04 Aug

Me vs. We: The Sociological Ramifications of Being Raised by the Web

In recent years, along with increased talk of Web 2.0, there’s been talk of the “We Generation.” What does this mean? And is it a fair label?

First, a quick review. We’ve heard various appellations for recent generations: Generation X, Generation Y, the Millennials, Echo Boomers, Generation Z, Generation C. You can’t really get a straight answer on what’s what, but most sources I’ve looked at say that Generation X follows the Baby Boomers and includes those born between 1965 and 1981. It’s actually 1980, but everyone says give or take a few years, so I did (just to get my wife, born in ’81, in my generation). Us Generation Xers are relatively small (48 million in the US); Gen Y, which follows us and which we’ll say is from 1982 (exactly) to 1995 (give or take five years), numbers about 71 million. They’re sometimes called the Millennials, too. But when they end and the next generation starts is a little up-for-grabs.

It’s also a little up-for-grabs what to call this most recent generation. Some have, quite unimaginatively, dubbed them Generation Z, and there are plenty of other names floating around, but many of them center around the idea that these kids (born circa 1995, we’ll say — just to keep it simple) are products of the Digital Age. Hence names like “The Google Generation.”

My current high school students are straddling the fence between Generation Y and The Next One. They have had cell phones around their entire life; same with the internet and email; they’ve never had a rotary phone; the Soviet Union has never existed in their lifetime; they have only known two presidents; the Berlin wall hasn’t existed. The list goes on.

But in terms of media use, I’m seeing some very different trends in my current batch of students from those who were in high school a mere five years ago. Consider that YouTube was created in February of 2005. The blogging craze took off in 2004. The very first iPods came out in 2001. Google became a publicly traded company in 2004. MySpace was founded in 2003; Facebook was founded in 2004. Web 2.0 was labeled as such in 2005. Wikipedia was launched in 2001. The first commercial camera-phone in the U.S. was available in 2002.
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