#citylis Reflections and Research: Zaki Abbas on “Generations”

This post is written by #citylis PhD candidate Zaki Abbas. Here he considers what we know about mobile information behaviour associated with the Generations.

Mobility appears to be the topic of the day and shows little sign of abatement. We hear a lot about “Generation X” or “Generation Y” or more so “Generation Z”. This may give rise to lots of questions in your mind. So here is a brief lowdown on each of them, what they mean and more, with a brief focus on the social and technological aspects.

Generation X – Paving The Way

Exposed to a fast changing world where the traditional family structure was altered to make way for the demands of the increasingly consumer society. Those arriving in the world between the mid 1960’s to the mid 1970’s faced unforeseen challenges in terms of technology entering into homes through a variety of conduits such as television, video and other appliances. Media started to become more prone to exposing the violent elements of society where music and video bore out a more harsher and tougher tone. Growing up with the home computer and technology arriving in their classrooms for the first time, this generation had to learn technology “the hard way” by being the guinea pigs of the often poorly designed systems and interfaces that arrived on the market at the time. Needless to say, this generation had to make do with what they had and formed the group which paved the way for many of the innovative technologies that we see today (Schroer 2013).

Generation Y – The Millennials

Born between the latter part of the 1970’s until the mid 1990’s. They were raised during the boom times of the two decades that followed – when the world saw its wealth increase to unprecedented levels and new markets opened up further spurring new opportunities. The Berlin Wall fell and the globe became a smaller place with greater interconnectivity and harmonisation of borders and trade agreements. Europe began to emerge as a unified group of nations seeking common objectives, one of these was the advent of the GSM Mobile Network and the 1st and 2nd generation cellular mobile infrastructures. New competitors began to appear on the stage and consumer products became cheaper – making them more accessible to the masses.

For the millennials, the world seemed to be a great place until the dot.com bubble burst in 2000 and the credit crunch of 2008 – As well quoted by Williams (2015) “Theirs is a story of innocence lost”. Television became a vast visual library of media as opposed to the relatively staple content that was fed to the earlier generation. Brand loyalty was no more, thanks to the highly competitive markets and this groups tech savvy nature which pushes them to carry out more research on pricing and reviews before purchasing anything. These traits produced a more technically aware, ethnically diverse and economically sound cohort (Schroer 2013). For them, Feature Phones, Smartphones, Tablets and Laptops quickly became a regular aspect of their daily lives.

Generation Z – The Distracted

Humans by nature are inquisitive and with the carefree confidence that encompasses youth, generation Z rapidly took to technology like no other age group before. Globally, outnumbering the populations of X and their predecessors, and known as the “i-Generation” arriving from the mid 1990’s through to the end of the first decade of the 21st century. This cohort is the offspring of generation X and has grown in a time where the “job for life” concept was a pipe dream and the geopolitical dominance of the Western Hemisphere began to be challenged by the emerging markets of the BRIC’s – Further disrupting the socio-economical spectrum. A internet savvy cohort was born into a society where mobility was fast becoming an embedded feature and connectivity to the internet was a necessity and not something new. For them, social medial was a fact of life and seen as a natural means of communicating with others, life without a mobile device, simply unthinkable (Diu 2015). In fact many would not be able to recall times before channels of communication like FaceBook, MySpace or even YouTube (Williams 2015) & (Schroer 2013). It is about instant gratification, they have access to many different faces of technology at near immediacy, be it a music or video player, camera, radio, television or a multi-channelled communications device, they are less patient and have little time to wait for things to happen. They remain fiercely protective of their online lives and reputations unlike any other generation before.

These youngsters have seen Smartphones and the like right from the moment they learnt to walk and have successfully managed to master these technologies within their lifestyles. This cluster can naturally multitask not only with applications but technologies and using different devices seamlessly as well as managing unrivalled quantity of data with quick succession (Schroer 2013), it’s no longer enough to be watching TV but the Smartphone will also be on-hand and a fully fledged discussion will be taking place with countless friends throughout the global simultaneously. These youngsters are more prone to communicating with others via text messages and other social media-type exchanges as opposed to holding a conversation with someone.

It is believed that one of the main drivers for this trend is the need for a more aligned frequency over convenience. This group would rather communicate via short bursts of information as opposed to a several minute discussion covering multiple topics (Looper 2011). And as a result, the first signs of poor interpersonal skills on such a globally large scale will begin to emerge with the rest of society having to deal with it (Renfro 2012). It is within this cohort that the use of paper-based material will start to significantly diminish in favour of electronic media.

Generation Alpha – Generation Glass

Surfacing from 2010 right through to 2025, this generation is expected to be the most formally educated, materially enabled to date and will take on the smarter concepts of technology in their stride (Coupland 2009). Born during a time when touch-sensitive screens were the norm and social media a given aspect of daily life. This cohort will arrive during a time when family sizes will be smaller, a longer life expectancy, more likely to be raised within the day-care regime and yes, socio-economically, a wealthier climate somewhat. Mobile technologies will be used more as toys and pacifiers upon this group of society than ever before, as a father of a generation alpha, I am testament to these statements made by Williams (ii) (2015).

This cohort will also be more likely to conduct most of their engagements with others online to the extent that online shopping will be more of the norm than an actual visit to the stores. Consequently, one-to-one contact amongst this sector of society will be lessened and this reduction will be supported by the emergence of more stable and robust communications technologies that will forever push to compensate for face-to-face communication. Video conferencing and other similar advances will continue to be embedded within social and business circles as a matter of practice and routine, not novelty and for the generation being raised surrounded by all of this, it will be a fact of life.

Books and other paper-based material will be less used by this cohort as it takes on the use of e-readers and the like in its stride. Sales of paper-based media has already been losing out to its electronic competitor for a number of years already, fuelled by the habits of generation Z and those at the tail-end of generation Y. Generation alpha will simply pick this up as the de-facto standard (McMaken 2012). Touchscreen technology and augmentation – meshing between virtual and physical environments will be well developed and a near norm for generation alpha to use and interact with through the maturity of technologies initiated by Microsoft’s HoloLens and Google Glass (Sheridan 2015), individuals will find communicating through the wire (or WiFi) an ever improving experience and naturally start to lose their ability to communicate to others the natural way.

These developments will open doors to more communication with multitudes of persons globally, but the lack of face-to-face contact, more so than that of generation Z, will start to show its impacts through the weakness of interpersonal skills that will be a greater concern than ever before. How will society deal with this, remains yet to be seen.

Generation Beta – The Unknown

There is hardly any literature available for discussion on this generation. However, being a budding researcher I have decided to take the plunge and add my own opinions to this topic area which will arise at some point. Very little is known about this generation, given that we are still at the head-end of generation alpha, the beta’s will not arrive until 2026 onwards and run through to 2040 when the millennials will be, or fast approaching retirement. For the beta generation, things will start to take a very different turn indeed. By the time this generation surfaces, society would have realised the errors in letting technology “run with it” and the negations this has had on the social landscape.

Generation alpha and generation z will recognize their weaknesses spurred by the deeply embedded mobile technology culture and reliance on using technology to converse with others as opposed to the natural face-to-face communication. Generation Y will still be around and leading generation z towards rectifying the problem, guiding them back towards the “traditional means of communication” they learnt from generation X and encouraging them to talk more to a person than to a screen. Other traditional means of interaction such as the classroom, the library, team meetings and the like will be revisited and refined somewhat. Attempts will be made to eschew from technologies where possible in favour of inter-personal communication. Books will be more of a novelty for this generation than ever before, reading from a physical collection of printed paper taken from a shelf of actual books will be a rare but valued experience. Receiving a beautifully bound book on even the most simplest of topics will become a highly prized gift.

Retailers may revert to introducing bookshelf types of facility as a way to entice people into their establishment, given that by this stage, the silver lining of electronic media and high-tech communications would have begun to weaken and become more of a daily chore. Paper-based material will be treated more like a privileged belonging than a tangible asset and society as a whole will start to mature towards dealing with both electronic media, inter-personal communication and paper-based resources. The world will seek to learn more about the methods of interaction that has moulded us for centuries, working towards re-igniting these habits. Disrupting this further will be the inter-mixing of a ever-shrinking global village of different cultures , giving us a very diverse and interesting future to look forward to.


Coupland. Douglas., (2009) “Babies born from 2010 to form Generation Alpha”   News.com.au

Available: http://www.news.com.au/babies-born-from-2010-to-form-generation-alpha/story-e6frfl49-1225797766713 [Accessed: 19 October 2015]

Diu. Nisha. Lilia., (2015). “Look out, Generation Z is about to enter your workplace” The Telegraph

Available:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/11746954/Look-out-Generation-Z-is-about-to-enter-your-workplace.html [Accessed: 21 September 2015]

Economy. Peter., (2015). “11 Things You Should Know About Generation Y” Inc. Magazine.

Available: http://www.inc.com/peter-economy/11-things-you-really-should-know-about-generation-y.html [Accessed: 9 September 2015]

Edwards. Jim., (2015) “Goldman Sachs has made a chart of the generations … and it will make the millennials shudder” Business Insider UK.

Available: http://uk.businessinsider.com/goldman-sachs-chart-of-the-generations-and-gen-z-2015-12  [Accessed: 3 January 2016

Looper. Lance., (2011) “How Generation Z Works”

Available: http://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/generation-gaps/generation-z.htm [Accessed: 23 July 2015]

McMaken. Linda., (2012) “E-Books Vs. Print Books” Investopedia

Available: http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0812/e-books-vs.-print-books.aspx?header_alt=b [Accessed: 2 January 2016]

Renfro. Adam., (2012) “Meet Generation Z” – Getting Smart

Available: http://gettingsmart.com/2012/12/meet-generation-z/ [Accessed: 4 March 2014]

Schroer. William. J., (2013). “The Social Librarian – Generations X, Y, Z and the Others”

Available: http://www.socialmarketing.org/newsletter/features/generation3.htm [Accessed: 12 November 2015]

Shedian. Kelly., (2015) “Microsoft HoloLens Vs. Google Glass: No Comparison” InformationWeek

Available: http://www.informationweek.com/mobile/microsoft-hololens-vs-google-glass-no-comparison/d/d-id/1318851 [Accessed: 9 May 2015]

Williams. Alex., (2015) “Move Over, Millennials, Here Comes Generation Z”

Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/fashion/move-over-millennials-here-comes-generation-z.html?_r=0 [Accessed: 7 January 2016]

Williams. Alex., (2015) “Meet Alpha: The Next ‘Next Generation’”

Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/19/fashion/meet-alpha-the-next-next-generation.html [Accessed: 7 January 2016

Zaki is working under the supervision of Dr Andy MacFarlane (@unixspiders) and Dr Lyn Robinson (@lynrobinson), and he is on Twitter as @zakiabbas77.

We are always pleased to discuss potential projects for PhD research. For more information please see our web pages and do get in touch! Initial enquiries can be made to Dr Lyn Robinson, or you can contact the member of staff whose work interests you.

If you are a current #citylis student or alumni and would like to contribute a post, please contact Lyn Robinson at l.robinson@city.ac.uk

For current and future Library and Information Science news, opportunities and events follow the #citylis blog on Twitter @citylis.

About lyn

Dr Lyn Robinson is Reader in Library & Information Science, and Head of Department at City, University of London. She established and directs the Library School, and co-directs the Centre for Information Science alongside Prof David Bawden. Contact: lyn@city.ac.uk
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