The Blog

Why Babyboomers Don't Really Understand the Internet

The Boomers don't always seem to understand that over the last few years there's been a significant shift away from the belief that the State will be with us all from cradle-to-grave and that now there's a visceral, unspoken understanding among a proportion of their children, that things won't be so easy for them.

I was inspired to write this article after various conversations with my friends, who all seemed to bring up the same topic when referring to their parents. This was, incidentally, a topic that's been the subject of my own observance for a considerable amount of time and is that Babyboomers, the golden generation born between 1946 and 1964, that witnessed the largest ever boom in living standards, experienced a massive increase in disposable income as well as jobs for life and eye-watering house inflation; secure pensions etc, appear rather out of touch when it comes to certain aspects of their children's lives.

I'd like to clarify that this is not simply another run-of-the-mill tedious article about the wealth gap between generations (so 2009). After all, the subject of the alleged resentment boiling between Generation Y and their parents has been done practically, if not completely, to death. No, this is not about the copious property equity - that glorious, unearned, saga-cruise-trip and second-home-in-Tuscany, tummy-tuck-and-patio-extension moolah that's sitting, simply waiting to be consumed by edgy ex-sixties swingers and their rapacious offspring; no that would be far too mundane. My beef is rather with the differences between the Boomer generation and their children when it comes to attitudes to work and play.

Let me just clarify that I don't doubt that many in this age group have, to a degree, adapted to the internet successfully during their golden years. However let's face it, as cool as the Boomers think they are, raised on a diet of Rolling Stones and Woodstock, sexual liberation and Bob Dylan; they're still pretty conservative when it comes to doing things the 'right way' when it comes to their children and their careers. This is somewhat understandable, considering that taking this path was massively beneficial for Boomers looking for the sweet smell of success. Playing the corporate game, making money, sacrificing (for some at least) their hippy values on the altar of consumerism and consumption was the price that was accepted for the ultimate goal of building up wealth and prosperity for their families. Many did indeed achieve their objectives - although granted they have not been impervious to the great recession of 2008. With interest rates at an all time low, some have seen massive reduction in their savings, so I'm aware it's not all been plain sailing.

Anyway, I digress. What I want to focus on is the fact that in contrast, their offspring appears to be rather more cynical and jaded when it comes to trusting respected establishments that the Boomers were raised to revere. After inevitably having helped to shape the development of these institutions, many of this gilded generation appear to have an intrinsic sense of faith in those who run them. Take the BBC, the NHS and even the banks! Overall it appears that there's still a deep emotional attachment to all of these behemoths that simply doesn't exist among their children. We came of age when the sexing up of the dodgy dossier under Blair's government took us into a brutal and futile war with Iraq, we're the generation that doesn't go immediately to the Beeb for our news - instead we check out what's being said on Twitter and read Wikileaks. We have to find opportunities, seek them out, as we know only too well that a cushy position for life and an easy retirement are not easy to come by - we have to be creative to survive. It's even worse for the under 25s - with recent reports claiming that middle class children are set to be worse off than their parents for the first time in a century.

All rather depressing huh? Well, not necessarily. The younger generation looking at the system, concluding it doesn't serve them and instead choosing to do things their way, potentially has enormous benefits for society at large. New technology, an entrepreneurial culture and low overheads when it comes to starting businesses, means that outdated, intransigent institutions are likely to be met with swift competition during the next few years and be forced to sharpen up their acts. I've already written about the newspaper industry and political system before and the failure of banks to lend to businesses has led to the boom in crowdfunding sites - a great example of people power if ever there was one. Furthermore, with faith in the stock market at an all time low, young, growing businesses such as Real Asset Co, a gold investment platform based in The City, are offering a viable alternative for those who are looking for tangible assets, instead of more traditional investment products; which are no longer producing the returns they once did.

So far so good. However, expressing such optimism in this exciting new era which throws up considerable opportunities for innovation, can be met with a damp response by concerned elders. Brows furrow with perplexity when you talk about "flexible working" and "shared office space." The Boomers don't always seem to understand that over the last few years there's been a significant shift away from the belief that the State will be with us all from cradle-to-grave and that now there's a visceral, unspoken understanding among a proportion of their children, that things won't be so easy for them. In a nutshell, it's about doing it for yourself, carving out the life you want, and, most importantly, making sure that that your life's a holistic one; in line with your values.

When it comes to the internet, technology and start-ups it's not simply about being able to download an app, contact friends on Facebook or throw a celeb a cheeky tweet. It's about utilisation of these tools to promote social change. It's about understanding their place in the grand scheme of things and their context post-2008. I believe that this isn't something to fear as a Brave New World dystopia, but instead to be embraced.

Of course this article generalises a bit - I'm sure elements of the older generation are fascinated and excited by this seismic shift towards self-sufficiency and that equally that there are some 20-somethings seeking a cosy job in a government quango or looking to climb the greasy pole of the corporate ladder. However, one thing's for sure, it's not just business as usual - we're moving toward a different way of living and working.

After all, as someone, somewhere, who was no doubt extremely wise once said: "There is nothing permanent except change....the only constant is change."