Born in ’79, right on the divide between Gen X and Gen Y, I’ve spent a fair amount of time considering the differences between the two.
One area I’ve noticed in which the two generations diverge is their desire to own stuff, rather than simply have access to it. Gen X’ers went from collecting tapes, to collecting DVDs, to collecting MP3s; like me, many I know have giant iTunes collections. Gen Y, instead, is on Rdio, Spotify and Pandora en masse, uninterested in owning any music given that they have access to all of it. Or consider car ownership – something many of my Gen X friends willingly suffer through here in NYC, but which seems nearly inconceivable to my Gen Y friends, given Zipcar, Uber and Lyft.
In the office, I’ve noticed the same thing play out in the way the two groups manage documents. The paradigm of Microsoft Word (as well as Pages and its other desktop substitutes) is one of owning docs. I make a document on my computer. I send you a copy of the doc. You make changes to that document, tracking them perhaps, then send another copy back. We can loop around endlessly, each time creating new documents, each time owning the unchanged originals on our own hard drives. But nearly all the Gen Y’ers I know vastly prefer collaborating via Google Docs. There, though I may have created a doc, I don’t actually own it; in the act of sharing and co-editing it, the document itself changes. The Gen Y’ers see this as the very point: why keep out-of-date copies at all, unsure whether the one you’re looking at reflects the most current collective thinking? Whereas Gen X’ers seem vaguely anxious about the process, unmoored without an immutable earlier version in their possession.
Going forward, apps and platforms in a slew of areas seem to be puzzling through the own vs share question. Take your photos, for example, which you might want to back up in your desktop photo library and then back up further in turn to Dropbox or Picturelife; or you might be fine tossing them directly into Facebook albums, straight from your mobile device, without a saved copy anywhere outside the social network cloud. A lot of entrepreneurs and investors are placing bets on both sides. And, in that calculus, they probably need to think more carefully about the market demographic they’re hoping to target. Because, for the balance of their respective lives, I suspect Gen X and older will think about owning in one way, and Gen Y and younger will think about sharing in another.