Sunday, April 07, 2013


Generational psychology is the new pop psychology.

If you believe in its wafer-thin scientific principles, usually based on a survey with a sample size akin to a football match crowd, you are likely to be fairly pessimistic about the younger generations.

Gen Y in particular takes a lot of flack, most commonly characterised as 'Generation Me', the epitome of narcissism.

Of course, the Baby Boomers, with their focus on wealth and accumulation (remember the quintessential 'greed is good'?) never stooped to self-adulation the way Gen-Y's are alleged to. Of course not. No way.

They accumulated all that wealth and power for the greater good, not for personal glorification.


Personally, I don't believe that you can make broad assumptions about an entire GENERATION of people, based on surveys which cover barely a drop in that generational ocean.

I can, however, make broad generalisations about the people who believe you can trust generational psychology.

But I'll stay on topic.

The overwhelming tone of the verdict on Generation Y is that they are focussed purely on benefitting themselves.

Mixing this base with the effects of 9/11, the dreadful naked-lunch reality check of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a financial crisis du-jour, leads the Gen-Y cocktail to taste like narcissism blended with apprehension.

An interesting piece in the New York Times articulated the diagnosis quite nicely:

'"Buhler argues that the group she calls Cynic Kids “don’t like the system — however, they are wary of other alternatives as well as dismissive of their ability to actually achieve the desired modifications. As such, the generation is very conservative in its appetite for change. Broadly speaking, Cynic Kids distrust the link between action and result.”

I had many reactions to Buhler’s dazzling paper, but I’d like to highlight one: that the harsh events of the past decade may have produced not a youth revolt but a reversion to an empiricist mind-set, a tendency to think in demoralized economic phrases like “data analysis,” “opportunity costs” and “replicability,” and a tendency to dismiss other more ethical and idealistic vocabularies that seem fuzzy and, therefore, unreliable. After the hippie, the yuppie and the hipster, the cool people are now wonksters.'

An interesting analysis, no doubt.

But totally off the mark.

Call me whatever diminutive term you prefer, but I don't buy the cynical-narcissist-generation spiel. I am instead full of hope about my generation and the next.

The problems we are inheriting are complex, no doubt.

But the age we live in is a golden age (Google age?) of awareness, access-ability and information.

Filmmakers today have the cheapest tools ever to make their art and open people's minds while making them feel something. Writers can blog or e-publish at will. Anyone can learn to write computer code and create the next paradigm changing piece of software in their bedroom.

Why wouldn't we use these remarkable opportunities to evolve our society into something truly egalitarian, sustainable and prosperous?

Is that kind of evolution so big it's terrifying?

Perhaps it's the enormous scale of these opportunities that is the cause of all of the consternation by and about Gen Y. The access to information and technology, you see, takes away the pervasive excuse of ignorance.

Suddenly, we are being held accountable for being uninformed.

And, most importantly, we are also accountable for not taking action to improve the situation. We are not Germany from 1939-1945. No-one is unaware 'accidentally'.

That kind of responsibility is scary at first. But then, exciting.

'You can do anything that you set your mind to achieve.'

Scary. Then, exciting.

But the pop-psychologists would have you believe that Gen-Y's combination of narcissism and negative world events has lead them to be cynical and paralysed by the need to always have empirical 'data' before taking action.

You can believe that if you like.

Or, can you read about the story of the three teenage girls in Africa who developed a power generator that works on human urine.

Or, you can read the recent story of the 17 year old from Britain who developed an App that that he sold to Yahoo for an estimated $30 Million.

A 17 year old in Britain. Two 14 year olds and a 15 year old in Africa.

Trusting in their potential.

Changing the world.

Just like you can, if you put in the work and think big.

Scary. Then, exciting.

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