Generation Zed

Scott Francis
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Fabienne: Whose motorcycle is this? Butch: It’s a chopper, baby. Fabienne: Whose chopper is this? Butch: It’s Zed’s. Fabienne: Who’s Zed? Butch: Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.Pulp Fiction
There have been raft loads of articles and blogs written about “Millenials” over the last few years (not to mention Generations X and Y).  Chris Taylor has decided to take his shot, on BPM for Real-  “Does Generation Z have a ‘2-second advantage'”?
What happens when a whole generation that has lived their entire lives with the ability to feed information to themselves (and at a time and format of their choosing) becomes the dominant group in the workforce?
My bias against these generational stereotypes is well recorded, but let’s review this one.  I expect predecessors to Generation X wondered what would happen when kids showed up at work who grew up their whole lives with a computer at home.  Of course, only a minority of kids at that point – but still more than in any previous generation.  Maybe it is because I was one of those lucky kids that I’m not particularly concerned about the changes this will effect on our society or workplace. Chris Taylor explains:
I recently read The Two-Second Advantage, a Malcolm Gladwell-like book about how we learn and build mental models that predict what will happen next based on experience and data that arrives so quickly it would overwhelm–if not for our learned ability to work through it. Most of Generation Z has been living in a state of information overload longer than any human beings before them, and the result should be a capability to handle a complex world even better than we do. They should have more complete mental models for the workings of the world due to their ability to know whatever they choose, whenever they want. If you buy into the ideas of this book, they are likely developing a “two-second advantage” that should give them a leg up on the older generations.
Perhaps the new generation will be better equipped than the previous.  However, the world will change fast enough to make them feel as ill-equipped for the next transition as many of of those writing about Generation Z appear to feel now.  By objective measures, the rate of change appears to be increasing. But the way information-technology-adept people deal with the world is not by addressing its complexity, typically.  It is by simplifying it.  Rather than having more complete models, they technologically adept will have meta-models that don’t require completeness.  We just had the Austin City Limits Music Festival here.  In the complete model world, I’d know pretty much all the acts performing, and that I was interested in, and on which of 8 stages they’re playing, and at what time.  I’d do my research before the concert and figure it all out in advance by sampling songs by various artists that are performing. In the simplified world, as I’m walking to the concert I download an iPhone App that tells me what bands  are playing on what stages at what times.  I can quickly browse the bands and see if any of them appeal.  I can group-text my friends to find out what they’re listening to (more than one stage is active at the same time) – and that’s built in to the app if I don’t already use a group-texting application.  You can guess which of these two approaches describes my ACL Festival experience… Think how “getting directions” has changed since GPS and maps have become so ubiquitous on cell phones.  You don’t really need directions, you just need a destination.  The only directions someone needs to give you are the little bits that never show up in a navigation system or map: “don’t turn in the first drive, use the second driveway”. So the software and hardware is delivering the results of increasingly complex interactions with other systems.  Let’s face it, my iPhone computing directions to a destination using maps and GPS is much more complicated from a systems view, than someone scribbling directions on a piece of paper.  But the end-result to the user is actually simpler than the old way of doing things. I think that’s actually the metaphor to use going forward. The touch interfaces today give even infants a chance to interact – because the cause-and-effect is more clear.  So the interaction isn’t just the tactile (as it might be when they play with a physical keyboard), it is direct manipulation – something their brains are already wired to learn from.  The systems of the future (software and hardware) are likely to appeal more directly to the way our brains already work – and thus feel more natural to us, even as they get more complicated in principle, behind the scenes. It isn’t really an issue of generational advantage- if you buy into Malcolm Gladwell’s thinking on practice – it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.  Any one, of any age, can become an expert if they put in that 10,000 hours of purposeful use with technology.  There’s no reason to let your kid be the only one in the house with a “2 second advantage”.  I watched my own parents leapfrog technology shifts.  They both bought iPhones before most of my friends.  They still have trouble using Microsoft Windows.  But they use their iPhones and iPad, and Kindle, just fine.  Don’t let these generational tags define you, or your views of others.  Besides, the idea of “2 seconds” being a short time is already a sort of generational bias, isn’t it?  But it does roll off the tongue better than a 2 nanosecond advantage.