Dec 13, 2011

Talking About A Generation

Generations is the title of a a fascinating (and dense) book by William Strauss and Neil Howe that theorizes that history advances cyclically based on repeating types of generational characteristics. Generally, history creates generations, and generations create history.

More specifically, under this theory, each generation passes through four cultural phases. Strauss and Howe believe we currently may be in the part of the generational cycle known as a Crisis: "an era in which America’s institutional life is torn down and rebuilt from the ground up—always in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s very survival."

Hard to tell whether this theory is correct or not, but just in the past week I've noticed certain similar descriptions of unrelated events that has me thinking more about it.
First, on December 9th, Andy Baio, in writing about movie remixes on Youtube, wondered aloud:
Here's a thought experiment: Everyone over age 12 when YouTube launched in 2005 is now able to vote. What happens when — and this is inevitable — a generation completely comfortable with remix culture becomes a majority of the electorate, instead of the fringe youth? What happens when they start getting elected to office?
Second, while reporting in the New York Times about the unprecedented protests in Russian on December 10, Ellen Barry describes the
"Younger protesters — so digitally connected that they broadcast the event live by holding iPads over their heads."
Finally, in explaining why he thinks the Stop Online Piracy Act would seriously inhibit the growth and innovation of the Internet, Yancey Strickler, the founder of Kickstarter, just yesterday (December 12) says:
"This is not a small issue. This is a generational issue"
Of course, this could just all be an unrelated set of events and people trying to cause a big sensation. It could also be something more, something related to individuals and groups of people who are figuring out how connectivity, unrestricted connectivity, has not only given them more meaning, but also more potential for learning and creation and possibilities for self expression and empowerment. All happening during a week when not only did the comedian Louis C.K. decided to distribute his own content, directly from his to his fans (and he took to Reddit to talk about it), but my kid took to Khan Academy to get more help with Linear Equations.
Perhaps all unrelated but I think its more, something about how attempts to restrict this empowerment or preserve prior regimes or hierarchies will bump up, often messily, against a generational shift.

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