This article is a follow-up to Generation Y – Are they really as bad as we say they are? The information age and the information economy has flattened out the structure and hierarchy of organizations. Gen Y is intimately in tune with this and, since they grew up into it, it is second nature to them. The rest of us, the baby boomers and Generation X are definitely not there – we are in a different world from them. One of the things that I am constantly seeing in the blogs and articles that I read about Generation Y is that they are constantly connected. This is an important piece of information when trying to understand the “Gen Y’s” in My Generation – take two:
Generation Y is known to be able to multitask effectively. They also like to be constantly connected. So of course they are seen to be on the phones and instant messaging clients constantly, sending text messages, checking websites, etc. GenYers are information addicts. They’re used to knowing everything immediately and can quite happily be updated on several different topics while doing their job at the same time. They think, if I can still stay informed, and get my job done at the same time, then what’s the harm? Baby boomers come from an age of letters and newspapers. They don’t understand this information addiction, it’s like trying to do your job while reading a newspaper at the same time. So when GenYers are staying connected, baby boomers think they’re slacking off. Hey, admittedly, a lot of them probably are slacking off some of the time. But most of them are used to dealing with huge amounts of information at a time from several sources, and if they have to focus on one task at a time then they’re likely to get bored.
This is a very insightful and accurate description. The information revolution, like the Industrial revolution before it, is completely changing how we relate to the world and each other. For Gen Y’s, they have literally extended their lives to include cyberspace; for them relating in cyberspace is as normal and natural as breathing. I imagine that they must feel very annoyed at having to explain to the rest of us what, to them, is something that is very obvious and natural. Here is the thing that we, the Baby Boomers and the Generation X’s need to understand – the Internet has become the great equalizer. Information is no longer the purview of a privileged few; the cat is very much out of the bag and information has been democratized. This is what the Gen Y has to say about this (also from the ( My Generation – take two ) article:
Generation Y is said to have a problem with authority. This is probably true to an extent, but I believe it is more of a problem with respect. These days complete strangers will call you up on the phone and start chatting to you like they already know you. Back in the baby boomer days they were all about “sir” and “madam” and they’d address you by your surname, like “Mrs Jones” or “Mr Parker”. These days it’s all about “What’s your name? Robert Johnson? Well Rob, I’d like to talk to you about this amazing deal on cable television…” Everyone treats you like a peer. So Generation Y treats everyone like a peer. I think part of the problem is that GenX and baby boomers only see one side of it, they just see some young upstarts treating them like they’re on the same level before they’ve earned it. What they don’t see is Generation Y treating their subordinates like equals too. It’s not that they have no respect for authority, it’s just that everyone is the same to them and nobody is better than anyone else.
Although insightful, I don’t think the author goes far enough in explaining the authority situation of Generation Y. While the paragraph above is correct, the basic issue is not authority per se but, something more fundamental and powerful enough to change a society, a culture and a civilization. What is happening here is nothing less than a re-definition of what is authority and just how is authority derived. Let’s define authority in this way: it is our personal, individual willingness to submit. In the information age, the “coin of exchange” is information and whomever has the must up-to-date, the most insightful information has the most amount of “coin” and Gen Y’s understand and respect this. The underlying reality is that Gen Y’s do respect authority but, in their world, the one who is in authority is something that is very fluid. Gen Y’s understand at a very gut and instinctive level that submitting to authority is their choice and under their control – this is a direct result of the information age.
Information is the most elemental part of any society but, it is how we process this information that makes it useful. It is that “we” that is important because Gen Y’s do this instinctively and at the speed of the Internet. Their perspective is this – all information has the same value and, by extension, all information givers have the same value. It is only after “I” make some choices about the information that it will acquire additional value for me. Gen Y’s take this empowerment process and project it to every aspect of their lives.
For us Baby Boomers and Generation X’s, it behooves us to understand this if we want to help them to sort out the difficulties of life.