Jian Ghomeshi tweets
Most Gen X-ers know exactly where we were when we heard the news that Kurt Cobain had taken his life 18 years ago today. RIP Kurt.
There are a few problems:
1) No one can agree what years "Generation X" spans.
2) "Most"? Really? A generation-defining event?
Jian is 44 (born 1967), according to Wikipedia.
Generation X has been broadly used to cover anyone born from 1961 to 1981. This is an absurdly broad span of time. The idea that people who are 51 have had the same generational experiences as those who are 31 is ridiculous. Culture and technology now move in roughly 5 year windows; just slightly wider perhaps than the 4-year university experience.
Jian, who is in my generation, claims Cobain as a generation-shaping experience. I don't give a f*** about Cobain. I have no idea when he died. It had no impact on me whatsoever. My generational shared experiences are the Challenger Shuttle explosion and 2001-09-11. The only musical experience I found scarring was when CBC took its rich all-classical CBC Radio 2 service with erudite announcers and turned it into some kind of lightweight musical experience / adult music channel, at which point I immediately stopped listening to it, after having it as a daily companion for over a decade. (Their format change in order to chase some imaginary younger radio-listening demographic.)
Jian is at least talking from within his generation, unlike the more typical scenario where members of an older generation speculate about a younger one based on anecdotes.
All of which to say that we need to be very careful with talk of "The Millenials" and their technology expertise. These stereotypes fare poorly in the light of diverse reality. Due to rapid change, true generation cohorts in recent times are only about half a decade wide, with all the inconvenience this creates for sweeping generalisations. True generation cohorts share perhaps some common economic environment and general culture experiences. Even that is blowing apart as we see wide economic divergence and a vast diversity of possible cultural experiences (an absence of a true mass culture). For example rather than the experience of mass TV, we now have a range between the (few) who still watch live TV and those who consume television days, weeks, months or an entire season after it airs (if they watch the show at all).
In terms of technological expertise I think it's folly to conflate keyboarding skills or ability to tap an iPad with any kind of understanding of technology or insights into the underlying principles and infrastructure. Sending an email doesn't make you an expert in SMTP. In fact, the tools available are encouraging a narrow range of multimedia creation (text, audio, photos, video) while making it much more difficult to engage with the technology underpinnings (very few people are writing computer code on their iPads).
Also we need to separate technology innovation from generational change. Just because your kids were born in 2007 and the iPhone was released the same year doesn't mean your 5-year-old is part of some "iPhone generation". Whatever tools they use as they move into adult life a decade or more from now may be quite different. And as Douglas Rushkoff indicates in Program or Be Programmed, simply tapping on an app doesn't mean you have any appreciation whatsoever of the underlying technology tradeoffs and constraints, not to mention truly transformational aspects such as the wholesale ceding of control over private information that many of these technologies bring. (See for example the Washington Post coverage of apps that transmit private information, the ongoing Wall Street Journal What They Know series, and the recent ACLU work showing widespread warrantless use of cellphone information.)
So we need to be a lot better at separating rapid technology change (Google launched in 1998-1999, Facebook launched in 2004, the iPhone as mentioned just in 2007) with generational attributes. Someone in Gen X can use a smartphone. Someone in the Millenial generation may have no skill with the iPad. It's a lot more about individual attitudes and experiences than some vast cultural changes. Almost no one has a computer science background, even as coding abilities rise in importance for journalism and for civil society. We should be thinking about the implications of technology change, and thinking about the kind of work environments we want to create, not assuming a wave of generational change will come in and create some sort of instant collaborative high-tech utopia. We need to plan and create the future we want.