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Generalisation:: why?
August 16, 2008, 8:04 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

You were born between [year x] and [year y]. Your perception of marriage and sex is different to that of your parents. Due to your economic experiences, your purchase decisions are motivated by [price/feelings] and your job preferences are based on not [working conditions/pay] but [pay/working conditions].

Sound familiar? That’s you being put in your place. Your place in time, that is. Hi, I’m in Generation Y:: and I want to know why.

To look at the reasons behind a name, you need its history. Ironically, Generation Y’s origin comes from the creation of Generation X. Preceded by the Baby Boomers and the War Generation (apparently there is only one generation which has been affected by war), it was deemed that a new term was needed which was more acceptable than ‘young people these days’.

But does that warrant making the year you were born in comparable to a disease? Why do we need to generalise across age groups? After all, as one marketing magazine pointed out, ’18 to 36 is no longer a target market, it’s a family reunion’.

It’s an extension of the horoscopes phenomenon, that somehow you can account for deficiencies or quirks of your personality by analysing one thing you can’t change:: when you were born. True enough, unless you’re a diehard for the nature side, you would expect that the social and economic environments prevailent within a culture will have significant effects on the behaviours of its members. And increasingly, with the greater sophistication of ICTs, ‘youth culture’ originating mostly from the US is spreading across the world and transcending cultures – a British band touring Australia recently sang the theme song of a popular children’s show (Postman Pat) in Norwegian, with great acclaim.

Still the concept strikes me as being very white/western – like most marketing concepts it assumes that you live in a developed nation, grew up with the same influences, in an age of lengthened prosperity. Having spent some time in countries like China, the young people there are clearly not the stereotypical Y-genners. Take jobs, for example – where generation Y is meant to make choices mostly motivated by short-term benefits, flexibility and benefits outside of pay, many Chinese youth are still looking for respect, security and income (which for many, in short, means medicine). It’s partly that they haven’t had the same stability in politics and economics that their ‘Western’ peers have enjoyed, but also there is a greater emphasis within the Chinese culture of respecting elders and their wishes. Where the Y generation is meant to be notorious for its individualistic streak, China’s youth have become known for the only-child syndrome (where as there are very few grandchildren, one child can be singularly doted on by as many as six of their elders).

Then again, this is just another part of the big marketing game they call ‘life’: we need to segment, target how we present ourselves to others based on distinct characteristics we identify. At the most basic level it’s demographics, but most of the time it’s just a generalised stereotype that we use because it’s just so much easier (and more politically correct).

So for anyone who lauds generation generalisations as the ultimate truth, I have this… To the mass media, you are the perfect believer of their wiki-truth amongst the modern market of info-consumers. Or maybe, in true Generation Y style, I just don’t want to be put in a box…

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[…] like saying all adults buy the same food because they’re more kitchen-savvy. (I will admit I have a bias against the term but ‘Gen Y’ is used FAR too much these […]

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