Masters of the digital age: Generation Y

2010-10-31 09:04

Generation Y, otherwise known as Millennials, are a much-maligned generation, but they are also one of the most misunderstood and, ironically, the most powerful consumer force of the digital age. They also know how best to navigate a cluttered ­information highway.

If you were born between 1980 and 2000 (there is no consensus as to the exact start and end dates of this group), you can consider ­yourself a Millennial.

This generation constantly ­receives bad press, yet it is the ­intense focus of many trend ­reports and marketing surveys.

The reason? This generation came of age at the same time the digital age was blossoming and, as a ­result, view and use technology as part of daily life (apparently, only people born before the digital age refer to “technology”).

They have distinctly different value systems (ecofriendly, collaborative mind-set) compared with any previous generation, and therefore swim against the tide of tried and tested rules of advertising or marketing.

Their attitude to media consumption (everything should be free) and job or career prospects (fast-tracked and schizophrenic) further frustrates and infuriates an older generation.

Emily Nussbaum, a contributing editor at New York magazine who writes about pop culture, said of this generation: “They have no sense of shame.

They have no sense of privacy. They are show-offs, fame whores, pornographic little loons who post their diaries, their stupid poetry – for God’s sake, their dirty photos – online.

They have virtual friends instead of real ones. They talk in illiterate instant messages. They are interested only in attention – and yet they have zero attention span, flitting like hummingbirds from one virtual stage to another.”

While this is the common view of Millennials, there has been a barrage of new research that tries to understand the Millennial mind-set because – like it or not – our 21st-century consumer patterns are starting to mirror that of the Millennials, and the root and common bond is internet connectivity.

The lifeblood of a Millennial is, quite literally, connectivity. At least 75% of global Millennials said they were never disconnected for more than an hour a day.

Instant Grass, a local youth research company, ran a social experiment and challenged four Millennials to go without connectivity for a week.

The results were hilarious. The youngsters displayed the same symptoms of hardened drug ­addicts going “cold turkey”.

They became completely dysfunctional.

Millennials say connectivity is more than entertainment; it is ­critical to maintaining relationships with friends and family.

This digital umbilical cord is not only forging social networks, but is literally remapping the consumer-retail relationship.

Peer-to-peer review and word-of-mouth recommendations are cutting out traditional voices of authority or ­persuasion, such as magazine ­editors and advertising channels.

As one Millennial explains: “Our friends are our filters, our trusted editors.

Yes, our attention is potentially fractured if we focus on every bit and byte of information that’s directed at us during the course of a day, but a few trusted friends can focus our attention on what’s truly important – everything from purchase decisions to staying on top of key world events and issues.”

And therein lies the key.

In an era of information overload, a strategic network of trusted friends is proving to be the most efficient way to navigate a ­congested information highway.

So, far from being a generation of schizophrenic slackers, Generation Y may actually hold the key to managing the daily information onslaught.

A recent World Wide Worx report revealed that most 16-year-old learners know more about technology than their educators.

Is it not time to learn from the masters?

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit

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