Baby Boom Generation Now Outnumbered

Ever since I was born, the Baby Boom Generation ruled.  What we decided was the majority rule.  Our worldview prevailed and our music, fads and hairstyles were always dominant. What we did  defined the news and ultimately, history.  There were always more of us than any other age group.

It was very cool.  Every time my friends and I would start doing something, I'd read in the Wall Street Journal that it was a nationwide trend.  Marketers researched our every thought and invented products and services just for us.

But now a sea change has occurred and it's time to wake up and smell the Internet.  The Net Generation, also known as the millennials, is now the biggest generation in history, according to a new book, Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World by Don Tapscott. More than 81 million people in the US were born from 1977 to 1997 and they now make up 27% of the population.

By comparison, the Baby Boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, were 77 million strong and are now only 23% of the population. 

The Net Generation is quite different. Just as Boomers grew up with TV, the Net Generation grew up with the Internet, computers and video games. The book identifies eight norms of the Net Generation:

  1. They prize freedom.
  2. They want to customize things.
  3. They enjoy collaboration.
  4. They scrutinize everything.
  5. They insist on integrity in institutions and corporations.
  6. They want to have fun even at school or work.
  7. They believe that speed in technology and everything else is normal.
  8. They regard constant innovation as a fact of life.

As I expected, my 24-year old son is taller, faster, stronger and smarter than me. I could always type fast, but he is lightning at the keyboard. In the gym he warms up with a 100-pound bench press, which is my maximum weight.  Whereas I study installation manuals in detail, he opens a computer program and intuitively knows how it works. Naturally he lacks the perspective and experience that 50 years of life give a person, but he'll get that over time.  (Criminy! That's what my Dad would say about me.)

The marketing lesson is that the Net Generation communicates differently. To reach them, you send a text message; to reach me you make a phone call. The Net Generation is all over FaceBook, viewing the Web on a handheld device and getting music and information on an iPod.  The Net Generation downloads movies, music and information -- they don't buy the hard copy.

Now more than ever marketers must stay in touch with younger people. Don't become one of those people who can't work a digital camera, set your cell phone voicemail or program your DVR.  Be current. Stay relevant. Try new things.

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Joseph Dang - January 16, 2009 1:16 PM

This is a great post, interestingly enough I found it through twitter. I'd say the number is even larger, since I was born in 1977 and people older me definitely have some of the same tendencies.

Maybe they're not as deeply entrenched in the "ways of the net" but some of my peers born all the way into 1971 are just as connected as I am, some even more so.

Gabriel Cheong - January 17, 2009 10:41 PM

I guess I'm proud to be part of the Net Generation, but just because you're part of that generation doesn't mean you are defined by that stereotype. I graduated college with a computer science degree but computers and technology is changing so fast that I find myself struggling, at times, to catch up with new technology and to adapt to new forms of communication.

In short, we're all trying to catch up, even when others think we're ahead.

Ken Shigley - January 18, 2009 2:45 PM

And then there are those of us who are older but "less mature" boomers who were early adopters of web technology, and to whom most of those "Net Generation" traits apply -- except for the taller, stronger, smarter, faster part. I was born in 1951, launched the first primitive lawyer web site in my state in '96 and the second lawyer blog in my state in '03, keep up with my cousins (sometimes through their grown children) on Facebook, use Avvo, LinkedIn, Plaxo, etc., and promote my blogs through Twitter. However, after taking a long look, I decided to leave Myspace to my kids' generation.

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