Chapter 1: A Hooked Up Generation (the Anti-Millennials)
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Chapter 1: A Hooked Up Generation (the Anti-Millennials)
Internet Pioneers are the small band of impatient, empowered, multi-tasking, curious, confident, confused, sexually liberated, sometimes binge-drinking and often fragile kids who were the first to be born into the Internet Age. They're the ones you see texting as they're walking and talking with their friends (and often texting the same friends they're walking with, holding conversations within conversations).
Unlike past generations that typically encompass a 20- to 30-year period, the Internet Pioneer generation spans only a 5-year period, encompassing those who were born between 1991 and 1995, with the older class graduating from college and the younger class entering college in 2012. They comprise more than 95 percent of current college students.
The Internet is the defining influence on Internet Pioneers, and they are hooked up to and dependent on the Internet for managing almost every aspect of their lives. They'll eagerly embrace the latest apps, innovations and technological advances that simplify and enhance their connectivity, yet just as quickly reject products and services that are overtly marketed to them without demonstrating a clear value.
They've grown up with the Internet and the economic collapse of 1999; the impeachment of President Clinton; the Bush/Gore contested election and Bush presidency; 9/11; weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi War; the Oklahoma Federal Building bombing; religious extremism; the war in Afghanistan; atrocities in Africa; the economic collapse of 2009 and subsequent 'bail out' debates; too big to fail; steroids; sex-related scandals; the election of the first African-American president and intensified political polarization. They're aware of current affairs: the Arab Spring and "Occupy" movements; debates over climate change, abortion, contraception, gay rights, health care, gun control, immigration and illegal aliens, education, unionization, states' rights and taxes. People who have dominated the news during their lives have included Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Snooki, Michael Jackson, and Janet Jackson with her "unintentional" 2004 Super Bowl flash. Internet Pioneers have also experienced unprecedented hurricanes, earthquakes and natural disasters in the United States and around the world.
As exciting as the vision of Steve Jobs and the technological advances spurred by the Internet have been, the economic, political, educational, social and cultural realities facing today's college-age generation are as negatively charged as any since the Great Depression and World Wars of the 20th century. This is the world that Internet Pioneers are inheriting.
Internet Pioneers will have a future full of "Oh Wow!" moments, even as they shed the baggage of the depressing realities with which they have grown up. This is the first generation that, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, has not been driving down the road of life looking in its rearview mirror. Members of this generation have had a television screen, an Internet-connected computer screen and a mobile screen throughout their lives through which they've been able to discover the past, connect to the present and invent the future.
The chasm between pre- and post-Internet generations is a wide one. Internet Pioneers, because they straddle both, are the special group that has grown up in the 21st century-connected world but remains encumbered by the baggage of the 20th-century world they are inheriting. Many of them will live to experience most, if not all, of this first century of the new millennium, and they will be the ones to define and write its story.
Internet Pioneers will be the inspiration, creative force, intellectual foundation, economic backbone and social conscience of the 21st century. They represent the generation that will lead America and the world into the most important and formative period of the 21st century.
Overloaded and Wary
Internet Pioneers are different from generations that came before them. They may be the most aware generation ever, yet they're so overloaded from being on a life-long roller coaster of emotionally charged knowledge and experiences that they're inclined to withhold voicing strong opinions. They are measured and controlled in their actions. They'll listen to both sides of an argument and, ifthey engage at all, will try to find common ground, even if they strongly agree with one opinion or the other.
Internet Pioneers are, in a word, wary: wary about having strong feelings or taking strong positions; wary about their future prospects, their plans, their ability to contribute to and influence the world. They're wary about the economy, politics, institutions, organizations, movements, trends and fads. That wariness extends to teachers, coaches, clergy, and celebrities. It encompasses privacy issues, spam, bullying and hazing.
Although they may mature in fits and starts, sometimes resentful of the responsibilities heaped upon them and confused by the chaos and conflicts in their lives, they are generally at peace with adults. They're slow to protest against the institutions they mistrust. They are socially connected far beyond relatives and friends, to friends of friends, organizations, brands and corporations. Internet Pioneers are fun-loving but hard-working, focused on their futures, polarized on many issues, but generally cohesive in their hopes and plans for the future.
News and information comes at Internet Pioneers 24/7; they're constantly engaged in online and mobile social interaction; they're media junkies who are more aware than any generation before them of the world and its realities as well as the day-to-day and even minute-by-minute realities within their own social circles. They have grown up with information at their fingertips. These students were the first to rely on the Internet for class projects as early as elementary school. From there, they quickly discovered the ease with which an Internet connection could open all kinds of doors. The Internet could provide them with information, friends, entertainment and much more. The online world became a kind of virtual home.
Internet Pioneers have grown up with instant gratification media and with the world outside their homes constantly and urgently intruding on their family and personal lives. What are the implications?
"Many have grown up in homes with their moms and dads spending more time looking at their Blackberrys and iPhones than at their kids. Their parents have been connecting to the world outside the home in such an urgent way via email they've created a sense of apprehension about the challenges of adulthood."
Dean Lorraine Branham
S.I. Newhouse School of Communications, Syracuse University
A childhood of tolerant parenting also defines this generation. They belong to the first generation to attend schools that maintain zero tolerance for punishment, with some students in classrooms that abolished grade point systems. Others joined sports leagues that gave trophies to every player on every team. Some students went to schools where everyone who wanted to be in the school play got a role, and where gay students could openly form their own clubs. And above all, Internet Pioneers have been able to connect with each other 24/7 with minimal parental interference or even awareness.
As the Internet Pioneers generation has matured, its members have evolved from media consumers to content creators.
Taught in an environment that promoted individual expression, these young adults aren't satisfied to sit back and let others tell them what to think or how to feel. They have voices and they want to use them. And an explosion in the world of social media has allowed them to do just that.
High school and college students have an arsenal of social networks available––Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, Google Plus, Instagram, Pinterest, plus MeetUp, WeeWorld and Foursquare, in addition to hundreds more specialized networks and virtual worlds. Students with initiative and a love for the written word can broadcast opinions to the world with the help of Blogger, WordPress, Square Space or LiveJournal.
Their social lives are centered around technology, but they're socially comfortable and more likely to hug and embrace each other than shake hands. Dating and relationships among college students reflect a new "hooked up" culture in which relationships are often developed via engaged texting and in which sex is often a casual one-time-only encounter. The wary attitudes Internet Pioneers have toward commitments and long-term relationships affect their politics, education, careers, religious beliefs, media and entertainment interests, and all aspects of their lives.
The Internet and social networks have enabled Internet Pioneers to explore new cultures and simultaneously be a part of multiple social circles in an inclusive and open social structure. The Facebook pages of Internet Pioneers often reflect more about their core self-image and interests than they might share even in a close relationship. These Facebook pages and updates identify their social networks, current relationships and passions, attitudes toward authority, likes and dislikes, fashion tastes, and day-to-day activities. Facebook users might post their thoughts on whatever issues or challenges they're confronting, consumer brands they support, the games and apps they like, and their plans for the future. In other words, studying the Facebook page of an Internet Pioneer can reveal much about his or her current life as well as his or her long-term hopes, dreams and fears.
NEXT: Chapter 2: Why are Internet Pioneers So Important?