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Gen X to Gen Y: Grow up!

From my perspective, there aren’t many differences between Generation X and Generation Y — except that people born in the 80s aren’t as likely to remember Spider Man and his Amazing Friends. (If you subscribe to the typical generational classifications, I was born toward the end of Generation X.) As far as their touted technological prowess, Generation Y, a.k.a. the “Millennial Generation,” doesn’t seem that different, either, except maybe when it comes to text messaging while driving a car. (I have friends who do this, mostly without incident. Now, that’s amazing!)

Yet, to listen to the media, you’d think that the children of the 80s were born with USB ports built into their nostrils and, like the iPods they commonly carry, are preciously fragile pieces of high-performance machinery — capable of amazing achievements, but oh-so-sensitive. Recently, 60 Minutes reported how the Millennials are revolutionizing the workplace. Millennials demand, according to the report, the right to work when and where they want. They also need lots of mentoring because they’ve always been told “you’re special, you deserve the best,” not “life’s tough and you have to work to get what you want.”

Shortly after I saw the 60 Minutes report, TechRepublic blogger Toni Bowers wrote about how IT managers must prepare for the Millennials. Again, the focus was on how our culture must make way for the under-30 workforce; supposedly everybody has to kowtow to the Millennials because they think their elders aren’t supposed to intimidate them.

Hello? Am I the only one who thinks this is just wrong?

I’m not that much older than these people, but I am old enough to remember that Generation X entered the workforce to the tune of “you’re a slacker,” “you need to be more motivated,” “get a job,” and “you’re a loser if you still live with your parents.” Now, slacking is considered a “market condition,” and living at home is considered a wise economic decision. How come we had to adjust to the world, and now we’re adjusting the world for them?

As a representative of Gen X, I have to say that at the first mention of “step aside, old lady,” I will whap that Millennial whippersnapper upside the head with my soon-to-be-non functioning iPod.

That being said, I work with quite a few Generation Y colleagues, and they are lovely people — hard workers, for the most part — smart, and motivated in the way of ambitious young people, not at all the special snowflakes or idiot savants 60 Minutes made them out to be.

There are, admittedly, a few generational differences. But in my mind, these center around the idea that technology is taken for granted among people who have spent most of their lives around it.

For instance, not that long ago when I was in college (and I’m certainly dating myself here), I was told that to pursue a future in graphic design, I would need to learn the appropriate computer skills on my own because the school lacked those resources. Also, our “social networking” was done via Telnet, in green text on a black screen, with only our imaginations and vocabularies enabling us to throw sheep at each other. Nowadays, both those cases would be unthinkable.

Similarly, fellow Network Hubster Tessa Parmenter recently blogged about how shocking it can be when someone lacks email in this day and age. The same day, Michael Morisy reported on the fact that Generation Y wireless customers are more fickle and likely to jump ship if their carriers don’t deliver.

Both those examples show an insistence on connectivity — on technology that does what people want it to do — but (in my mind, at least) they don’t scream “hold my hand or I won’t work for you!”

So maybe it’s not Generation Y, but the media hype machine, that needs to grow up.

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