Generation gap

So I’ve been reading this book my Dad sent me a few weeks ago.

It’s not that impressive so far (about 100 pages in).  The mentions in the title of MySpace and YouTube seem to have been tacked on in order to sell books, fittingly enough, and the authors make their political alignments clear from the start.

But what I am enjoying are the bits of theory about political re-alignment based on generational changes.

For example, generations are broken down into types:  Civic and Idealistic are two of them.

The Baby Boomers (read as: aging editors, j-school faculty, columnists, and older reporters) are an Idealistic generation, the book tells us.

The Millenials (read as: the young interns and fresh-faced multitaskers causing all sorts of ruckuses in your newsrooms with their blogging and whatnot) are a Civic generation.

The Idealists came of age in the 1960s.  They focus on morals – right and wrong, black and white.  That concentration of resources on debatable and subjective issues (like, say, objectivity) make for a slow moving government (or news organization).  Voters become disillusioned, participation drops, and authority figures are not looked upon kindly.

A Civic generation, on the other hand, like the current Millenials (born between around 1980 and 1994 or so, depending on which reference you consult) or the G.I. Generation, is more pragmatic.  They use new communication technologies to get things done.  They’re committed to political involvement, believe in the system, and participate in great numbers.

(An aside: I’m old enough to qualify for Generation X, the disconnected, disaffected grunge-listeners that fell in between these sexier re-alignment cycles.)

All this is just to say that I do believe age has something to do with innovation, especially when it comes to the news business.

I alluded to some persistent “generational frustration” the other day when I was declaring my independence from a generalization, and then the post wandered away from that notion a bit.

But I’ll say this: I’m excited to see where this Civic generation takes news.

It’s not going to be the same place that the previous generation took it.  This generation’s news will look more like the work of Holovaty and Sites than Woodward and Bernstein, because they’re simply not the same people.

The influences are different, the reasoning is different, the thought process and the toolset are different.  And so is the audience, if we can still call them that for a fleeting moment before the familiar models of storyteller and listener completely and finally break down.

Further reading:

The word Kindle makes me think of burning books

All branding aside, the oncoming launch of Amazon’s e-paper device essentially begins the practical discussion about e-paper in earnest.

Books are a neat trick, but I’m pretty exclusively thinking in terms of the future of newspapers here.

Things to pay attention to:

  1. EVDO: This device has ubiquitous Internet access when in cell range. That’s good. Obviously, any cell phone with a data plan has the same thing, although I’d argue the iPhone handles the user interface for news better than many other devices at the moment.
  2. DRM: The e-books (which users will be able to by at $10 a pop from Amazon) will be in a proprietary format, not based on an open standard. Start thinking now about what newspapers will do as devices like the Kindle improve enough (read as: get lighter, less expensive and better-looking) to get a solid adoption rate going. Will your paper (or company) charge users for a Kindle subscription and encode the pages so they can only be read on a set number of devices? (Think iTunes-style DRM.)
  3. Price: $400 isn’t that bad. I usually see sub-$200 as a spot where mass adoption becomes possible, but $400 is halfway there. Remember when DVD players cost $400? Me neither, because it wasn’t that way for long.
  4. The wider Web: It’s not clear from what I’ve read so far if the Kindle has a browser built in, but it clearly has some sort of Web access. That’s smart, and necessary. There’s something weird going on involving paying to subscribe to blogs in a feed reader, but the question for news organizations will be whether to make it easy or hard for users of future e-paper devices to get off their reservation and out to the Web.
  5. Hackability: Given the recent history of the PSP and iPhone, I’m going to take a wild guess that the Kindle will be hackable, and that users will do interesting and unexpected things with it. That’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

And a red herring to ignore:

It’s ugly. Seriously. Instead of looking at it directly, try to imagine a device with similar funcationality, but thinner, with a flexible screen, and fewer buttons. That’s what it will look like in, let’s say, four years.