The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Features December 8, 2006

Understanding Generation Y
Y2Curious: America’s Generation Y has grown up around various phenomena including the Internet with online chatting, Wikipedia, YouTube and its numerous informational resources, digital video and music, Tickle Me Elmos, continued abuse of underage drinking and iPods. 

College admissions offices, employers and marketing companies are going into a frenzy over Generation Y, a cohort of individuals characterized as Generation X on steroids. Generation Y includes those born between the second half of the 1970s and the first half of the 1990s, although some experts believe these dates to be debatable. Several other terms for this group have been tossed around, including Echo Boomers, Millenium Generation, iGeneration, Einstein Generation and Google Generation.

    Such names define the world in which Generation Y has grown up, a world with diverse Internet resources, iPods, MySpace and intense multi-tasking — simultaneously chatting on AIM, finishing a problem set, watching television and listening to music. These kids are the kids of the Baby Boomers, heavily immersed in a digital world. 

    Some demographers view the 1986 Challenger explosion and the fall of the Berlin Wall as the first major events that older Generation Yers will remember, separating them from Generation X. The fall of the Soviet Union and the First Gulf War serves as the midpoint and the 9/11 terrorist attacks as the endpoint. The current Iraq War is the war this generation will likely identify with along with other recent occurrences such as Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean Tsunami and the Columbine High School shooting.

    Other important events include the death of Princess Diana, the return of Hong Kong to China, the O.J. Simpson trial, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Y2K, anthrax scares, the SARS epidemic and the avian flu.

    Running down the list of various events that have occurred during the lives of those in Generation Y, it may seem that the group will become identified with cynicism, skepticism and pessimism in comparison to past generations. According to the January 2006 newsletter of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, statistically speaking, “antidepressants, prescription medication and other behavior-altering drugs, such as RItalin, [making] Gen Yers the most medicated generation in history.”

     As more prescription drugs have begun to circulate, abuses of such substances have also increased. Although Generation Y experienced the implementation of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, drugs such as ecstasy and marijuana still find themselves in the mainstream. The rave culture continues to be prevalent, marked with underage drinking and risky behavior.

    For Generation Y, the school education experience has had a dramatic shift. While the school bully still exists, the stereotypical character has become equipped with a variety of new bullying tactics.

    After Columbine in April 1999, schools across the nation stepped up security measures, ranging from the mandatory wearing of student identification cards to a “zero-tolerance” policy concerning weapons and violent behavior.

    “As much as I don’t want to wear it, I will for the sake of the school,” one high school student said. from Halsville, Texas, reported

    Some even added security cameras, reinforced units of on-site security guards and required see-through backpacks.The shooting also prompted federal and state legislations to implement more gun control measures, requiring safety locks on firearms.

    Rockville High School in Vernon, Conneticut practices simulations and drills to familiarize students with emergency procedures in the case of such events. Their website details the resources and lengths they have gone to since the Columbine incident.

    Even the stereotypical lunch “glop-of-the-day” has changed; as childhood obesity has become a larger problem, schools are revamping lunch menus to include healthier options and cutting out ºjunk food.

    At Harvard-Weslake School in Los Angeles, California, the school menu offers a nutritious balance with choices like mixed vegetable soup, baked filet of salmon, grilled teriyaki chicken and baked penne pasta, according to the cafeteria menu sent to parents of students.

    Experts have found that coupled with the fast influx of new technology, there is much emphasis placed on the accessibility of knowledge during major crises, stronger communication lines and an increased feeling of safety and acceptance.

    Technology is speedily growing with no sign of stopping. Generation Y is the first to grow up with the Internet, providing a number of resources from downloading music to online chatting to blogging. Cell phones are also in much wider use, along with other gadgets such as remotes for television, DVD players and stereo systems.

    These types of external stimuli may have affected the attention span of Generation Y. A 2003 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 2 out of 5 children watch television everyday. In 2004, Pediatrics magazine published an important study that suggested frequent television watching was likely to produce impulsive and restless behavior.

    In an interview with USA Today, UCLA neuropsychologist Elizabeth Sowell said, “Human brains change rapidly in early life and animal research shows that stimulation can “rewire” the brain.”

    Television shows and movies both have a rapid story-telling pace, so brains may grow accustomed to this constant bombardment of change. If there is less stimulation, it becomes harder to concentrate. Old-fashioned fun that might help concentration like reading has fallen to the wayside with iPods and MySpace taking over.

    In terms of pop culture, toys and games started off with Transformers, Pogs, Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle Me Elmo, Beanie Babies and Furby stuffed animals. More video game consoles appeared. Music trends saw Guns N’ Roses, Vanilla Ice, Eminem, the Spice Girls, “bubblegum pop” and popular boy bands. Electronic music has also scored a secure foothold with new equipment leading to the rise of techno, house, hip hop, trance and others. Television shows with high ratings included ones featuring the New Kids on the Block, the return of Star Wars, the ever-increasing popularity of anime, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Seinfeld, Pokemon and The Simpsons. The most recent television phenomenon is the reality show, with new ones constantly cropping up such as Survivor and Project Runway.

    Such trends are making their way into the minds of Generation Y via Internet; with network television experiencing hefty competition from cable television, there is less sense of homogeneity. Mainstream pop culture seems to have bred a brand-conscious generation, bombarded with ads from a number of venues on television, the radio, the Internet and more.

    Companies have been struggling to find creative ways to target Generation Y to keep sales going. For example, Toyota Motor Corp. found that from now until 2010, there will be four million new drivers on the market. Lo and behold, they designed the Echo, first released in 1999. Other companies like Motorola introduced the Razr phone, with a sleek design and a variety of bold, bright colors to choose from.

    The younger members of Generation Y are getting ready to ship off to college while the older members are entering the work force. Overall population is expected to peak in a few years; a likely prediction is that the number of college applications will soar, making it more difficult than ever to be accepted into an institution of higher education, or that finding a job upon graduation will be rough as employers up their standards.

    Growing up with the dot-com bust and a number of layoffs from merging companies or other reasons, Generation Y is generally more financially savvy than its predecessors. A survey by the Diversified Investment Advisors of Purchase, NY reported that 37 percent of Generation Y members expect to start saving for retirement before they reach 25, with 49 percent who say retirement benefits are very important when accepting a position.

    Reacting to layoffs and recent major corporation scandals such as Enron, the idea of both employee and employer loyalty have disappeared. A study by the Families and Work Institute from about a year ago found that younger workers are less likely to be obsessed with work; they are more interested in preserving their quality of life, even if it means staying at the same position in the labor hierarchy. As for attire, business dress may seem to an older generation as if it is becoming more and more casual, with cropped pants, flip-flops and polo shirts making their way into the office.

    Members of Generation Y are characterized as being more racially and culturally tolerant than past generations. Gay rights and non-traditional gender roles have also become more widely accepted.

    Generation Y is ground-breaking in the sense that its members have come of age in a both a politically and socially tumultuous period with constant bombardment from various media outlets. As the first generation to have easy access to the Internet, ways of thinking have changed rapidly. As Generation Y goes to college and penetrates the work force, the landscape of America may change even more dramatically.


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