Last week I had the opportunity to attend a conference about the generation after the millennials. This entailed the latest stats and survey results from this youngest group of Americans on and an effort to (re)name the youngest generation – the one that is currently called the Homelanders. This event was part of the annual YPulste Mashup and located in New York.
I gleaned a lot of insights from Nickelodeon and MTV, which had several appearances both days including some very interesting psychographic studies and data rich slides. Obviously, kids change, so we cannot know for sure if the opinions, preferences and habits exhibited by this generation are going to stick, but it was possible to draw some cohort comparisons between younger Millennials and Homelanders. It was confirming to see how much of this complied with my own forecasts and intuition, but there were also some very interesting surprises.
Great stuff from Neil Howe and Lenore Skenazy (the NYC columnist who gained notoriety as ‘America’s Worst Mom’ after she let her son take public transit by himself). I think Skenazy’s influence is particularly important because I think she pretty much stalled the parental helicoptering trend. At least she stokes a national discussion which let ‘helicoptoholic’ parents know they have a problem, which I see as a first step in controlling any addiction. And yes, I believe some of the habits and impulses that result us stifling our progeny are controlled by our reptillian brain. I haven’t written near enough about these trends and how I think they are changing American childhood, but I have big plans for the future. Pinky promise.
We got to vote on the name for the post-millennials at the end of the session. The voting process started with eliminating options using and app called Thumb, then with a thumbs up/ thumbs down sign. I found the voting process a bit confusing, so probably didn’t make much of a contribution. Some of the names that were suggested included Generation “Local”, “Purell”, “Creative”, “Global”, “Organics”, “Regulated”, “Plurals” and the existing “Homelanders”. All of these suggestion point to trends affecting children today and their immediate future. It was mentioned that a dilemma would be to come up with a label that would encapsulate their future state rather than merely representing their current childhood. This is important in any kind of forecasting. “Purals” was the name suggestion that came up as the winner. It points to the increasing fragmentation of society and the multiverse they are growing up in. I’m not sure if I agree. It is true that they are growing up in a fragmented society where longstanding institutions are being second guessed and society’s current modus operandi is experiencing some form of identity crisis. But this problematique is not new. As is the case with any other organism, society is in a state of flux rather than status quo. The speed of change might accelerate, but change itself is not new. If increasing complexity and fragmentation prevents the reorganization into new social arrangements we might as well call them Generation Entropy. The German sociologists back in the early 20th century made distinctions between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, or the transition from organizing society around the family to a Max Weber type of rational bureaucracy. Perhaps now with the two younger generations turning back to localism and the locus of the family might we see a resurgence of Gemeinschaft orientation? It was also mentioned that the term “Purals” also plays on the scope of online identities these people will adopt. Many techno-optimists and futurists see cyper connections as equal to “real world” connection. Hence we would expand our social circles over a multiverse via various avatars that more or less represent our true selves. This is indeed what many people do, especially those who struggle with social relations and isolation. But research shows that ultimately, the social connections made in Second Life and Sim City are not made out of the same stuff as those we make offline. Sometimes successful sites like match.com are brought up in these discussions as confirmation of our new cyber-generated relations. But dating sites are merely hubs where connections are made, not where they are nurtured. It might be that the youngest generation will be fully satisfied playing out their various avatars in cyberspace’s many nooks and crannies, but I’m inclined to think that they too will seek authenticity and genuine relationships.
What I think was the best name suggestion came from the audience: “Generation Transparent”, alluding to surveillance government, hovering parents and compulsive sharing over social networks.
Finding a good name for a generation is clearly no easier than naming a baby! Prior to the panel discussion, Neil Howe edified the audience on how generations ended up with their various labels. What stuck out most to me was the name that has meandered through various European avantgardists and subcultural dark alleys before it came to to signify my own generation. It makes all the sense in the world to me that the punkish past of Billy Idol’s Generation X band was reused (but not really repurposed) to capture my own cohort of dark deviants. Idol himself is actually a Boomer, but made an impression on many young X’ers.
All in all I found this to be an enriching event. I got even a deeper perspective upon coming back when I attended the MomCom conference here in Austin. This is a conference geared to empower mothers and female entrepreneurs, many who have “opted out” (read: been pushed out) of traditional careers and life outside of diaper changes and Little Leagues. The MomCom event drew an impressive amount of sponsors both from the local entrepreneurs the conference caters to and from large companies that have understood that moms make 80% of the purchasing decisions in a family. I found the mood of this conference more humble, but also more passionate. Not only passionate as in “boom chicka wow wow” from erotica writer Desiree Holt and her mental escapades with the local cowboys around here, but because of the experiences, frustrations, love and compassion that so many generation X mothers are shaped by. Parenthood and age are humbling experiences in and by themselves, but our group has experienced some of the highest expectations of parenthood of all times, often framed by the false dichotomies of the antagonizing mommy wars. American motherhood of the early 21st century is fraught with a recessionary economy, feminist backlashes and the skimpiest maternity policies in the Western world. We’re certainly more vulnerable but also stronger than we were in the roaring 90s. You need to look no further than to the momentum that was raised at the Texas capitol this last week to see that the resilience of contemporary women is a force to be reckoned with.
Last week started with learning about the next generation and ended with a deeper appreciation for my own. And in the end we are the ones who are raising the next generation. Lets agree to raise them well. But for future sake, Let’s not forget ourselves in the process!
Image: After the Millennials