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How New Technology Shapes Each New Generation

Oh, how each generation living on planet earth experiences life through their own lens. The Baby Boomers have become people who live to work, while Millennials are often seen as a population who works to live. Japan has invented a new phrase in the workplace: “death by overwork” and is now trying to force people out of the office.

Each generation is marked by the realities they experienced while growing up: shared music, shared tragedies, shared icons, shared television shows, shared fears, shared heroes and most of all, shared technology. In this article, I’d like to remind you of how each of the last four generations has been shaped by the new technology released and how it’s changed them. Perhaps it will lend us some perspective.

How Each Generation Reacts to Previous Ones

Historians Neil Howe and William Strauss insightfully reveal their research on each generation and explain how each one tends to react. Young generations tend to:

  • Break with the previous generation. They want to differentiate themselves from the ones slightly older; desiring to be their own person. In other words, Millennials tend to say to Generation X: “You are cool, but we are cooler.”
  • Correct two generations ahead of them. They want to fix the mistakes of their parents’ generation so they don’t repeat them. In other words, “I will never do what my parents did when I am raising my children.”
  • Replace three generations ahead of them. They want to prevent losing the traits they admire in the eldest generation. In other words, “I love ‘retro’ items in my life because I don’t want to miss what my grandparents had.”

Every Generation Welcomes New Technology

The modern and post-modern eras represent periods marked by innovative devices that change how we live. My dad, for example, remembers when every home finally got a telephone in his neighborhood and radios were the chief tool to broadcast news and music. Those items were new “technology” and when you owned them, you were “high tech.”

Today, four primary generations fill our school campuses, athletic departments, work places and homes: the Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1982), Millennials (1983-2000) and Generation Z (2001-2018). Reflect with me on some of the new technology that was introduced while they were kids.

New Technology for Each Generation During Childhood:

  • Baby Boomers………….the television and the vinyl record
  • Generation Xers……….the cassette tape, CDs, video games, and the Walkman
  • Millennials………………the Internet, iTunes, iPods and cell phones
  • Generation Z……………smart phones, streaming music, social media, and apps

The Evolution of Technology and Youth

Over time, the way technology affects us has evolved. Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on how each generation has ushered in a new lifestyle. Since I was a young boy, I have noticed the expansion of technology’s influence on people.

With Each New Generation Technology Has Become:

1. More pervasive.

It’s important to note that while each generation had its own new “technology,” it wasn’t as pervasive for Boomers as it was for subsequent generations. In fact, with each new generation technology has become more ubiquitous, allowing society and culture to seep into our homes more easily. At first, families had one radio or TV in their home. Over time, however, families commonly accrued multiple devices—including more than one television, computer, phone or tablet. Today, thanks to technology, we don’t have to wait until the evening news to hear about a story. We have instant notifications from apps—in our hands within moments. Technology affects us because it is pervasive. It often penetrates every portion of our lives.

2. More private.

Ponder the evolution of technology in our lifetime: at first, families had TVs that were often the centerpiece of the family room. There was one device and we all knew what was being watched. If someone was on the phone, every family member was aware of who was on that phone. Later, we got computers, but they were desktops and there was usually just one—in the kitchen or living space for all to see what was on the screen. As time progressed, each of our devices became more private and personal and smaller. Soon, people could hide behind their own personal laptops. In our family today, we all have our own smart phones or watches and no one may know what’s happening on each one. Technology has progressed from public to private; from shared to personal.

3. More powerful.

Finally, while technology was always an influence on our lives during the last century, it seems to have become more powerful and influential with each passing year. It’s now front and center, a portal for our communication, our pictures, our news feed, our updates, our games, our entertainment, our music and our schedules. Our day-to-day lives are genuinely more impacted by technology today than even ten years ago. Some say it’s like an appendage to our bodies. Students put technology in the same category as air and water. Research tells us that some people use a portable device 80 times a day.

My Advice?

Today, those of us who lead the emerging generation must be more intentional:

1. We must remember every generation has its own “new technology,” and we must resist becoming judgmental about what’s “new” today. For instance, it is easy to get angry with kids who play games on their phones, but didn’t we play games at a video arcade back in the day?

2. We must recognize what’s timeless and essential for our young people, and offer guidelines to maintain those items. For instance, since technology is more private today we must work to maintain face-to-face community. We must insist on device-free zones where emotional intelligence is developed.

3. We must work to prepare our students to become self-sufficient, emotionally healthy adults. For instance, recognizing how new technology pushes them to neglect people skills, we must equip them with those skills. This may likely require project-based and experiential learning.

Hussein of Jordan said, “It is my firm belief that I have a link with the past and a responsibility to the future. I cannot give up. I cannot despair. There’s a whole future, generations to come. I have to keep trying.”


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  • Tom B.

    Always good material, Tim. I would just comment that there is more fluidity in the categories than can be captured in an article. As a “late” Baby Boomer (b. 1961), the “new” technology for me was more what was in the Generation X category since TV and vinyl records were “givens” for me. I suspect this overlap is with each category.

    • Tim Elmore

      Thanks Tom for bringing up this great point. I actually just had a conversation on this topic with our Growing Leaders team. One of our team members is what I call a “tweener” in between Millennials and Generation X. He brought up the same comment that you did. When I’m leading students, part of the way I connect with them is by looking at the year they were born and also the generation of their parents.

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