If you want to know how old you really are, look at the media you use rather than the generation you were born into.
Generational labels are important in the discussion of the changing workforce. For example, we need to understand who is pushing for change and who is criticizing change in order to understand how to create workplace bridges. And increasingly, young people are calling for baby boomers to get out of the way.
However I get a lot of email from people at the later end of the baby boom who do not identify with baby boomers. To some extent researchers have dealt with this issue by categorizing the latter section of the baby boom separately, as Generation Jones (born between 1954 and 1965). This category will make some people feel better, but there still will be baby boomers who are indignant at being lumped with the delusional, self-centered, money-hungry baby boomers.
But hold it. Maybe you are not really part of the generation your birthday falls under.
Here’s an idea: We should determine our generation not by our age but by how we use media. This comes from Margaret Weigel, who has worked at Harvard and MIT doing research on digital media engagement:* “We should not judge people rigidly by the years they were born,” she says, “If we want to define people by categories, it should be by behaviors because this is something each of us chooses.”
Another reason to use media engagement to peg someone’s age is that the media we use reflects both the space we live in and the circle of friends we run with. For example, you probably won’t find the Wii at a senior center, and you do what your friends do or you’re out of the loop.
So here is a test I put together with the help of an interview with Weigel and an evening reading her blog. Add up your points to figure out what generation you’re really a part of:
Do you have your own web page? (1 point)
Have you made a web page for someone else? (2 points)
Do you IM your friends? (1 point)
Do you text your friends? (2 points)
Do you watch videos on YouTube? (1 point)
Do you remix video files from the Internet? (2 points)
Have you paid for and downloaded music from the Internet? (1 point)
Do you know where to download free (illegal) music from the Internet? (2 points)
Do you blog for professional reasons? (1 point)
Do you blog as a way to keep an online diary? (2 points)
Have you visited MySpace at least five times? (1 point)
Do you communicate with friends on Facebook? (2 points)
Do you use email to communicate with your parents? (1 point)
Did you text to communicate with your parents? (2 points)
Do you take photos with your phone? (1 point)
Do you share your photos from your phone with your friends? (2 points)
0-1 point – Baby Boomer
2-6 points – Generation Jones
6- 12 points – Generation X
12 or over – Generation Y
(Note: This post contains the views of Weigel and not necessarily those of Harvard and MIT.)