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Generations of Fear



Big news on Slashdot today:

theodp writes Confirming paranoid high-schoolers’ fears, a new Kaplan survey reveals that 10% of admissions officers from prestigious schools said they had peeked at sites like Facebook and MySpace to evaluate college-bound seniors. Of those using the profiles, 38% said it had a ‘negative impact’ on the applicant. ‘Today’s application is not just what you send … but whatever they can Google about you,’ said Kaplan’s Jeff Olson. At Notre Dame, assistant provost for enrollment Dan Saracino said he and his staff sometimes come across candidates portraying themselves in a less-than-flattering light. ‘It’s typically inappropriate photos — like holding up a can of beer at a party,’ Saracino said. On the other hand, using the Internet to vet someone’s character seems overly intrusive to Northwestern’s Christopher Watson. ‘We consider Facebook and MySpace their personal space,’ the dean of undergraduate admissions said. ‘It would feel somewhat like an invasion of privacy.'”

There is some confusion here I think.

Each generation is motivated by a hope and a fear. The hope is that we ‘leave the world a better place than when we entered it’ or ‘want a better life for my children’. Fears tend to change with each generation . From where I sit,

  • Boomers feared lack of security – keep your job, don’t move house, look after the family. A few wars and the threat of nuclear destruction will do that to even die-hard risk takers. Stick at the same job/company so that your children have a better start in life.
  • Gen X fear lack of success. Not quite as adamant about ‘job for life’ or ‘same house that I was born in’, Gen X nevertheless are fearful of looking silly. Try something, fail, give up and get a real job. Work hard, moving up the ladder in different companies, don’t fail, so that your children can have more opportunities.
  • Gen Y fear not finding their passion. By not connecting to their passion and with others that share similar passions, Gen Y fear they will not have a voice and will end up being ignored. In a world where fame can be had for the price of a YouTube video, being ignored means you don’t exist. Take risks, fail, but whatever you do, don’t be boring. Fail Forward into Fame and Fortune. Oh and there’s no point standing still and trying to figure out something in depth because the world is in state of continual flux, and so you had better keep skating ahead of the changes. Keep changing jobs, careers, stay flexible, until you find what you love, so that your children will learn to be their own person.

I really doubt that Gen Y will take to college education in the same way and for the same reasons as Boomers and X’ers. They marry younger, have children younger, start their own business younger. Gen Y see the world as information, it’s swimming around them. Want the same information as an MBA has? Go online. Ditto those generations following Y. Noughties? Gen Z? These generations don’t have to be taught to do research, right? Google’s been around ten years – half their life?

So what does an Ivy League ‘prestigious school’ of the future look like? Cos the problem is: prestigious schools sometimes aim to keep the status quo, and this is not a status quo generation. While all social networks have hierarchies and clearly badged ‘leaders’, they have to remain culturally relevant. If all education is decentralized and online? Collaborative research, online group projects and wikis are a given. So, how about lectures that are ‘events’? Bring in the biggest and brightest, not as as indentured err tenured professors but as guest speakers. This is not an addon – Bill Gates, Al Gore do guest speaking at Unis – but as social networking events for students who are integrating education into their real life. After all, that is what college/uni is about now – not information (we have that in spades), not tools training (online help anyone?) not rigorous research (trial and error generation) but business connections and social value amongst peers in an Ivy League world.

Oh and focus the curriculum on real world practical applications. Not to get a job, no sirree, but how to run a business. A medical degree that shows how to become the top surgeon and run a consulting business. A Law degree that includes subjects on how to become a partner or play golf. Heh.

The video game generation are used to failing forward (try and kill the monster, fail, try another way), so don’t need a security blanket of the ‘right way’. Indeed, schools no longer serve up ‘information’ to assist students in ‘getting a job’ in a cube farm, but provide social networking, and structures for them to create wider possibilities in life.

Leadership, self-employment and self promotion. With this generation, Leadership comes from their environment, not from being skilled up, or any intrinsic personality trait, by the way. They know that if they can just tap into their passion, their ‘thing’ – well, they will become their own kind of leader, in their own community.

A few underage drinking photos is not going to keep Gen Y away from a medium that supersizes their social networking, their unique voice, their creativity and their self-empowerment. Schools that seek to limit or ridicule or judge (instead of guide) their online behaviour, are culturally irrelevant and risk losing their status.

Because greater than their fear of lack of stability and greater than their fear of failure is this fear: what if they don’t find out what they are meant to do and who they truly are?

Laurel Papworth

Named by Forbes™ Magazine in the Top 50 Social Media Influencers globally, named Head of Industry, Social Media (Marketing Magazine™) and in the Power150 Media bloggers (AdAge™). CERT IV Training and Assessment certified trainer (Diplomas and Certificates etc) Adult Education. Laurel has manager Facebook Pages for Junior Masterchef, Idol, Big Brother etc. and have consulted on private online communities for banks Westpac, not for profits UNHCR & governments in SE Asia. Lecturer, social media, University of Sydney for 10 years and Laurel has 11,000 online students. Laurel Papworth personally connects to 6 million followers online and has taught around 100,000 people in the last 10 years how to be social media managers.

12 thoughts on “Generations of Fear

  1. One of the (Gen Y) speakers at an Enterprise 2.0 conference in Sydney in August had a refreshingly blunt attitude to employers using Facebook: “So there are photos of me drunk on Facebook. So what if a prospective employer sees them? If they don’t like it, then I don’t want to work there, anyway!”

  2. As a member of Gen Y, I'm very interested to see how everything pans out and what our actual/perceived weaknesses & strengths turn out to be as we grow. I'm sometimes ashamed to be a part of this generation from some negative stereotyping, but I guess you get some of that in every generation.
    I really enjoyed this post as it wasn't a 'bashing' of Gen Y which I see a lot of. I think you've hit the nail on the head with "Gen Y fear not finding their passion".
    Great post Laurel.

  3. Interesting reference to child-rearing values as well: “so that your children will learn to be their own person.” Apparently some of the Gen X methods of child-rearing are backfiring magnificently with parents not laying enough boundaries turning out kids who are absolute nightmares. I’ve detected a real swing back to a more boomer or even pre-boomer method of child rearing in some instances ie: stricter boundaries between work/play/emotional freedom. I wonder if there’ll be a swing back for Gen C’s too? Looking around at the average Gen C here at UTS – I see none of the flamboyant student fashion or even anti-fashion of a couple of decades ago. I’m thinking “come on! you’re young – this is your chance to really have a go! or at least wear what you want” All the kids dress in such a safe, beige kind of way – it’s frankly depressing. Maybe Gen C are the new pre-boomers?

  4. Boomers were definitely more rebellious in their youth than Gen X and Gen Y. Maybe Gen C or Gen Y don’t have as much to rebel against – or they are doing it in new ways. Is job shifting, search for passion and an independent outlook about getting up the nose of the X’s and Y’s? Is conservative fashion sense a blight on the protestors of old?

  5. @Keith yes, I hear that too. Gen Y want to match their values to their employers – no turning a blind eye to sweatshops and cigarette factories. Judging their work style on personal photos indicates a warning signal that other value indicators may not be aligned…

    @classymarketing thank you, it’s general (as always) and YMMV (your mileage may vary).

    @catherine and @peter faux rebellion (rock n roll dancing, punk rock) are often fashion statements. This generation Y (and Z are doing something similar!) got serious very quick, very young – it’s intriguing that they are often in their early 20’s with a young family yet starting up their own business. I was still phaffing around at that age.
    Come to think of it, I still am! 🙂

  6. I’m currently studying virtually, and am often disappointed that some (only some) lecturers rely heavily on content from the web to provide the content for student learning. Is the paycheck still being earned?

  7. Hi Laurel, I’ve been popping in now and then since the New Media Conference in Melb. Thought this post was particularly relevant and very spot on the mark about Gen Y matching values to the org and seeking out our passion. As someone who works for a not for profit I am living proof of this.

    As another poster commented, I too am sometimes disillusioned about being part of Gen Y as the stereotypes *sometimes* dont (in my opinion) even appear to be based on any recognisable truth (though I am a married young Gen Y!). I second classymarketing in that its nice to see a post not “bashing” Gen Y’s somewhat different approach.

    I have to say, I will watch with interest the attraction of my generation to causes such as environmental sustainability (as just one example) where values alignment is a key factor.

  8. Laurel,
    What a fascinating post. I know I’m a bit late on the commenting, but I felt compelled; I’m quite interested in how social media has and is changing our culture, our social and political systems, as well as our individual identities.

    However, it seems to me that we often forget that the current technologies that have so captivated (our collective and individual attention) are tools. As such, they owe their existence to human need.

    So, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the “big picture” (why this is happening now? etc…) You certainly have spent a lot more time on the subject! So I ask you this: How do you think the rapidly changing global economy will impact the current generation and the next generation (one that will come of age in an entirely different world)?

    Thank you for your time.

  9. Hmm blogs are actually hopeless for convesations – and community – but I’ll keep this brief.

    I think it is the Millenials job to break an economic model that doesn’t work. I think they will chuck out the industrial/information economy and bring in peer to peer economies. Not Freeonomics like Chris Anderson says but Communinomics.

    When tracking of value – store of, measurement of and trade of (functions of currency) – is displaced and in the cloud, money is no longer required.

    Gen Y will break the model, the next generations will build better ones. I hope for a non-zero sum based economy (we both win coins for trading, not one pay the other) but am not sure I can articulate how that will happen yet.

    Serious, career minded, brand aware, early to have kids and marriage yet late to ‘settle’ down to a job… what IS in their minds? 🙂

  10. I find unstructured learning strange and frightening. The idea of not having a structure around anything frightens me. But I’m not of the Gen Y, and therefore I’m not suprised. I think that each generation will shape the world the way it sees fit and it will seem as alien to those that have come before and those that are coming afterwards perpetually. You wish you could take a long term view to see if all this has some kind of ultimate destination, our average lifespan is too short to determine how human social evolution will play out in 4-5 generations time.

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