Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Intergenerational Communication

Intergenerational relationships have added great value to my life. I have found each generation to be distinct and special in its own way, while each has its own lessons to teach. Hence, I would like to explore some of the differences I have observed in generational communication styles and the lessons that I have learned from them.

MTV Generation Perspective
My generation is “The MTV Generation” which is typically conceived as a "cusp" generation between Generation X and Generation Y that possess definable traits of both” (Wikipedia, 2009). From an MTV Generation (a.k.a. “Cold Y”) perspective, I find myself and age peers to be highly adaptable to new communication technology. This may stem from what Wikipedia describes as “being the last generation able to compare hardwired and analog technologies to wireless and digital technologies based upon personal experiences” (Wikipedia, 2009). Over the course of a few years we changed our methods of voice contact from dial phones to touch tone phones, from pagers, calling cards and pay phones to analog cell phones, then to digital cell phones. Desktop publishing and computers also evolved rapidly during our formative years. From electric typewriters we moved onto desktop computers that only provided non-online functions. Then we discovered Internet connectivity at local libraries, then dial-up Internet at home, then DSL, cable internet, wireless internet via laptop and now wireless internet anywhere via cell phone. The rapid development of changes in communication forced us to adapt quickly and move with current technology to conveniently stay in touch with friends and family. We learned to adapt in order to maneuver through the multitude of technological advances.

Generation X
While my Generation X friends are merely a few years older, I have found them to be considerably less comfortable with cellular phones, computers and the internet (including email) and they tend to use them less. They rely on the Internet less for communication and instead use it for less important activities like shopping, travel and entertainment. They seem less comfortable with online banking services like bill pay, and many still use paper checks. Most of my Generation X friends also keep a landline phone in addition to their cell phones, contrary to myself and other MTV generation friends that keep only a cellular phone line. Generation X friends have seemed more reluctant to trust online and wireless communications explicitly. While they have been willing to explore new communication technologies, they refuse to give up on the old, traditional and reliable communication methods they grew up with (land lines, handwritten communications, fax machines and snail mail).

Many of my Generation X friends have large numbers of friends, more than I could ever hope to amass in a lifetime. They often make time for frequent personal gatherings and truly value spending face-to-face time with their friends and families. By comparison, my MTV Generation peers and I seem to have less friends, usually with just a handful of very close friends, and we seldom make the time to gather in general, let alone in large groups.

Baby Boomer Generation

My baby boomer friends and family have been some of the best listeners I know. They are less judgmental and have always looked to help me to work through my problems or put things in a different perspective for me. They have offered suggestions and advice but not to the point of diminishing my problems, or making my experiences seem inconsequential. They usually make suggestions that are befitting of my lifestyle, personality and interests. The discussions I’ve had with my baby boomer friends and family have felt both meaningful and significant. We nearly always lose track of time in our lengthy, entertaining and fulfilling conversations.

While my baby boomer friends and family have mostly kept up with current technology (computers and cell phones), they are similar to Generation X in their preference to also maintain old methods of communication with fax lines, land lines and snail mail.

Silent Generation a.k.a. Traditionalists

My friends and family from the “Silent Generation” (a.k.a. "Traditionalists") tend to be more opinionated than my Baby Boomer and Generation X pals. Silent Generation friends and family sometimes seem more self-involved and perhaps a little less interested in listening to others. They tend to love sharing their own stories, which can be extremely interesting, but conversations can border on feeling one-sided at times if they run on for a while.

Silent Generation friends and family sometimes tend to diminish or entirely skip over my concerns or issues, especially when comparing them to their own experiences. When this happens, my discussions with Silent Generation pals have often felt lengthier to me. I have also noticed that Silent Generation friends and family often make suggestions or advise in ways that tend to be more befitting of how they personally would react or handle the situation.

However, at the same time, I’ve noticed that the Silent Generation has been the most devout to their family and friends. They have tended to bend over backwards for relatives and friends, and seem always willing to go the extra mile for them, often willing to drop everything to help someone they care about, even if it puts them at some risk.

For communications technologies, my Silent Generation friends and family have been the most open to learning new technologies. They use cell phones and computers, though they at times need help navigating them. Some have given up landlines, while others have not. Overall, they have been open to assistance, ask questions, and are willing to take classes.

Greatest Generation (a.k.a. G.I. Generation)
My Greatest Generation friends and family have been the most opinionated of all the generations I’ve interacted with. The have been strong willed, with viewpoints that cannot be swayed and are not afraid to say so. They know the value of money and spend it wisely. My Greatest Generation friends and family have been most generous with their time and extremely helpful to younger generations. They seldom ask for help, and are less willing to discuss personal matters which Baby Boomers, Generation X and MTV generation are more open with (i.e. medical conditions, wages, romantic relationships). I have found the Greatest Generation more willing to share advice or personal beliefs than personal information.

Unfortunately, most of my Greatest Generation friends and family are less savvy with current communication technologies. While some have cell phones and computers, few can use them well. Many times I’ve been hung up on while greatest generation family members have tried to maneuver through call waiting. A few I know have only an emergency pay-per-use cell phone (one that is not under contract.) Most of them keep using landlines in addition to cell phones, and rely on paper banking and handwritten communications.

Conclusion
Each generation has handled communication differently. Each generation’s approach is valuable in its own way. My Greatest Generation friends and family have taught me the value of being there for younger generations, for holding true to one’s beliefs and for being cautious with spending money. My Traditionalist friends and family have shown me the value of loyalty to loved ones, being willing to learn new things, and the importance of sharing stories with future generations. My Baby Boomer friends have taught me the importance of listening, of sharing new perspectives and being nonjudgmental. My Generation X friends have shown me the value in maintaining relationships and making time to gather with friends and family.

I am grateful for all of the intergenerational relationships I have had over my lifetime thus far. I shall look forward to maintaining current and building new intergenerational relationships as opportunities arise.

Reference:
List of Generations. (2009). Wikimedia Foundation Inc. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_generations

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