"Generational thinking is a big idea that’s been horribly corrupted and
devalued by endless myths and stereotypes. These clichés have fuelled fake
battles between “snowflake” millennials and “selfish” baby boomers, with
younger generations facing a “war on woke” and older generations accused of
“stealing” the future from the young.
As I argue in my book, Generations
, this is a real shame. A more careful
understanding of what’s really different between generations is one of the best
tools we have to understand change – and predict the future.
Some of the great names in sociology and philosophy saw understanding
generational change as central to understanding society overall. Auguste Comte,
for example, identified the generation as a key factor in “the basic speed of
He argued that “we should not hide the fact that our social progress rests
essentially upon death; which is to say that the successive steps of humanity
necessarily require a continuous renovation … from one generation to the next”.
We humans get set in our ways once we’re past our formative years, and we need
the constant injection of new participants to keep society moving forward.
Understanding whether, and how, generations are different is vital to
understanding society. The balance between generations is constantly shifting,
as older cohorts die out and are replaced by new entrants. If younger
generations truly do have different attitudes or behaviours to older
generations, this will reshape society, and we can, to some extent, predict how
it will develop if we can identify those differences.
But in place of this big thinking, today we get clickbait headlines and bad
research on millennials “killing the napkin industry” or on how baby boomers
have “ruined everything”. We’ve fallen a long way."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics