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Generations and Their Technology Products

One of the books that changed the way I think about generations was, well, Generations by William Strauss and Neil Howe. It's a fascinating book and I highly recommend it to everyone. I was reminded of it when reading the news about Bill Gates stepping away from Microsoft. What struck me about the news (besides the news itself of course) was the ages of the four men involved. Gates, Steve Ballmer, and Ray Ozzie are all 50. Craig Mundie is 57. Baby Boomers, in other words, all of whom, from the looks of it, did their most innovative work back in the 1980s--before the commercial internet.

This isn't saying they aren't smart guys (yes, they all men, no surprise). But it will be interesting to see if they can rise out of the mindset that they and their generation helped form, that of the Personal Computer, not the networked computer that Ballmer and Gates have, for the most part, fought strongly against.

Aside from this individual case, I was thinking that each generation builds off of the technology and creations of the previous. How this roughly breaks down:

  • Greatest Generation (1940s-50s): ENIAC and mainframes.
  • Silent Generation (1960s-early 70s): Ethernet, input devices (mouse), Xerox PARC innovations.
  • Baby Boomers (1970s-1980s): Personal computer, commercial GUI, internet protocols.
  • Generation X (1990s-2000s): Commercial internet, web browsers.
  • Generation Y (2000s-2015?): Mobile, social networking, ???
  • Millenials (2015?-2030?): Ubicomp? robots?

It's not a clear division, of course. Humans are messy, and there are always visionaries that see (and start) the next technology revolution far in advance of their generation (e.g. Doug Engelbart, Alan Kay).

What would be interesting to me would be to map the characteristics that Strauss and Howe attribute to each generation and see if the technology (and products based off that technology) that they produced reflect those generational characteristics. For example, is the baby boomer's self-centeredness reflected in the idea of a personal computer? Is the angst and irony of Gen X reflected in the web browser?

Originally posted at Tuesday, June 20, 2006 | Comments (0)

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