Monday, May 18, 2009

Generation On-Demand

Our business involves a lot of discussion about demographics, to the point at which my coworkers and I tend to see generational differences wherever we look. Our agency is a classic multigenerational crucible: owned by a classic Traditionalist/Silent Generation husband and wife, senior management driven by Boomers, a handful of Gen-X managers struggle with the uncool idea of being bosses, and the Gen-Y/Millennials forming the advancing ranks inspire and shock us with their fast-track world of confidence and entitlement.

But what about the next generation? Today's kids. My son and his ilk.

Nobody will really know how they turn out for another decade or so, as the first ones come of age. (And even then, my own generation was pretty much written off as a bunch of slackers in the early '90s.) But it's still fun to speculate.

As a parent, the biggest change I see in my son's childhood world from my own is the immediacy and customization of it all. He's four years old, and has grown up watching most of his "shows" on DVD, because he likes to watch them over and over again. He struggles with the idea of a TV show, or a song on the radio, that can't be replayed. (We don't have a DVR yet.) Everything is on-demand.

Contrast this with how my wife and I grew up. She used to cry every time Mr. Dressup ended, because she would have to wait a whole day for the next episode. I still recall, after seeing Star Wars in the cinema, spending hours and hours trying to recreate that movie with action figures, comic books, and even record albums. Without TV rights or a video release, I didn't see that movie again in its entirety until the '80s.

But my son will never know the exquisite pain of waiting for the next release, and relishing the memories of a single viewing. He sees everything on-demand.

Of course, this is just entertainment. How much of their "real" life will be on-demand? School will always impose some kind of structure, but even there children today are faced with lesser consequences for misbehaviour, and individualized lesson plans for their diagnosed specialness. Outside of school, overscheduled soccer moms give up their own lives to drive the minivan from activity to activity, totally focussed on their child's personal needs. And many parents (not us, IMHO) even customize their kids' meals, allowing increasing fussiness as they make each plate to order.

There have been plenty of crusty editorials written about the spoiling of the upcoming generation, but every generation provokes those. What I'm wondering is how — for worse and for better — the customized and immediate world of my son's cohort will influence their attitudes as adults.

I can foresee some even more demanding and impatient individuals entering the workforce in another 15 years. Each of them will want an individualized and accelerated career path from day one, making HR a real challenge. At the same time, they may display a kind of individualism and independent thought that we haven't seen before, because they'll be so totally "empowered" (although I hate that word) by a world that was made to fit their needs. But are we in danger of making them the most selfish adults ever? As the world becomes more crowded and stressed, their individualized needs will inevitably bump up against those of billions of others. Let's hope we instill a sense of respect for others in them, as well as self-esteem.

Anyone have other predictions for "Generation On-Demand"? And how will the Millennials complain about them?


  1. Generation Easy Button
    Generation Helicopter Parenting
    Generation Spoiled
    Generation Entitlement
    Generation On-Demand, on average, will have exponentially less drive then the millenials. The theory that everybody wins will slowly move into the workforce from the T-ball, school, and other little league teams, and result is ambition-less, demanding, annoying force.

  2. On the up side: today's kids seem to have eradicated sexual and ethnic prejudice. They just don't care that you look or sound different from them.

    On the down side, they haven't learned how to fail. Nobody gets left behind, everybody gets a gold star. But in the workforce people do fail and either learn from it or are asked to leave. Today's kids will be shocked to find out that they're not held up as clever and wonderful as they fail.

    As a parents we've coddled them, protected them, given them no alone time, and are so afraid of the people and things that will do them harm. Yet, look back what we did as kids. Rode our bikes til dark. I took the TTC in Toronto from the time I was 11. I started working summer jobs at 11.

    Today's kids are missing that freedom.

    jake volt