OK- so it is a holiday week and I am not traveling. I still feel a little woozy, and after a half-century on the road, I just don’t have the fire in my belly to saddle up the Panzer and spend a few nights in a series of Holiday Inn Express cookie cutter motels.
So it is likely to be a quiet and tranquil Thanksgiving, one in which a buffet at a local watering hole might feature prominently. Too bad- it has been a while since I celebrated with the full repertoire of holiday feasting, embarrassing relatives and shrieking children, but it is what it is.
It is the clash of the generations that is most enlightening. My Navy time was mostly spent with younger sailors. Even the alleged grown-ups now look embarrassingly youthful these days. It was interesting to see how the kids- and I am not patronizing- got along in highly structured situations.
When I came in the service, we still had old-timers with more in common with the Greatest Generation than us Baby Boomers who constituted the bulk of the population. As I reached the end of my time in uniform, I was intrigued by the constantly changing demographics of the military and the larger society from which we came.
The Traditionalists- the Old Schoolers- and the Boomers certainly had their differences and approaches to life (Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll!) but they were relatively homogenous in the way we understood our culture and work ethic. That did not mean we necessarily liked it- but we shared a lot. We were educated in actual classrooms, were expected to stay awake, do our homework and participate in discussion.
After being in the business world after turning in my bridge coat, I found myself in the annoying position of drafting and submitting proposals to provide staff augmentation to some of the three-letter Agencies scattered around town. In the course of so doing, I became increasingly aware of even more diversity in the field of potential employees. I reviewed the resumes of hundreds of Boomers, most retired from the military, Generation X’ers, and Millennials.
To simplify, social scientists have sliced and diced us as:
Traditionals (pre-1946 birthdays)
GenX (born 1965 to 1976)
Millennials, sometimes GenY(1977-1995)
iGen sometimes GenZ, but we are running out of alphabet (1996-?)
It was a challenge to deal with the Millennials. The youngest of them were in their early twenties, just starting out, and with less than 1% of the population having served in the military, little exposure to the kinds of jobs I in which I was trying to place them.
Beyond the Millennials was the ‘iGen,’ born after 1996, and just graduating from high school and college.
It brought something home to me in interacting with the generations. Prior to Gen X, there was no internet and mobile phones were a novelty. After them, there was no separating the individuals from the smart phone, laptop or tablet. These prospective workers had never known an unwired world, or one in which any question could be answered via the network, and were in constant communication with the wider world.
The question is not that the later generations are different- a better question is “Why are they like they are?”
There were distinctive changes in the way these people learn. Older generations were taught in brick-and-mortar schools and often instructed by rote learning. The Millennials did not learn that way, gulping knowledge in a blur, skimming and texting. Is that an efficient and effective strategy?
I don’t know. It certainly is a different one than the Boomers had- though each generation adds to the legacy of those passing and past.
There is more than just communicating and learning, to all this generational change, as though the devices themselves were altering our relationship with the natural world, and Millennials have a distinctly different attitude about it. reflects a distinctly different view of the world- and how we operate in society.
With the notable security breaches caused by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden as backdrop, it appears that there will be deeper challenges in our brick-and-mortar based institutions. I marveled at the determination of Reality Winner to expose classified information that she felt had to be leaked to the press. Did she now what she did was wrong? That there are digital logs that reflected what machine had sent the message to the printer?
Better training might be an answer, of course, but like I say, this generation perceives things differently, and acts accordingly.
We are in the process of figuring all this out, and some of the characteristics of the Millennials will be more robustly displayed in the coming flood of iGens.
I am naturally interested in how this will affect all of our institutions and how they intersect in a global wired world. I would explore that concept more deeply but I need to go out on my porch and yell at the next generation to get off my yard.
Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra