Generation Frustrations: The Technology Mentality


Peyton Ludwig

Three generations of the Ludwig family sit down to watch a replay of a football game on their laptop. Left, Baby Boomer Larry Ludwig; middle, Gen Z-er Luke Ludwig; Right, Gen X-er Jim Ludwig (Photo courtesy of Peyton Ludwig).

It’s a battle between the old versus the young, analog versus the digital, golden days versus the modern times — or, in other words, a battle between generations. Whether it’s been about education, politics, or technology, the tension has always existed, with the young’s need to advance and the old’s need to stay with the good old times. 

The conflicts never end, but the real question needs to be asked: are these valid stereotypes of different generations, or are these just labels causing bias?

The first installment will be addressing the different stereotypes of generations and their use of technology. Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) and Gen X (born 1965 to 1976) are considered “out of touch” and “technophobes”. Millennials (born 1977 to 1995) and Gen Z (born 1995 to 2015) are on the other side of the spectrum, being considered “smartphone and social media-obsessed”. 

If you look closely enough, however, it reveals itself to be not as cut and dry as it may seem.

Looking at studies, it’s very fitting that Gen Z-ers are known as the most tech-savvy; 98% own a smartphone, 94% own a laptop, and almost half are connected to the internet over 10 hours a day. Millennials aren’t too far off these statistics, with 92% owning smartphones, 70% owning laptops, and using the internet about 9 hours daily. 

Millennial Madi Ludwig said, “I personally think that’s true [that Millennials are obsessed with social media]. I know all my friends I talk to [are] always on social media. I’m on it definitely every day. I’m on it before bed. It’s a pretty valid stereotype, I would say.”

While this may encourage the stereotype of the younger generations being tech-obsessed, sophomore Brendon Maness said, “[I] never [use social media]. I have nothing!” Many students have the same amount of use, some not engaging with social media platforms entirely.

Considering the older generation stereotypes, both Gen X and Baby Boomers follow surprisingly close to this trend: 92%  of Gen X own a cellphone, 69% own a desktop computer, and 61% own a laptop. With Baby Boomers, 70% own a smartphone and 90% own either a laptop or PC.

What’s even more surprising is that  Gen X overtakes Millennials with social media time. Gen X spend almost 7 hours a week on social media, which contrasts the Millennial average of 6 hours a week. With all forms of media, Gen X spends about 32 hours a week, whereas Millennials only spend about 27 hours a week. Along with this, Baby Boomers aren’t averse to social media, either —  82.3% of the generation use social media, and they spend 27 hours a week online, which matches Millennials’ time usage!

When asked about his generation’s dependence on technology, Gen X-er Jim Ludwig said, “I would say yes, [Gen X is] somewhat dependent on technology. In my work, it’s an integral part of everything I do: email, texting, tools through the internet, and I use it in many ways to communicate with my kids when I’m traveling…I don’t need technology to survive, but it is an integral part of my life.”

Now, let’s move from statistics about ownership and time to those about how well each generation actually use technology. 

A Global Leadership Forecast study reports older generations as much more tech-competent than one would think: 54% of Gen X reported they are digitally savvy, nearly matching the 56% of Millennials.

When asked about how he, as a leader, has leveraged technology in the workplace, Gen X-er Geoff Getty, Brashier Computer Programming teacher, said, “It’s a cornerstone of what I do…[we need to be educated in technology] so that when something breaks, we’re not just helpless!…It’s all about having that understanding. The trick is spending the time to learn it.”

In terms of opinion, however, it varies greatly from generation to generation. According to one study, more than 74% Millennials believe new technology makes their lives easier, which contrasts against 31% of Gen X and only 18% of Baby Boomers.

Jim Ludwig neatly upended this stereotype when he said, “Overall, it’s improved our lives. Life is better with it. I understand what life was like before it. [Younger generations] have never not had technology; basically, our generation has witnessed the beginning of the PC from its infancy — which probably happened in 1980, when I was 10 — to what has happened now. It has been a pretty amazing transformation. We understand what it was like before and after.”

Psychologically,  there’s also the difference of why different generations use technology.

A demographic study by Epsilon has many interesting finds on each generation. For Gen Z, the study found that “their increasing appetite for media consumption reflects their regular need for inspiration, motivation, and entertainment… social messaging and social VR depicts the importance of social interaction and personal identity. This highly social group seeks belonging, looks for role models and uses digital technologies as an extension of their own personal identity.”

For Millennials, the study found that “Millennial consumers grew up during an era of rapid technological development…this generation prefers to enjoy sport and social entertainment as a live experience over an augmented or virtual experience.”

For Gen X, the study found that “[they have] specific interest and preferences towards technologies that truly enhanced their daily lives. Visual product discovery and the use of personal digital assistants reflect Gen X’s utilitarian needs to discover better product and services information, community-driven opinions and personal advice.”

For Baby Boomers, the study found that “This generation is very interested in assistive technology…that are aware of their needs and improves their daily lives. They are unsurprisingly more cautious in adopting new technologies, particularly those which have a profound impact upon traditional approaches to interaction.”

Overall, there’s evidence to both support and deny many stereotypes. While Baby Boomers and Gen X still like the old-fashioned, they’re still very adept to using new technology; while Millennials and Gen Z are very tech-savvy, they’re not alone in their dependency on technology, and aren’t as social media-obsessed as the older generations would like to believe. 

This now begs the question: should we use these labels to help define groups of people, or should we ditch them to avoid the blindness of ageism?

Make sure to check out the two other installments of this series – Boomer Humor and Gen-Z Irony and Politics Conflicts!