generation though. They are just events that happened to occur during the maturation of people in the generation.
My favorite names currently used are the “Internet Generation”, the “Dot Com Generation” or the “Net Generation”. These terms define the generation by the internet, the major technological advancement that has affected how this generation lives, works and connects. My only qualm with these terms is that it is not just the Internet itself that has affected how this generation lives. Other technologies that are ancillary to the Internet have also had a great impact. The internet may have made Facebook, instant messaging and texting possible, but these items transcend the internet to create a new way of life that defines the generation.
An alternative that I like is “Generation Connect” or “Gen Con” for short (I know it sounds like some evil corporation out of a Terminator movie). This term encompasses what gives this generation its identity; the interconnectivity of the individuals who make up the generation. Whether connecting through the Internet, Facebook or text messaging, or connecting at bars or social gatherings in the real world, this generation is more interconnected than any previous generation.
Technologies have allowed this generation to maintain contacts for longer periods of time and create more connections. In previous generations, someone with a Rolodex filled with a hundred contacts would be considered a very well connected person. Today, the most connected people have several thousand friends on Facebook that they can connect with instantaneously.
This generation is also connected on a global scale, with borders and nationalities being replaced by a single world culture. It is not uncommon for individuals in this generation to have connections in several countries and cities throughout the world. People move and travel, but maintain connections over long distances.
The Plight of Gen Con
Generation Connect is currently facing a very difficult transition into the global economy. The Baby Boom generation is leaving the workforce at a much slower rate than they should, which means that existing jobs are not becoming available. The Great Recession has meant that no new jobs are being created, since companies are not expanding. Global competition has meant that certain jobs are unavailable in first world countries, such as work in manufacturing or telephone support.
Another major factor is that the productivity of workers has greatly increased due to new technology. In the past, an experienced attorney with a good book of business would require an associate to do his or her research, a secretary to type out briefs, and a runner to submit documents. Today, that same attorney will do his or her own research on-line, type briefs on his or her computer, and submit documents on-line in half the time. Modern technology has created a breed of superhuman workers who can do the work of several individuals.
Back to Basics
In order to survive, many members of Generation Connect are having to revert back to the basics of a primitive economy. Even with all of the new technologies of the 21st century, the economy still consists of buyers and sellers transferring money in exchange for goods and services. Those who are succeeding despite the state of the economy are those who can sell, effectively market, or create things for others to sell. Even those with intellectual jobs are increasingly being asked to bring in business for their companies.
The baby boomers will eventually retire, and jobs will start to open up. However, the transition will likely take several years, and every year new workers are entering the workforce. This generation will adapt like previous generations did. The Baby Boomers faced a similar crisis when they entered the workforce in the 70s, as did Gen X in the 80s.
Like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs proved themselves in the Baby Boom generation, Generation Connect will also have its individuals who achieve great success and change the generation. So far, Mark Zuckerberg has been the first to truly change the world, but more will follow.
Generation Connect is more educated, knowledgeable and connected than any previous generation. This generation will do great things as it takes the reins from the Baby Boom. New technologies will better our way of life and create new industries and opportunities. Only time will tell what lengths will be achieved, but the sky is the limit.