The international marketing firm Youngster recently reported that for the first time in history, the market group known as Generation Y, those ages 10 to 25, is evenly divided across each of its five age-based subgroups. A short 10 years ago when Generation Y first burst on to the scene, the vast majority of Gen Y was age 10 to 14. This first wave influenced popular culture, giving us nSync and Britney Spears.
In the 10 years that have followed, the early 10-year-olds of Generation Y became 20-year-olds filling out the top ranks of Generation Y. The relatively constant birth rate in the Western world resulted in an even distribution across all stages of Generation Y. The expanding size of Generation Y has resulted in the dissemination of their influence not only through popular culture, but also the business culture.
To sell to or recruit this group as employees or understand the influence it has, you must understand how Generation Y functions.
The First Digital Natives
Generation Y has been referred to as the first humans native to the digital landscape. This means that Generation Y has never known a world that did not include the Internet, cellular phones and immediately available parallel communications. All who came before Generation Y are no more than digital tourists, but Generation Y is as comfortable and capable in the digital world as in the physical world.
Any parent of a Generation Y teenager has marveled as their child adeptly talks on their cell phone, often on a three-way call, while sending SMS text messages and sending email directly from their cell phone. These amazing youngsters do all this while playing online RPG’s (role playing games) that combine video, audio and text conferencing. An amazing six simultaneous lines of communication involving 30 or more simultaneous participants demonstrates how Generation Y has evolved the very concepts of networking, collaboration and community.
The RPG player must learn and master no less than 70 new rules or skills. These 70 skills do not increase the player’s likelihood of success in the game; rather, these 70 skills are the bare minimum to negotiate the first level of the game. To advance through the game requires the monitoring of no fewer than 100 individual incoming streams of data from 360 degrees in all three planes of three-dimensional space (X, Y, and Z axis). In addition, the most recent generations of game systems allow players to collaborate in real time with individuals not only within their country but across the Internet in other countries.
These collaborations are not bounded by language differences. As a result, to work collaboratively within a given group and have that group work collaboratively against other groups, the players must learn either a language unique to the game or one utilized in common by all players within their team.
Generation Y members utilize services such as MySpace and Facebook to serve as their digital homes. Similarly they use professional networking services such as Xing, LinkedIn, and Konnect as their digital offices. For a member of Generation Y, Facebook is a home in their personal neighborhood, while MySpace is their bedroom. It is not unusual for Generation Y individuals who initially met in a professional environment to exchange Facebook and even MySpace contact information to facilitate a larger social interaction.
Even more indicative of this tidal change is the number of Generation Y relationships that begin as personal social exchanges only to evolve into professional relationships and even business collaborations. Generation Y professionals don’t believe in going it alone. Spouses will get to know each other having never met face to face. Children will play video games and even together learn in simulation-enhanced learning environments.
What would happen if the much ballyhooed No Child Left Behind curriculum were handed over to video game programmers and utilized as the rules, processes and systems of a series of role playing adventure video games?
• The entire K through 8 curriculum mastered in two and a half years.
• Four years of high school completed within 18 months.
• Completion of the first two years of college by the end of eighth grade.
• Recall and application in excess of 90% accuracy and proficiency.
The problem with the application of such a model within our current educational system is that for Generation Y, the RPG is not technology rather it is a tool, while for those who provide education RPG systems represent what was once considered a “super computer.” This is a chasm almost too wide to forge.
As Generation Y moves from their current position as entry-level managers to corporate leadership, they will bring with them these networking skills. LinkedIn is their North American office, while Xing is their European branch office and Konnect their Asian branch office. It is not unusual for a Generation Y professional to have more than 10,000 direct, first-person contacts developed through Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 networks. This is not a collection of random business cards, but rather individuals with whom they have developed business and personal relationships, even friendships. These professionals not only discuss business ventures, successes and failures, but seek advice from each other in open mentoring opportunities and even share personal feelings in these virtual spaces.
These young professionals have truly tapped a globalized market through the use of the Internet and social networking services. The only question: Is the global market ready for true globalization?