I’ve been writing about how Internet has been affecting society for a couple of years now. One angle I have not touched on is that it is affecting younger generations way more than older generations.
Kids raised on the internet are now in their 20’s and early 30’s and their understanding of the world is radically different than generations before.
Social scientists in the US like to artificially divide Americans into “generations”. There are three dominant ones today: The Boomers (those that grew up in the 50’s and 60’s), Generation X (those that grew up in the 70’s and 80’s), and the Millennials (those that grew up in the 90’s and 00’s). I am part of Generation X, the smallest and least powerful of the three.
All three generations have their technical savvy and non technical members, so what I am about to say is a generalization and not true of everybody:
Boomers are generally conservative and Christian. They love the suburbs, and beer, big houses, and driving trucks or SUVs, and watching cable TV.
The “average” Boomer is online but rarely use the internet. They do email and Facebook and Wikipedia and a few select sites. It is a small part of their lives, and a lot more of their time is listening to the radio and watching TV, because that is what they have done all their lives.
Millennials are generally liberal and never go to church. They prefer city life, living within walking or biking distance of everything. If they have to drive, its economy cars or hybrids. They drink fancy coffee and box wine, and get all their media via streaming services.
The “average” Millennial is online practically all the time, thanks to smart phones and tablets. They are very internet savvy, and practically live online. It’s where they work, its where they go to school, it’s where they play, it’s where they meet people. The internet is their world view.
In between is Generation X, the “average” is hard to pin down because it is so widespread. It is somewhere between. Gen X grew up before the internet like the Boomers, but has a stronger adoption rate than they do. Most of the big names involved in creating the Internet are Gen X, but this recent video of celebrities that are clueless about the internet contain mostly Gen X celebrities.
Some Gen Xers like myself think and live like Millennials, and some think and live like Boomers, and as a result our generation really has not developed its own identity other than our affection for console gaming.
The internet savvy Millennials are 100% in control of pop culture today, while politics is controlled by the former hippies now ultra conservative Boomer generation. The fact that the Millennials do not seem to care about race, religion, sexual orientation, and are socially liberal on issues regarding sex, drugs, and punishment is hopeful, but their near universal apathy towards politics is worrisome.
Shifting Demographics: What Election 2016 is REALLY All About!
As I write this, the status of election 2016 is that Donald Trump is, barring a party coup, going to be the GOP nominee, while Hillary Clinton is probably going to be the Democratic nominee, but Bernie Sanders continues to be a thorn in her side.
The next President of the United States is going to be a “Boomer”, and it is safe to say they will be the last “Boomer” President (Bill Clinton and George W Bush were both Boomers, too, Barack Obama is Generation X)
Conventional wisdom says that generations are always liberal when they are young, and get more conservative as they age, and that is a true trend in history, but there has never been a generation quite like the Millennials:
Only 21% of Millennials are married, while 42% of Boomers were married at their age;
Almost 1 in 4 (23% to be exact) have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, making them the most educated generation (more demographic breakdowns of college graduates can be found here);
Millennials are the most ethnically and racially diverse generation, with 19% being Hispanic, 14% African-American and 5% Asian;
Millennials are the most diverse, highest educated, and least likely to have a traditional family. The odds are pretty good they are going to be the most socially liberal generation ever. It also does not help that Boomers are driving Millennials to embrace democratic socialism.
Donald Trump’s main appeal is to those mostly white males who are afraid of systemic change as a result of demographic change. White Christian males have been the dominant force in America for generations and they are losing ground demographically every year.
Hillary Clinton is an “old school” Democrat, who often leans Conservative (most troubling even Neo-conservative) on many issues. Her lack of appeal to Millennials could prove her biggest weakness. Fortunately for her, Millennials don’t vote.
Bernie Sanders is a proven Liberal, who has run his campaign towards appealing to Millennials, and has succeeded. Many of the media wonder why he stays in the race even though his chances of a nomination are quickly approaching 0%. The answer is he is grabbing the youth and exciting them into politics. Sanders knows that Millennials are the future of this country, and it is time they take an interest in their own future.
Regardless of the outcome, Sanders’ message is going to win in the long run. Sanders is too old to run again, so this is his one shot. Ideally, some young Sanders supporters will start running for office and start challenging the Boomer status quo.
The Cyberpunk Age is already upon us
Back in the 80’s before the internet, many of us Gen Xers would read books. One of the big fiction trends was “cyberpunk”, books often set in dystopian but connected worlds. Neuromancer by William Gibson in 1984 was considered the first. Later prominent novels were Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.
These books took the early networking tech that was already developing at the time and expanded on it, thrilling our imaginations with future worlds we could only dream about.
Today we no longer have to imagine, the “cyberpunk” world has become our reality. These authors got a surprisingly lot of ideas right. They also got many parts wrong, so reading these books today feels anachronistic.
One thing these books got wrong is that their heroes had unusually good prowess with digital information, and that prowess usually saves the day in the end. Prowess with digital information is proving not to be unusual at all, in the Millennial generation and whatever we are calling the generation after it (why not call it the cyberpunk generation?) prowess with digital information is the norm.
I saw my 2 year old nephew sit at a computer with a mouse and point and click away on a game as easily as a fish takes to swimming. I didn’t even see my first computer mouse until high school.
Kids today are creating a new digital society and have little interest in preserving traditional ways. This is a world wide and nearly universal trend among the younger generation vs the “cold war” world view of their parents and grandparents.
The “fears” of the older generations are driving politics right now, but personally I’m excited about the changes.
The digital age is not a perfect one, but that’s another story. No age has ever been perfect.