Understanding Gen-Y – The 15 Most Important Innovations of Our Age

Generation Y, also known as the Millennial Generation, is a term used to describe anyone born between approximately 1980 and the year 2000, plus or minus a few years at either end. And if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that few people outside of Gen Y really understand us. Understandable, since our views and general approach to life is so radically different from previous generations.

We’re different in a number of ways:

We detest mindless tradition. If you want us to do something, you better have a very good reason, not to mention the good sense to get out of our way and let us innovate and improve the process…”just because” doesn’t work for us, and neither does inefficiency.We epitomize creativity.

Respect and authority MUST be earned, and most certainly aren’t bestowed automatically just because you’re advancing in years. However, if you earn our respect, we’ll love you for it, regardless of your age.

Just because you think we should pay for something doesn’t mean we agree, and as you’ve probably learned by now, we’re pretty dang good at getting what we want. It doesn’t mean we don’t want to spend money…on the contrary, we spend more than almost any other generation in relation to our incomes, but we will spend as we see fit, not as you do.

I could go on and on…

It would, I think, be impossible to succinctly sum-up those differences.What I can do, however, is to point out the innovations that have had the most significant impact on what really makes us Gen Y, to better help you to understand why we are the way we are. Forgive me in advance for the length of this post 🙂

#1 – The Internet – The single greatest innovation of our era, and quite possibly the single greatest invention of the last century, is the Internet. Having had the Internet in our lives from childhood onward has had a tremendous impact on both what and how we learn, not to mention every other facet of our lives. Freedom of information means something very different to Gen Y, as we have become used to almost unlimited access to almost unlimited information.

#2 – Nintendo – I say Nintendo, since they were the company that really showed that home gaming systems could be profitable, not to mention totally awesome. In truth, I could expand this category to include all video game consoles. Video games have changed the way we view the world. They have helped our brains develop in such a way that we can learn new concepts faster, and process more data efficiently, than any prior generation. Video games have taught us how to solve complex problems, how to innovate and think outside of the box, and how to absolutely kick ass as a team 🙂

#3 – Email – Again, the impact of email goes far beyond Gen Y, but we are the first generation to be raised with that as the communications medium of choice. Why waste forty something cents to send a letter to one person, when you can spend nothing and send an email to a thousand people at once?

#4 – Cellphones – Can anyone imagine what life would be like these days without cellphones? I sure can’t. Cellphones were the first major breakthrough in tearing down the walls of location requirements. With a land-line, you were tied to one location and one number. With a cellphone, you can communicate from almost anywhere, and with multiple numbers through awesome call-forwarding services like Google Voice 🙂

#5 – Laptops – The portable computer was the next major breakthrough in the anti-location movement. Between a laptop and a cellphone, you can do almost anything from almost anywhere. In addition to mobility, laptops have also torn down the walls of content production, allowing almost anyone, virtually anywhere, to build and create and produce content and video and code, for the cost of the laptop. A good laptop and some software can replace an entire production studio. Not too shabby.

#6 – Google – While search engines in general have had a major impact, Google is very nearly the deity of Gen Y. They are dedicated to providing as much information and as many tools as possible, absolutely free. Sure, they charge for some things, but they have done more to bring down the cost of music, news, movies, games, and data in general than any other company. If Google sets their sights on your industry, you can kiss it goodbye.

#7 – iPod – The iPod changed our entire concept of how music is shared and listened to, and had a major impact on the long-tail of the music industry. It also opened the door to the decline of the traditional CD business. Why on earth would we pay for music when we can share with our friends? We see it as no different than loaning out a CD. How the hell do you think music outside the top 100 spreads? Word of mouth, and sharing. The iPod also helped to further un-tether us from fixed locations. We are a very mobile generation.

#8 – P2P Networks – The iPod and Napster really got this “industry” going. You see, Gen Y is a generation that likes to share. We love the concept of try before you buy. We don’t like rules, restrictions, and limitations that only work in your favor, and as you can see, we’ve found ways around them. No amount of copy protection or litigation will prevent software, music or video piracy. Do you know why?

Because we have so many things to choose from, we use individual entertainment items less. Back in the day, you owned a few CDs and a few VHS tapes, and you would use those over and over and over again because that is what you had. It’s worth paying for something when you know you will get a lot of use out of. Now that we have so much choice, we listen to and watch and play the same things much less often, making it, in our minds, not worth paying for because we never really feel like we get our money’s worth. Perhaps a less-expensive pay-per-listen music model would work.

#9 – Blogs – We are not a silent generation. We have a lot to say, and we want to be heard. Blogs have provided us with a voice, and with global reach. They allow us to share our thoughts and opinions without restriction or moderation. Blogs represent freedom of speech at its best.

#10 – High-speed Internet – The wide availability of high-speed Internet has changed our generation as much as the Internet did. We can now have much more, of a higher quality, much faster. Awesome. Unfortunately, this has also made us a bit impatient. We view the world in seconds, and we don’t like waiting.

#11 – Facebook – We like being connected, especially to others of our generation. Facebook, while not the first in the social arena, it is by far the best. It allows us to actively communicate and collaborate with close friends, while still feeling like we are keeping in touch with less close friends. We can tolerate parents and grandparents encroaching in our community, but it can be awkward. We could do without all the lousy Facebook apps though 🙁

#12 – WiFi – Wireless Internet represents the final leg in the non-location based movement. With a cellphone, a laptop, and WiFi, we can work from anywhere we can get a signal. Now, thanks to cellular WiFi devices, there are very few limits to where we can live, work and congregate. Thanks to the proliferation of free WiFi spots, you can now add Internet to our list of things we aren’t willing to pay for.

#13 – Streaming Media – We love entertainment, be it movies, music, skits, pranks, etc. We like to watch and listen to and play what we want, when we want, from wherever we happen to be. Oh yes, and we don’t want to pay for it either. Thanks to services like Hulu, Pandora, Grooveshark, and YouTube, we can have our cake and eat it too. If we can’t find what we want for free…well, see #8.

#14 – iPhone – You could say the smartphone in general, but the iPhone is the one that really set the bar. It provides us with 95% of the functionality of what we used to use laptops for. It incorporates the three legs of the remote tripod (laptop, cellphone, WiFi), into one handy unit. Most of the best applications are free, and there is an app for pretty much anything we want to do. The iPhone functions as a laptop, jukebox, camera, phone, TV, library, video game console, and so much more. It’s essentially the Swiss Army Knife of Gen Y.

#15 – Twitter – Last, but not least, Twitter. You see, like a blog, Twitter gives both a voice and a global audience. It does a better job of spreading breaking news than the news, and allows people who share interests to communicate almost constantly, from virtually anywhere, for free. It is an incredible platform for ideation, brainstorming, and crowdsourcing. Again, freedom of speech at its best.

While I’m sure there are other important innovations worth a mention, the above 15 represent the biggest factors in defining why Gen Y is the way it is. We are incredibly adaptable, able to learn and change and grow and innovate with a fluidity that, to other generations, probably seems like magic…so please don’t burn us at the stake!

Welcome to our world. Enjoy the ride 🙂

For further reading, the best book available on this subject is: Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott

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