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October 23, 2015

written by Steph Ward

I recently attended a conference in Boston, MA called FutureM. A co-worker and I spent 3 full days at sessions hearing about the future of marketing, the importance of data analysis, how Generation Z is shaping the way we do business, and more. I won’t bore you with the facts, but what we learned was eye-opening. Despite their differences, there are still many similarities between generations. 

Briefly, here are some of the characteristics of the generations of the last 50+ years:

Generation X (1960’s – early 1980’s)

  • ¼ have been with the same employer for over 15 years
  • 62% read newspapers every morning
  • 85% prefer TV over the Web

Generation Y (1980’s – early 2000’s) – I was born in 1987

  • ¼ are unaffiliated with any religion
  • Only 33% use the Internet as their primary source of news updates
  • 36% follow their parents’ influence

Generation Z (late 1990’s – current)

  • On average, they use 5 screens: smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop, iPad/iPod
  • 79% feel emotional distress when away from their phones
  • 42% follow their parents influence

There is some definite overlap, and it’s safe to say most of us born “between” generations relate to each other in a variety of these ways. Freshmen this year were born around 1997, 10 years after me, yet we still kind of get lumped together. That’s a little hard for me to believe! I first used a computer in school when I was in 8th grade, I was 16 when I got my first Nokia cell phone, I used a library to find information most of the time, and having the Internet in your house was a treat (we got dial-up AOL in the mid-90’s - it took what seemed like a year for a website to load).

So what’s the big deal? It’s that the conventional ways of doing things when I was 18 no longer work, or maybe don’t work as well. Also, like everyone else, I had to adapt. It’s so hard keeping up with you guys! 

For some perspective, just think of Facebook. I came to college 1 year after Facebook was founded and it basically forced everyone to learn new ways to communicate. Here are some key platforms that influence us today that became available (or had major overhauls that brought success) after I started college:

  • Twitter (2006)
  • Google acquired YouTube (2006)
  • Apple released first iPhone (2007)
  • App Store opens via iTunes (2008)
  • Instagram (2010)
  • Snapchat (2012)

What I don’t want to do is just tell you how different my experiences were than yours and give you the “Millennials have it so easy!” sob story, because the point is: (1) people in all generations have to adapt, (2) you’ll be in my shoes one day, and (3) relationships outlive technology.

Sure, I’m not 100 years old, but I didn’t grow up with nearly as many ways to communicate as there are today. Despite this, I’ve still learned to anticipate Apple’s new releases, I didn’t have to grow up with Instagram to get why it’s ever-growing, or to see how Twitter is shaping our culture. (I’ll never understand Snapchat, but that’s a different story.) Whether you’re 18 years old, 28, or 58, we adapt and figure out how to get on board with all these changes. We’re doing it together. 

Second, I may be older than you, but you’ll soon to be in my shoes. I can guarantee that Instagram may be cool now, but in 10 years, who knows? It could be replaced the way Facebook replaced MySpace. At 18, I could have never imagined how fast Google could pull in millions of results for one topic. You too will be surprised by similar things. You may understand technology today, but take my word for it: even those 5 years younger than you are already shaping the way you’re doing things.

Lastly, relationships outlive technology. This may be my most important point. The way we communicate will always be changing, but relationships continue to grow despite which platforms we use. Learn from the tools you have, but grow from the people around you. Carve out time to be intentional with your friends, away from your phones, off Instagram, and just enjoying life. Your friends will stick with you well past the existence of Snapchat.

This is what we strive for at Student Activities – we’ll definitely connect with you on social media (it’s important to meet people where they are), but there’s nothing more fulfilling to us than fostering relationships with you at our events. So, no, you don’t have to stop posting your #selfies, but please, just get off your phone for 2 seconds and come hang out with us!