The last generation

The millennial generation will be the last of it’s kind. The pace of technology advancement means that people born even five years apart will soon have very different skillsets, and very different views on the world around them.

Human beings have long defined a generation as people born across a span of 10-15 years. That number has worked because people born across those time frames have ultimately experienced similar life events at similar times and grown up in similar social and economic realities.

It was safe for society to consider people across this time frame as a singular generation and to position their product, service or even politics in line with that generations world view.

That is already no longer a safe bet and it’s going to become less and less reliable as time goes by.

The pace of technology change has a huge impact on this.

First, let’s take a look at Millennials. If you were born in 1979 to 1993, the odds are that you had a similar education experience when it came to technology.

Few of us had a computer. Some of us were fortunate enough to have computer lessons at some point and most of us would have had regular access to computers by the time we were in our late teens.

Technology was certainly not integrated into the education experience. It was something additional that you had to learn about.

Generation Y have had similar experiences, although the later you were born, the earlier you had that computer experience. But not by much.

Millennials all got their hands on smartphones at similar times. Again, they had to learn how to use them and have pushed the boundaries by demanding more and more from this technology.

Now let’s fast forward to children born in generation Z. Those born around or after 1994 and up until about 2010. This is where the sheer speed of technology advancement really starts to change things.

Those born in and around 1994 will actually have had a similar experience to later-born Millennials. They’ll have been between 7 and 10 years old when smartphones became a thing. Technology education would have still been separate from other subjects.

But, the later you step through the generation, the more fundamental the shift in technology access has been at an earlier age. Those born after the year 2000 would have had increasing exposure to computers, tablets and phones at home and at school.

Those born after 2005 never knew a world without the iPhone.

Technology is increasingly an integral part of most subjects in schools. And not just secondary or higher education.

My daughter’s nursery uses an iPad to keep us informed on how her day is going. She is not ignorant of the technology around her – quite the opposite – she sees it as normal. She has known nothing different.

From the early 2000’s the access to technology, both through the education system and at home, has changed so dramatically that people born even five years apart are now having very different experiences of the world around them.

I know kids who are confused when an appliance doesn’t respond when they ask it a question, because they have had access to Alexa. I know others still that will only watch a cartoon on an iPad, because the TV just doesn’t appeal to them.

Children as young as five are learning to programme drones and other devices at school. Children born after 2016 may never need a driving licence because of driverless cars.

And so I suspect that the millennial generation will be the last of its kind. I think society needs to start bracketing people against much shorter time periods, or risk making assumptions that are hugely innacurate.

It could be argued that time horizon becomes so irrelevant that it should be ignored altogether.

Of course, people will still go through major life events such as graduation, first job, marriage, children and buying a home together against roughly similar timeframes.

The major difference will be in how they go through these events, and what their expectations will be when they do.

And the technology they are exposed to, and how they grew up with it, will play a major role in determining those attitudes.

We all need to be thinking about this. If the attitudes of society can be marked over much shorter time periods, how do we all ensure we continue to relate and understand one another? Does that get easier, or harder?

Time, ironically, will tell.