Generationalisation

By Robert Hickson 28/09/2014


An article in the Weekly Standard makes a good point about the vacuousness of some “generational analyses”. It’s hard to generalise about a diverse set of people based on when they were born, although that doesn’t stop many from reading their horoscopes every day. And as the Weekly Standard as well as others note, different studies of millennials or Gen Y, or other cohorts, can provide contradictory conclusions. The variation within such groups is much broader than an “average” you try to construct.

Attitudes and behaviours also often change as we age. A big swathe of the “baby boomer” generation appeared to be “turned on, tuned in and dropped out” in the sixties, but that didn’t stop many of them going on to be quite, or even ludicrously, industrious &/or wealthy.

However, it can be instructive studying what particular groups are doing, rather than what they say their aspirations or values are.

It’s similar with emerging technologies. Generalising about nanotechnology, genetic modification, 3D printing, the “Internet of Things”, doesn’t shed much useful light. They aren’t singular technologies, but comprise a suite of technologies, processes, and practices. Or, in common tech parlance now an “ecosystem“. Usually a set of technologies or developments need to come together for you to have something useful. And different applications will have different technological and social ecosystems associated with them.

As Frank Swain points out in concluding a series of posts about “cyborgs”, it is a myth that there is an inevitability about how widgets and technologies will be used, or what may result from their use. As within a generational cohort, diversity is usually the more dominant theme.

So beware of generalisations if all you have to go on are simplifications and anecdotes.