Defining The Generations Based On Technology Era

by Ted Schadler

Our last post on Gen X using Web 2.0 at work generated a lot of buzz in other blog posts, particularly at ReadWriteWeb.

One of the biggest comments had to do with how generations are defined.

At Forrester, we spent about a month looking at this question back in 2006 when we did our first generational analysis of the use of technology. (We've since updated that work in "The State Of Consumers And Technology: Benchmark 2008" -- available to Forrester clients.)

The more we looked, the more we realized that nobody frickin' knows. So we did what we comes naturally -- we researched it. We canvassed the universe. We read all the books and talked to a bunch of experts, mostly from the Agency world, where they know a thing or two about generations.

Since nobody had a definitive set, we create them based on blended average of the best references out there. Then we added a Forrester twist: What technology era does it correspond to? (Meaning, when they were teenagers, what technology was new to them.)

  • Gen Y: 1980-1991. This group started spending money in the mobile era -- it's still their defining characteristic. Mobile texting, making party plans on the fly while out, carrying their identity around in their phones, that's Gen Y. They don't think twice, they just do it. This group would love to use social media at work, but mobile's good enough for now thank you very much. They are 50% more likely to text while at work as Gen X (51% versus 36%.) As far as showing the rest of us the path forward, it's probably leading by example at this point in their careers.

  • Gen X: 1966-1979. This group grew up in the broadband Internet era, but they are picking up quickly on mobile (and they have a ton more money to spend on gadgets). Gen X loves technology that helps them be independent. Very practical, this group will spend on digtal stuff that improves life. And that includes in their management positions at work. But they still have on average only 7 people reporting to them, half as many as Younger Boomers do. 

  • Younger Boomers: 1956-1965. This group grew up in the PC era (also the cable TV era!). You can't think of Boomers as one generation, because Younger Boomers are way different from Older Boomers when it comes to the Internet, social media, and particularly mobile. For example, Younger Boomers are three times as likely as Older Boomers to visit social networks while at work (14% versus 5%). As much as I hate to admit it, I'm in this generation.

  • Older Boomers: 1945-1955. This group is classic post-war; the heart and soul of the sixties, but not particularly technology savvy. Heck, electric guitars were a defining device to this generation. PCs? Not so much. This group is willing to use technology, but is not who you'll see standing in line at the Apple Store waiting for the new Mac. For example, this group is 50% less likely to use instant messaging at work as Younger Boomers (19% versus 26%).

  • Seniors: Before 1945. Even this group will use technology, often to stay in touch with grandchildren. They're not much in the workforce at this point, so we'll let our Consumer Technographics team say more about them. See The State Of Consumers And Technology: Benchmark 2009, US for more (Forrester clients get the full report.)

Questions, comments, thoughts. Go for it.

Comments

re: Defining The Generations Based On Technology Era

If you were born between 1966-1979, you didn't grow up with broadband Internet.Even the early adopter crowd in America didn't get broadband Internet until at least 1998.

re: Defining The Generations Based On Technology Era

Ah, good point. However, when this group got their first rental pad or bought their first house, dial-up was in full swing and broadband was one of the things they considered.Of course the lines are fuzzy, but there's no refuting based on the data that Gen X treats the Internet with a whole lot more comfort than their older breathren, so the point remains valid and useful.Ted

re: Defining The Generations Based On Technology Era

As a so-called Gen-Xer I remember 1200 baud modems and the Commodore 128. I didn't meet broadband until my late twenties. Mozilla wasn't around until the mid-nineties, so I am not sure how broadband falls in X's teenage years.