Y this Generation?

On: September 26, 2010
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About Natalie Dixon
I’m a new media thinker, strategist and writer. My current research focus is on the ‘affective bandwidth’ of mobile-mediated communication. My research interests include affective computing, HCI, biomapping, emotion, the impact of mobile phones on social behaviour, analytical design and information visualization. I graduated from the new media track of the Media and Culture masters programme in 2011.


To start understanding social networks and their ceaseless popularity it’s important to understand the people who use them most. Although it’s a mistake to generalize about an entire generation there are unquestionably some central themes that apply to Generation Y, the most active participants in social media that give us clues to why sites like Facebook and Myspace are so popular.

Bring on the Tech

Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) had radio; Gen X (1965-1981) had television and Generation Y also know as the Net Generation (born between 1982 and 1999) was the first to embrace the Internet. Gen Y simply haven’t known a time before computers, making them less afraid than other generations to send texts, create virtual photo galleries, download music, populate and grow social networks.

Loving The Connection

The desire for connection is not unique to generation Y; it exists in all of us. According to Frans de Waal, a Dutch-born primatologist and Professor at Emory University, “We descend not from sharks, which fight over every scrap, but from highly social mammals that know trust, loyalty and solidarity. Instead of leaving the unfortunate behind, they slow down for them and lick their wounds. In the group life of our primate kin, we can see both the competitive spirit of capitalism and a well-developed community spirit.”

However, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Institute, Generation Y is one of the most receptive generations of all to the concept of connection. Growing up in households with nervous Baby Boomer parents (one in four living with a single parent) they use technology to seek and maintain connections outside a home that was more than likely overprotected. Where Baby Boomers were all about being an individual, Generation Y values sharing and community spirit.  Sites like Myspace, bringing like-minded music fans and practitioners together, simply provides the platform for this generation to indulge in virtual community living.

According to social historian Neil Howe some of the most prominent characteristics of Gen Y are that they are considered team-oriented and place new emphasis on group learning within tight peer bonds. Peer-to-peer recommendations is one of the key characteristics of social networks. Savvy marketers have long since realised that this generation is all about hearing it first from their friends and not the Corporate.

The One

In a response to being brought up in single parent homes Generation Y reacts by being more likely to value the family unit and have life goals of marriage and children. In the Pew research 52% of respondents said being a good parent is most important to them, followed by having a successful marriage; 59% thought that the trend of more single women having children is bad for society. Couple this with a familiarity with web tools and it becomes clear that Gen Y is looking to meet people online and specifically social networks.

Me? Narcissistic?

Social networks have created a spirit of always keeping friends updated with how much fun we had! How beautiful we looked while we had fun! And look who we did it with!  Facebook has become a giant exercise in careful positioning and selection – often with a painstaking edit and enhancement of photos before they are uploaded. According to San Diego State University Professor of psychology Jean Twenge (author of the books Generation Me and The Narcissism Epidemic) Generation Y is the most narcissistic ever.  Her research involved tests conducted with a group of 16,500 students between 1982 and 2006.  The test, Narcissistic Personality Inventory, found that compared to previous generations Gen Y score considerably higher. Where social networks merely provide the platforms for self-broadcast it seems narcissistic behaviour drives the proliferation of content on them.

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