I am on the cusp of being categorized as a Millennial. I was born at the end of 1979 and according to the Population Reference Bureau, Millennials are those born between 1983 and 2001. I honestly didn’t even know there was a Population Reference Bureau (PRB) until I was writing this post and doing some research. It’s a pretty fascinating site if you have a few hours to kill on some articles and webinars.
The PRB has one of the best descriptions as to how and why these generations have been defined:
“…By virtue of when they were born, members of each generation live through unique times shaped by unexpected historical events, changing political climates, and evolving socioeconomic conditions. Generations also come in different sizes and changing mixtures of ethnicity, helping to shape the choices individuals will make in life. A generational perspective offers fresh insights into contemporary society by emphasizing both the distinctiveness of each generation in its particular historical context and the persistence of such distinctions across an individual’s life. When different generations respond in unique ways to common problems and choices, businesses, governments, and we as individuals need to recognize and understand such distinctions.”
A segment I heard this evening on Marketplace called “What kind of jewelry goes with a tattoo?” was what started me down this path on the different generations. It basically talked about how the Millennial generation is growing up and that marketers need to start paying attention. The piece stirred quite a few emotions: pride in the fact that I wasn’t part of the Millennial generation; annoyance at how trivial marketing sounded (I took this personally having always worked in marketing); and there was part of me that just felt out of touch with the way they were describing this generation. I was in denial that just a few years could make that big of a difference in the way our lives and attitudes would be shaped.
Over a few glasses of wine, I’ve started to look back at the last 10-20 years and realized that I really was at the cusp of some pretty major milestones:
- Two-handed typing – I am 18-months younger than my sister. We’re 2 years apart in school. In the time between when she and I were each in 7th grade, they had switched the curriculum from learning short-hand (seriously, short-hand?) to taking a class on how to do two-handed typing on a keyboard. My sister can type faster than most people I know even with her hunt-and-peck style, but I appreciate the speed/dexterity two-handed typing has afforded me. . .especially since I spend 10-15 hours a day doing just that. So I realize now that every class after my year has been trained to type with two hands. I wonder if my 8-month old niece will only know touch screens and two-thumbed typing.
- Computers at college – It was a very big deal to have computers with any kind of internet access at school. It’s hard for me to even think about what life was like before having everywhere access to computers and search engines. I think the major turning point was from 1997 to 1998. My classes started requiring work be typed up on computers–and a small start up called Google launched in 1998. I got my first computer that year: a Gateway 2000. Remember those? My family had had an Apple IIGS in the late 1980s, but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that I felt computers really became commonplace and a necessity.
- Mobile phones – I knew mobile phones existed. I thought it was very cool that a friend of mine in high school even had a car phone, but they were definitely for the more well-off families. I do have to admit that quite a few kids in my high school had beepers, but that was for a different reason. In college, I *rarely* saw a mobile phone. It wasn’t until my senior year that any of my close friends got one. They were super expensive and landlines worked just fine. I actually got my first phone only after I got my first job. In the span of 4 years, we went from mobile phones being a rarity to the opposite being true–you’d be hard pressed to find an incoming freshman without one now.
- Pension plans – Believe it or not, I had a pension plan at my first (real) job out of school. This may be why I stayed at that company for 7 years. Pensions and similar retirement programs no longer exist (or rarely exist) except for public sector jobs for the most part. I see my friends in these public sector jobs struggle with job satisfaction yet not leaving because of the retirement security. Would you call this job loyalty? Debatable, but when there’s actually a long-term benefit to sticking around, I’d say people are more incentivized to stay. I, admittedly, have been following the carrot quite a bit since I left that first company–all in search for the next big payout that will give me that long-term security. I think this is one area where I can relate to the Millennial generation. What’s the benefit of staying at a company for 20 – 30 years? Or even 2 – 5 years for that matter?
- Social – There were chat rooms when I was in high school, but they were typically for “alternative” behaviors, interests, etc. I never jumped on the social train. Friends of mine are heavily immersed in the social world and dealing with the same withdrawals as my fellow blogger at times. I proudly have a traditional mindset about keeping in touch with my friends and relatives. And by “traditional” I mean phone calls, emails and texts.
So where do all of these observations land me on my view of the Millennial generation? Honestly, I’m in a much better place about it compared to when I first heard the NPR segment. I still have some processing to do, but I like to think I could be a bit more sympathetic to this generation given how I’m sure the Baby Boomers and generations before them view their successors. Who knows, maybe I am closer to the Millennial generation than I like to think…I did find myself doing a double-tap on a map in a travel book to try and make it expand.