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Why, Oh Why, Gen Y?

First, full disclosure: I fall smack in the middle of Gen X. You can do the math (that was never my strong suit). So while I'm not that far removed from Gen Y, as I pointed out yesterday I'm more of a "digital immigrant" (or "digital nomad") than a "digital native." There are many terms for this generation -- Gen Y, millenials, digital natives -- but the point is that someone born after 1980 likely grew up with a mouse in their hand. Using a computer came naturally, and the transition from school to the workplace didn't involve learning new ways to search for information (Dewey Decimel System vs. Web browsing) or adopting different methods of communicating (faxes vs. instant messaging). Bottomline: exactly what has this lifelong immersion in technology done to Gen Y's social skills? Admittedly, it's a broad question, but we try to answer it (at least in part) tonight on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.

Maybe the toughest part about doing a story on Gen Y (or any other generation) is cutting through the stereotypes. I can remember being labeled a "slacker," for example. When we interviewed older folks (and some younger ones) for this story we came across terms like, "sense of entitlement," "distracted," and "too plugged in." Whereas when we talked to Gen Y folks they described themselves as "motivated" or "driven" or "wired." Perception or reality? Probably a mix of both. As with every generation there is a gap.

In this case, researchers are actually looking at how a Gen Y brain appears to be functioning differently than someone else's. Neural pathways for facial recognition aren't being used as much while surfing the Web triggers other responses, according to Gary Small, a neuroscientist at UCLA. We also talked to accounting giant Ernst & Young about a program they're adopting to integrate Gen Y needs (like listening to an iPod in the workplace) and find ways to educate all generations about each other. It even falls under E&Y's diversity program. Go figure.

There's no one defition for anyone but we're hoping to at least illuminate the way technology has not only changed Gen Y's lives but also perhaps their brains and social interaction. Did doing this story make me feel a little older? Let's just say that figuring out my first computer (a Commodore Vic 20) seems like a long time ago now. Yikes.

I'll have more next week as I'll be working through the holiday. In the meantime, stay connected -- and at this time of year, particularly within your family generation!

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