What a Boomer Learned at #GenYChat

As you probably know if you’ve read my blog before, I love Twitter and I especially love chats on Twitter. In December I was participating in a #TweetDiner and happened to mention I’d recently read an article that said Generation Y doesn’t use Twitter much.

I should have known better.

It irks me when people turn generalizations about Baby Boomers (now known as Boomers, as we are way past being babies) into absolutes. I’ve nothing against generalizations as a guideline or a statistical observation; but even if 99% of a demographic group does something, there’s always that 1% who don’t. So I should have known better than to tweet a generalization about Gen Y into a mixed group of people. (It’s not like speaking in an auditorium. You can’t see who is in the audience.)

Almost immediately Jillian Jackson (@OneJillian) popped up and said, in essence, “I’m here!” We started to chat about how wrong assumptions about both Gen Y and Boomers can be. (We Boomers aren’t supposed to be on Twitter much, either.) Then Chanelle Schneider (@WriterChanelle) joined in. We exchanged links to articles we’d seen online. It got late and I shut down my laptop for the night. The following morning I saw that Chanelle and Jillian had continued the conversation, and I responded to a few of their tweets.

Somewhere along the way, Chanelle invited me to #GenYChat, which she moderates. I reminded her that I am not a Gen Y—not even close. She said fine, everyone is welcome. And so on Wednesday night I jumped in with the young ‘uns… only to discover I wasn’t the only Boomer present. There were a few Gen X, too.

By this time my mind was racing. (What can I say? It’s an older model and probably needs an upgrade.) I had not thought that I stereotype people much–and in retrospect, I probably stereotype less than most–but a little hardening of the neurons had set in. It was time to rethink things.

Here’s what I thought about GenY during and after my first #GenYChat:

  • Assumptions about any demographic group are dangerous. Sure, we need to approach life with some expectations or we’ll constantly be inventing everything from scratch. But the moment you start to believe that an assumption is a 100% true fact, you’re headed for trouble.
  • Some of the differences between generations may be due to our age, not the decade in which we were born. I am different in my early 50s than I was in my 20s, and I will wager money (which I rarely do, but this is a slam-dunk) that the current 20-somethings will have changed by the time they reach 50. This is good; status quo is not a long-term strategy.
  • Generation Y is ambitious, idealistic, impulsive and impatient. When they want to do something they want to do it now, not in six months. Some of their ideas don’t pan out, but most Gen Yers seem happier to experiment with doing something than spending a long time planning in a vacuum. Life, and especially online life, is a laboratory for testing new ideas.
  • They are connected online and in real life. A Facebook friend is a friend. (As a Boomer I’m inclined to think of virtual friends as somehow different than “real” friends. Valued, but somehow different.) They will ask friends for opinions and help that older generations are likely to be shy about.
  • They believe in the power of technology. Not only are they connected online, they connect in many virtual spaces. They have multiple identities and communities via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. They use their mobile phones for texting and more. In an earlier chat I learned than when asked what percentage of the day they spend online, a significant number of people in the Generation Y demographic did not understand the question.
  • Like everyone else, members of Generation Y don’t like being pigeon-holed. You can generalize, but there will always be outliers.

By far the biggest lesson I’ve learned about Generation Y, which I had noticed before but has been confirmed by #GenYChat and other online interactions, is this: Generation Y is fearless.

Members of Generation Y approach a new situation or a problem like this:

  • If I don’t know how, I’ll figure it out.
  • If I need tools, I’ll find them online.
  • When all else fails, there’s Google.
  • It doesn’t matter that I never have. I know I can.

I was born late in the Baby Boom, too young to be a hippie or a flower child, but some of the older kids in my neighborhood identified with those descriptions. They talked about peace and love and how they were going to change the world. Unfortunately four decades later the world is still pretty messed up. Worse, some of us lost our idealism and optimism along the way. I see it again in Generation Y, but with a more practical spin.

There are many altruists among Gen Y, inclined to start a “movement” on Facebook or by starting a blog, instead of holding sit-ins. They use the tools of electronic communication as their first resort. They try things out and aren’t afraid to fail, take a break, and try another approach. (Of course these are generalizations; there are exceptions. But I find it to be true of most Gen Yers I’ve met.)

Participating in #GenYChat has helped me look at how I use technology in a new way and get a little bit of my own idealistic glow back. I hope that theirs doesn’t wear off before they turn 50. (Uh, 51.) What’s your opinion? I’d especially like to hear from some Generation Y readers—do you think I’m getting it right?

7 thoughts on “What a Boomer Learned at #GenYChat

  1. Mark Babbitt January 20, 2011 / 10:48 pm

    This is a terrific blog, Karen… I enjoyed your takes on the generational issue, the benefits of participating in #GenYChat, and in using social media in general. I have also benefited a great deal — personally and professionally — by participating and encourage all of us, regardless of birth generation, to come, learn, and participate.


    • Karen E. Lund January 21, 2011 / 1:32 pm

      Thanks, Mark.

      Did we first meet in #GenYChat? I know you’re another Boomer who participates regularly. After all, we can’t let ourselves get stale and we can’t let the younger folks have all the fun!


  2. Chanelle January 20, 2011 / 12:20 pm

    I am so so glad that you’ve been able to learn so much from participating in #genychat. I’m even more glad, though, that you decided to participate and continue your interactions with us because we are all learning from each other better this way.


    • Karen E. Lund January 20, 2011 / 3:55 pm

      Thank you for the support, Chanelle.

      When I discuss ideas with the older, more experienced folks (that is, people my age) I usually come away with great answers. But with smart younger folks, I come away with great new questions. You (the individual and plural “you”) keep me thinking.


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