Generation X at Work: Tools and Trends
I love tech in old school pop culture. ’80s movies like Real Genius and Weird Science are really fun to watch because they portray it with an air of mystery and surprise. From growing super lasers to new girlfriends, a few clicks could do anything. Heroics were still in play in ’90s films, but with just a tad more realism thrown in — Hackers, for example, or that scene from Jurassic Park when the little girl sits down at the security desk, exclaims “It’s a UNIX system! I know this!” and proceeds to save everyone’s faces from being chewed off by raptors (I said a tad).
And then we have The Matrix, which in addition to being more fantastical and yet somehow more real feeling than any of its predecessors, also successfully manages to embody an entire generation in one character (and one monologue):
I know you’re out there…I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of us, you’re afraid of change…I don’t know the future…I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end, I came here to tell you how this is going to begin. Now, I’m going to hang up this phone, and I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you…a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there…is a choice I leave to you…
Meet the Trends
Say hello to Generation X. Turns out that like Neo, they’re not just a bunch of disheveled, soft-talking slackers. They are to the workplace as he was to the world: chosen to prove that we can do anything we want to.
And so, down the rabbit hole we go:
ZOMG, The Internet!
Today the term “game changer” is thrown around pretty loosely, but there’s really nothing that better describes the introduction of the World Wide Web. Suddenly we could connect to a force that was seemed much bigger than ourselves, accessing more information — both legit and not so legit — than ever before. Organizations watched stock prices boom and newcomers like Amazon and eBay strut their stuff with much confidence on Wall Street. Developing an “internet strategy” became mission number one, and it seemed like every company founded started with an “e-” or ended with a “.com”
But aside from all of that, there was just a different vibe in the ol’ office. The Internet brought renewed excitement over the scope of possibilities and an unforeseen sense of connection.
Today there’s a lot of talk about the death of e-mail, but when Xers began entering the workplace it was all the rage. By the late ’90s the volume of electronic traffic had already surpassed the volume of telephone traffic. Instant messaging grew right alongside it, as well as other forms of instant, internet-based communication.
While these tools didn’t entirely replace business letters or interoffice memos, they drastically changed expectations about communication behaviors.
Personal computers had already been around for some time, but it was during Generation X’s introduction to the 9-5 that they really started to shine. In 1982 “The Computer” was named Machine of the Year by Time Magazine, for example. And who could argue? They allowed the user to run their own applications, connect to others through a network, and eventually led to the client-server architecture. It was shiny, it was different, it was magical.
Change Management Champions
As the first generation to pull back the curtain and reveal a passageway between the real and digital world, it comes as no surprise that Xers are behind some of today’s biggest names in business. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as well as Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, are all under the X umbrella, doing their best to prove that there really is no spoon.
It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. As a group of latchkeys that grew up listening to 8-tracks and have come all the way to MP3s in the cloud, there really is no group better suited to introduce change. But like Neo, this mindset can be a tough one to communicate, and roadblocks have arisen thanks to this radically different style of thinking and working. In the next part of this series, I’ll examine those issues and discuss possible ways to work with them.