Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Generation M

I’m 33. That means I’m stuck somewhere in between Generation X and Y. Generation X was stereotyped as lazy postmodernists, too comfy with our liberal arts degrees to get off the couch and do anything. Generation Y was defined by being, um, younger than that.

Frankly, I never saw much connection between myself and those labels. And lately, I’ve been thinking about what truly defines my generation. Us web geeks, us iPodders and remixers. I think we’re Generation M. Here’s my loose, entirely unscientific definition in three parts.

The “M” is for Multitask. We like to do two things at a time, minimum. We listen to music while surfing the web and having four IM conversations. We check our email on crackberrys and hiptops under the table during meetings. We don’t feel fulfilled unless there’s more than one thing going on. The closest thing my parents generation had to this kind of multitasking was reading the paper on the toilet.

The “M” is also for Mashup, my favorite example of multitask culture. What’s the appeal of a song that mashes together the Scissor Sisters, Beatles, Aretha Franklin, and George Michael into 5 minutes of seamless ear candy? I have no idea. I just know that I can’t get enough of “No One Takes Your Freedom” by the amazingly talented DJ Earworm, which does exactly that.

Finally, the “M” is for Media, with emphasis on the “me.” My generation, we make media. From the Xeroxed zines of the 80s, to the homepages of the 90s, to the blogs of the 00s – there is no corner of our lives that goes undocumented. No niche topic gone unexplored. And as a result, we know how to talk, to think, to find connections with like minds, no matter where they are.

And like any good generational differentiator, our parents just don’t get it. They see our multitasking as ADD or the more recently coined term to say the same thing, “continuous partial attention.” They don’t understand that what looks like dithering is just a new shotgun form of information management.

We were raised in the information revolution. We got used to 500 channels of nothing on, and upped the ante to billions of constantly-updating websites. There’s more information floating around than we could possibly ever consume, so we surf, we skim, we take in the best and let the rest float by. And we’re really good at it.

Our elders listen to mashups and just hear noise. They write off the media we produce by saying “there’s no there there” or labeling it with crap terms like “user-generated content” (as if all those journalists and editors aren’t “users” too). Like their parents before them, our parents just don’t get it.

And like the misunderstood generations that came before, someday this world will be ours. And, personally, I can’t wait to see what we do with it.

What do you think?

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.