Me, MySpace, and I
THE MYSPACE GENERATION
My 15 year-old daughter and I arrived home from her school. I made a quick cup of coffee and by the time I walked into her room she was talking on her cell phone, had a book open on her lap, the television was on, and she had eight windows open on her computer. One window displayed her MySpace page; another was doing a Google search for a school project, while the other six were instant message screens. I watched for a few minutes while she bounced seamlessly from one conversation to the next, all the while singing along with a song playing on her iPod and glancing every once in a while at a show she Tivo’d the night before. I honestly don’t know how she lives at this seemingly frenetic pace.
It’s hard for me to understand her lifestyle because I am a Baby Boomer and she is a member of the newly emerged MySpace Generation. We co-exist in the same world. We use the same technology. But the similarities end where the multitasking begins. As one 14-year-old MySpacer so aptly told me,
I don’t understand how anyone can just do one thing at a time. I would be like so majorly bored and probably fall asleep. My mom yells at me all the time to turn off the TV and put away my iPod so I can do my homework. I am doing my homework and I can’t imagine not listening to music and talking to my friends at the same time. She just doesn’t get it … and she never will. We have the same fight every day. It’s not like I’m not doing well at school. I’m getting great grades. She says she’s proud of me but then she won’t let me be and do it my way.
Multitasking is but one way in which MySpacers differ from the two previous generations, Baby Boomers and Generation X. In this chapter I will share some common and distinctive features of these three generations. It is important to mention that not everyone in any generation acts, thinks, and feels the same. Clearly, your own experiences may be different from those whose thoughts will be highlighted in this chapter. Over the past few years, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Pew Internet & American Life Project have studied thousands of American children, teens, young adults, and their families. Researchers from Carnegie-Mellon University, MIT’s Media Laboratory and nearly every major university in the United States have chronicled generational commonalities. My own research with MySpacers reveals that they are indeed qualitatively different from earlier generation because they are the first generation to be born into a technological world where nearly everything is computerized. To the extent that generalizations can be made from these data, they are made in the interest of presenting “typical” members of each generation which will help understand how your children are so different from you in the ways that they consume technology and other media.
We are in the midst of the three most distinct and qualitatively different generations in history and it is all due to the rapid emerging prominence of technology. At one end are the Baby Boomers. Born after World War II between 1946 and 1964, Boomers are the current political leaders, business CEOs, middle managers, and shop owners. The oldest Boomers just turned 60 and many will retire in the next five to ten years.
Although multitasking is a major feature of the MySpace Generation, they were not the first generation to multitask using technology. That honor belongs to Generation X. Generation X children, born between 1965 and 1979, are now approaching their late twenties and early forties. They were born before the Internet was a household word. Then came the MySpace Generation. Born after 19eight0, many MySpacers know no world without 500 television channels. The web is their major source of amusement and information and they would be lost without a cell phone.
To understand what the MySpace Generation faces in their technological world, it is important to compare their attitudes, values, and behaviors to the two prior generations. In some ways, they are no different than their parents’ generation but in many ways they are unique. Those characteristics that best highlight these similarities and differences are presented in the Table 2.1 which summarizes personal values – trust, family, political orientation, communication preferences – and work-related values including career aspirations, work ethic, leadership styles, and workplace motivation.