May 17, 2011

The myth of the Generation Einstein

Conventional wisdom suggests that Generation Y, also known as Millenials and widely known in Holland as Generation Einstein following the book of Boschma and Groen, are among other things Media Smart: “Since they were babies, they have been confronted with the media – they understand advertising and have become the ultimate experts. They only need to see the advertisement to know what the marketing strategy of the company is” (
I do not know where such ideas are founded on but my impression is that they are based more on fiction than on facts. For sure the millenials have grown in a media-dominated society but they media smartness is limited since they are heavily exposed to one medium only, namely the Internet: they watch much less TV, read almost nothing on paper (except maybe their school text books) including newspapers and they listen much less to the radio than their parents. This one-sided exposure can never make them experts in advertising as the above quote claims. In fact on this point I would rather argue the contrary: Their almost blind faith to everything published online as the absolute truth makes it sometimes impossible to make a distinction between reality and commercial messages. I do not have any hard evidence to support this argument, maybe some research on this would be useful. However there is some evidence already that the Millenials despite their reputation as Media Smart do in fact very superficial and limited use of even the Internet and more specifically of the Social Media: A recent study of my M&G colleagues van Velzen, Bondarouk and Klerks indicates that most of the Generation Y online users are passive information consumers. A recent study we conducted among VWO 5 and 6 children confirms this findings, pointing also to the fact that the vast majority of this segment is using the Social Media for entertainment rather than anything else. The percentage of these children who are actively creating and contribute content online is negligible.
My conclusion is that often the reality can be different than the perception. Again I would argue for more research in this area and a consistent follow-up of the trends here in a longitudinal study. As about the term Generation Einstein we should use Einstein’s name more carefully!