Twitter: It’s a GenX Thing

3 Jun

twitterI find what and how different generations adopt communication technology to be most fascinating. I am strongly of the belief that Twitter is a tool attractive mostly to GenXers (born 1961-1981). And here’s why: GenXers (the Nomad archetype, via Strauss & Howe’s brilliant work on generations) grow up behind a culturally dominant and turf-squatting gen (today’s Boomers). As such, there is little-to-no space in the public sphere for GenX to find their footing, except, of course, as support to Boomers (born 1943-1960). This is particularly true for GenX in young adulthood, which has now shifted as GenX are moving into midlife.

So, Twitter, as a tool, is microblogging. Right? It’s small bits. Gaps. Niches. Finding a very small space that requires no specific authority-granted position from which to speak. Finding a small space to insert a comment, a bit of information, a link to some potentially helpful info. Finding a small space from which to broadcast, engage, connect.

Twitter has GenX written all over it. Which is why, for example, Oprah was so clumsy, off-putting and stale-stale-stale as she hosted her ooooh-look-at-me-tweet show.

Millennials (the correct term, academically), but *sigh* as many call them, GenY, aren’t typically oriented to Twitter, why? They are a peer-oriented, collective can-do generation. They expect high levels of attention — particularly institutional attention — on them. Twitter requires a lot of work without any guaranteed payoff and reward for attention. Millennials grew up in and orient toward a mentality that has more to do with this: Here Are the Steps to Take. Now, Here is your Reward. Twitter is a wilder world with many an unknown. Much more the environment in which GenXers thrive.

Millennials, as they mature and take the reigns as they eventually move into midlife, will bring balance to GenXers’ fragmented approach to problem-solving. They are oriented more to group-think and the collective heart-space they share in their peer groups. And they, in turn, will have their excesses of hubris balanced by the gen that follows them. Just as this correction of excesses is balanced always by the next-junior generation.

So, that’s my bit about Twitter, GenX and GenY.

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BTW, always think *handheld devices* when looking to find where/how/when to connect with Millennials. There’s a trick for reaching each gen, and it’s understanding their orientation to information. Silent Gen = newspaper and credentialed souces. Boomer = TV and radio and big messages. Gen X = internet and fragmented, personable connections. Millennial/Gen Y = handheld/mobile devices; always connected to each other.

*********

This “post” above is actually a comment I wrote on a news bit sent to me via @jillfoster. It’s called, Study Shows Gen Y Not In Love With Twitter.

Duh.

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23 Responses to “Twitter: It’s a GenX Thing”

  1. Rob Carlson June 3, 2009 at 6:18 pm #

    Where do netbooks fall in the “handheld” and generational spectrum, in your estimation?

    • JessieX June 5, 2009 at 7:15 am #

      Haha. You’re a most charming and inquisitive of geeks, Rob. Great question. And most-excellent point to clarify. With Millennials, it really is about “handheld,” as in “that which fits easily and unobtrusively into one’s pocket.” That’s my two cents.

      • Rob Carlson June 5, 2009 at 9:05 am #

        There will be a convergence soon enough anyway.

  2. hedn2069 June 4, 2009 at 11:45 am #

    Interesting blog and post, but it’s missing an important part of the equation: Generation Jones, born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X. Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, The Associated Press’ annual Trend Report chose the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009.

    It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. Many experts now believe it breaks down this way:

    DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
    Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
    Generation Jones: 1954-1965
    Generation X: 1966-1978

    Here is a recent op-ed about GenJones as the new generation of leadership in USA TODAY:
    http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20090127/column27_st.art.htm

    Here’s a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones:
    http://generationjones.com/2009latest.html

    • JessieX June 5, 2009 at 7:21 am #

      hedna2069, I’ll start by pulling a bit from your thoughtful and well-formed comment: “… It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom.”

      Exactly. See, generations aren’t about demographics, but archetypes. Yes, yes. Early-wave, mid and late-wavers of any generation experience childhood with trends/factors ascending, solid or declining, but the problem with the concept of Generation Jones (or any other non-archetypal understanding of generations) is that the conversation starts to become about demographics. I don’t give a hoot about media attention on a subject. It doesn’t make the information accurate; it just brings the info to public attention.

      Check out William Strauss & Neil Howe’s work for more info about generations vs. demographics.

      • hedn2069 June 5, 2009 at 11:09 am #

        Why would the concept of Generation Jones cause the conversation to become about demographics? Generation Jones has nothing to do with demographics, it is all about psychographics. It argues that it was a mistake to use demographics (ie. post-WWII birth rates) to determine generations, that generations are actually about psychographics (ie. the collective generational personality created by shared experiences).

        The mistake some devotees of Strauss and Howe make is believing that generations can only be determined by using S&H’s archetypes. Most generation experts do not believe in S&H’s archetypes. S&H certainly have some following, but it is clearly a minority view. Generation experts generally believe generations are determined by psychographics, not demographics or S&H archetypes.

  3. Dave Sohigian June 4, 2009 at 2:21 pm #

    I really like this quote describing Millennials:

    They expect high levels of attention — particularly institutional attention — on them.

    Gen X hates institutional attention, but Millennials expect it. Great observation.

  4. Jeff Hurt June 5, 2009 at 10:58 am #

    I read your post earlier this week and shared it with the GenY in my office. After the intial flurry of negative comments to me through Yammer & Twitter about your post, I encouraged one to blog about his thoughts. He did. So here’s one GenY’s response to your thoughts about his generation: A Look At Bad Twitter Demographics From A Know It All Millennial.

    http://jeffhurtblog.com/2009/06/05/a-look-at-bad-twitter-demographics-from-a-know-it-all-millennial/

  5. Rimas June 5, 2009 at 1:03 pm #

    Jess,
    brilliant writing, love your voice, diction, rhythm. Superb. It is not likely to be “true” – what is? – but that doesn’t matter one whit to me, you make your points well.

  6. JessieX June 6, 2009 at 10:09 am #

    hedn2069,

    Most “generational experts” are wanna-be-guru Boomers looking for more turf to squat on. They want to be experts about something so they can lay claim to their kingdom of book deals, media interviews and overpaid, mostly useless consulting. So, as you can see, I don’t give a hoot if someone calls themselves a “generational expert” if what comes out of their mouths is mostly opinion and a scrambling to create a new theory. Enough already.

    “Generation Jones” is the ultimate example of what I speak. Had I to guess, I’d say you’d find a Boomer behind its creation. Someone who is just looking for limelight, attention and money. I don’t care if The Media pick it up. That doesn’t make the info accurate. It just makes it “covered by the media.” I’ve worked in and around communications, publications, pr, marketing and “influence” industries for so long that I know journalists rely on their sources most often for expertise. So if a crackpot expert — such as the creator of Gen Jones pops up — they don’t know any better.

    Then — and I’m really going into a whole ‘nother subject here — but then, the quality of information just deteriorates and deteriorates. Each journalist/writer reads another writer’s take on something and then adds their own spin. Spin. Spin. Spin.

    But back to generations: The depth of information — and the reason why I find generational theory so compelling is The Archetypes. Period. Generation Jones is throws all that out the wind and the creator of it says, “Oooh, oooh, look at me. Interview me. Book me for your next speaking gig.”

    And somewhere in your learnings, hedn2069, you must understand that GenX need REAL, RAW, FUNCTIONAL information in life. No time for BS. There are serious problems to fix. And now.

    Our patience as a generation has worn thin. Placating and supporting Boomer fluff and big-talk without a hardcore reality check just ain’t on The Agenda for GenXers anymore. Adjust now, or be marginalized.

  7. hedn2069 June 6, 2009 at 11:19 am #

    To your credit, Jessie, you do acknowledge that you are guessing about at least part of your take on GenJones. I’m not guessing; there is a topic about which I am knowledgable, so let me fill in the picture.

    Generation Jones (which, BTW, was not identified by a Boomer) is not, as you portray, Boomer-fueled fluff which uninformed media mindlessly parrots. It is a concept based on an enormous amount of scientific research which widely respected researchers have unequivocally concluded exists.

    Major corporations, non-profit organizations, top polling firms, large market research companies, etc., etc. have spent a great deal of money trying to determine if GenJones exists, and if so, how it differs from its surrounding generations. Some examples: the largest media company in Europe (Carat Ltd.), large ad agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi, top political pollsters like Mason Dixon, Research2000, and Rasmussen, etc. etc. have spent big bucks on this research, virtually all concluding that GenJones is a distinct generation. Numerous corporations have spent considerable money on specifically targeting GenJones consumers. Numerous major political candidates, in the U.S. and abroad, have allocated significant resources trying to woo GenJones voters. Do you really think all this money and time would be spent by such serious individuals/organizations if it was the BS fluff which you claim it is?!

    And while I agree with you that many in the media are unthinking lemmings, there are far too many top credible news organizations who have studied and researched GenJones to chalk them all off as meaningless. The top news outlets like Newsweek magazine and ABC news, etc. are not mindless lemmings, they typically do quite a bit of due dilligence, and they have overwhelmingly been supportive of the GenJones construct.

    If anything, the rise of GenJones in popularity is despite, not because of, Baby Boomers who often have initially resisted GenJonesers seceeding from the Boomer union. The mountains of data, however, supporting the distinctness of GenJones from its surrounding generations have caused these skeptics to generally acknowledge that it does exist.

    The same is true of many of the Boomer generation experts you disparage; many of them initially resisted GenJones because it undermined their books and speeches which claimed that everyone born during the demographic post-war birth boom from 1946-1964 were all part of one generation. Over time, however, the data has been too strong to deny, and books about generations now almost always automatically include GenJones.

    • JessieX June 6, 2009 at 11:41 am #

      Dude (that’s you, hedn2069),

      Why do you keep insisting that Boomers are born 1946-1964. Knew you your generational theory, you’d at least start from the perspective that Boomers are 1943-1960, and GenX, 1961-1981.

      It’s the “boom” birth years of 1961-1964 that add so much to the population tally for Boomers. And inaccurately were demographers to get their heads out of their statistics tables. I know you know — and wonder why you don’t choose to remember — that the societal attitude toward child-bearing and child-rearing are diff for each gen. That’s so much of what is formative to their experience as a gen. (Read my “The Terrible Octomom” post for a refresher.)

      Boomers, the Prophet gen, are born in Spring, as Society comes out of Winter. GenXers were born in Summer. The escalated birth years of 1961-1964 were because the Second Turning (Strauss and Howe) was upcoming; the profound, unpredictable-by-stats cultural shift was at hand. And in that shift was the desire for adults to be *not* interested in having children. Those years were prime years for the fight to *not* have children, vis-a-vis cultural, political and legal eruptions around birth control, abortion and “women’s rights.” How can you even claim that a generation, Jones, in your case, has cohesion when one half grew up in a world where adults wanted to make a glorious world for their children and the latter half grew up with their parents taking them to abortion rights rallies. Really.

      So, if you’re going to position yourself as an expert, at least start on solid ground. And that’s generational theory and the archetypes.

      This brings me back to the fluff of wanna-be-gurus in and around generations. I’ve been in marketing so, so long. I’ve been in communications for years. I know that any story can be told. Any data point proven. Just ask the people on wikipedia which is one of the hottest and most debated subjects on their site: ‘Tis the concept of global warming. Why? Cuz some insist — insist! — that global warming is real, imminent and requiring immediate attention. Others insist, and have data to prove, that it’s a bunch of bull.

      So, do I ascribe to Strauss and Howe only and perfectly to the letter? Ahhhnnhh. Do I understand the depth and base of the theory? Absolutely. The archetypes and the cyclical nature of the archetypes is where the information is. If someone wants to come along and expand/expound upon the archetypes, to provide deeper understanding, to layer in their own realm of expertise on top of and in alignment with that, cool.

      But if it’s just another “generational expert” marketing a flawed theory with a bunch of demographic and psychographic data to corporations hungry for some sort of guidance on how to “capture a market” … whatever.

      Really, whatever.

  8. Mark Drapeau June 6, 2009 at 11:57 am #

    Isn’t this more general than Twitter? Aren’t most of the “social media thought leaders” Gen X?

  9. Ernesto June 6, 2009 at 12:02 pm #

    Wait a sec Jessie… these millenniums are gonna bring facebook-kumbaya-solve-the-world’s-problems-by-crowd-sourcing everything?? This is chaos! I say…

    We must stop them!! 😉

  10. JessieX June 6, 2009 at 12:30 pm #

    Ernesto – You’re so cute. Yes, to the crowd-sourcing with Millennials. Count on it. They grew up in a world where adults made their needs more important than their own, so they fully expect their perspective, voice, opinion to be counted equal to elders, regardless of experience or capacity. And they do have tremendous capacity and strength as a generation to do upbeat, collective, believe-in-groups work. It’s something GenX can’t even fathom.

    But the Kumbaya part? Nope. That’s the Boomer world: the inner spiritual quest. Their strength is to find meaning and soul and values in all they see-touch-consider. Millennials actually are kinda Common Man, keep-it-simple, all-(their gen) boats-rise-with-the-tide types. Spiritual inquiry is an individual practice Boomers share (whether we like it or not) with others. Can-do optimism is a public expression and experience of generational cohesion that Millennials want, and accomplish.

    Mark – Yes. Right on.

  11. Leslie Poston June 6, 2009 at 12:50 pm #

    ” I don’t care if The Media pick it up. That doesn’t make the info accurate. It just makes it “covered by the media.” ” – YES. Thank you.

    As always, you have managed to write a post that resonates with me (Gen X) and that tracks the topic of generations online, which fascinates me. I like even more how you have continued to define your point here in the comments. Well done.

  12. dirty mouth mama June 6, 2009 at 10:49 pm #

    Wow, your tweets were right. The discussion heated up so much here, I think I might have to step out of the kitchen for a minute.

    wphew… better.

    Okay. So, a guy walks into a bar and says boomer, jones and twitter the only guy who gets it is the kid in the back. Oh wait, that kid is like 40…. hmmmm…

    I have recently been introduced to the generational archetype info that you discuss. I personally use astrology to define the generations. It works pretty well, and is different than the 61 to 81 numbers for Gen -X.

    I suppose if I were truly interested I’d go and read it. But, I’m not. It seems to me that twitter is full of gen x because the damn mills are still out there drinking and having fun. The SAHM are “talking” all day long. Easy to hang a tweet while your house mates rage along with a beauty tantrum.

    So, if i were like 25 or 26, or hell even 30 and childless. I’d party. I might tweet a bit to make sure I could get my group to the bar at the same time to see BAND…

    As far as filling up space and finding niche.. I like the idea of Who cares? As in why waste a bunch of words on something stupid. As in, you obviously don’t understand so now you are making me use more words than was necessary to get you to understand.

    For a perfect example of this >>>> See the progression of JessieX’s comments above. Post about twitter with some substance. Then a more detailed response ending with a final… DUDE… this is what it is, and I’m done.

    Nicely done…I like you already.

  13. www.generationXpert.com June 8, 2009 at 9:50 am #

    Jeff Gordinier argues that Xers are micro and Boomers and Millennials are macro. Could be that.

    I don’t agree with you, however, that Xers have only found our space as support to the Boomer squatters. I think Xers operate on a totally different plane. That’s why were able to create Google, Amazon.com, and the phrase “duh.”

  14. JessieX June 9, 2009 at 6:05 am #

    Xpert – Agree on the micro/macro thing. Strauss and Howe refer to it as dominant and recessive generational roles, which, naturally, alternate.

    The GenX role of “supporting” Boomer turf squatters is a role of young adulthood (21-41). We’re moving into midlife (42-62) as a gen. My understanding of “supporting” Boomers is that collectively, we have patiently — and I mean PATIENTLY — allowed them their turf, all along operating in our our space/plane concurrently and tending to details and fixing problems most of them don’t even see as problems. Like your thinking, I do.

  15. brunettebitch June 10, 2009 at 2:17 pm #

    UMMM all over the place it is common knowledge that Baby Boomers are 1946-1964.
    Baby Boomers’ CHILDREN are GEN X, correct ?
    (I estimate GEN X to be 1970- 1990.)

    Plus, we Boomers could NOT have had a kid born in 1961, NOR could our kid have been born any sooner than, sayyyyy, 1970.

    DON’T ask what was born 1965-1970 – I do NOT have a clue LOL !
    BrunetteBitch

    • JessieX June 11, 2009 at 10:35 pm #

      Ummm, BrunetteBitch, I don’t believe there is an exact correlation between “common place knowledge” and “truth.” Know what I mean? Reference that “the earth is flat sh#t Christopher Columbus and Crew battled.

      Strauss & Howe, baby. The place to go for most-fascinating data, perspective, history, cycles and explanation of the theory. And, just to clarify, the next-elder gen does not have primary influence on the next-junior gen, i.e. GenX are not Boomers’ children. Some GenX were born to Boomers; the latter half. But GenX were mostly impacted by the next-next elder gen — the Silent Gen. That’s the cycle.

  16. Shawn October 29, 2010 at 1:27 am #

    Hello. Even though I am commenting late on this I had to contribute. I was born in 1982 and I have been conducting research on Generation X for sometime. I am an active user of Twitter, along with many others born in 1982 and later. In addition the work of Strauss and Howe, while respected is not accurate. These authors are basing their conclusions on generation boundaries on graduation years rather than culture. For example they are stating that the class of 2000 is those born in 1982 however there is a number of persons born in 1981 who graduated in 2000 due to state laws that prevent students from starting kindergarten if they turn age 5 after a state cutoff state (usually sept 1). One cannot accurate coin generations based upon academics because this aspect alone can vary from person to person. Persons fail grades, skip grades, drop out, etc. Therefore this alone makes their research faulty and not brilliant as you stated. There are several points in their research that just do not add up. As a person born in 1982, I feel that I am connected to with Generation X and Y, more so X. Those born in 1976-1982 typically either identify with Generation X or Generation Y or both. Persons born specifically in these years should be have the ability to identify with the generation he or she feels they connect with the most.

    • JessieX October 29, 2010 at 6:58 pm #

      Hi Shawn, I’m born in 1963 and therefore have a lot of colleagues, friends, and — from back in the day — school-yard friends who are Boomers. So I understand that those of use more on the cusp can cross-over in our alignment, orientation and values. Unlike you, I believe Strauss and Howe’s work is brilliant in that they identified and articulated a social science of archetypal, cyclical culture change. I believe if you read their material more deeply, you’ll see that Strauss and Howe don’t claim absolute adherence of all members of a generation to its core traits; quite the opposite. But generations do share an age location in time, and that is something that cannot be shed, shifted or denied. And that age location in time thing is, truly, a year-to-year phenomenon, especially in the more formative years of life. 😉 Rock on .

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