On a summer’s day in 1994, I was born in Paris as a ‘digital native’ – part of the generation born into a world where technology was readily available – through smartphones to laptops to social media platforms. By the time I reached High School, technology was moving swiftly into the education experience and we were told that we would be required to use laptops in the classroom for note-taking instead of using paper. Rather than celebrating this advance – as you might assume a millennial would – me and my peers saw it as a ‘counterproductive’ system ‘ruining education’ whilst our Principal at the time, in his early 50’s, narrated to us just how great technology was for society and education.
Was this clash between my grade and the Principal predictive of millennials and how we feel about technology today? Given that the older generations developed, introduced and fostered this digital world, would it not make sense for us, millennials, to be most critical of it? With these questions in mind I highlight the importance of questioning the assumption that millennials prefer and work better with the digital world than previous generations.
Let’s have a look at some of the myths or assumptions about the older generations and their interaction with digital:
Myth #1: They have more difficulty using technology than millennials
Older generations do not necessarily have more difficulty using technology than millennials in the workforce. A study by Dropbox and Ipsos Mori surveying over 4,000 information workers in the United States and Europe found that people over 55 use 4.9 forms of technology per week, compared to an average of 4.7. More importantly, older workers have less trouble when working with multiple devices compared to millennials, with just 13% reporting issues when working with multiple devices, compared to 37% of millennials.
Myth #2: They find technology in the workplace to be more stressful than millennials
Older generations do not necessarily find technology to be more stressful in the workplace than their younger counterparts. In fact, the same study found that older workers experienced less stress at work because of technology – 25% experienced stress compared to 36% of 18 to 34 year olds. The findings in this study were also replicated in a State of Workplace Productivity Report published by Cornerstone onDemand. This study focused on information and technology overload and found that 38% of millennials reported experiencing technology overload compared to only 20% of employees from older generations. These figures again challenge the existing myths about younger people and their engagement with technology.
Myth #3: Millennials are naturally gifted when it comes to technology as they are born ‘digital natives’
Perhaps the most interesting myth however is that millennials are naturally gifted when it comes to technology as they have been exposed to it for their entire lives. This myth brings me back to the story about my underclassmen in high school being told to use laptops in class instead of taking hand-written notes. If this generation were indeed working with computers so closely throughout their upbringing, would this correlate with how tech-savy they would end up being in the workplace? Pew Research Center found that when it comes to knowledge about the web, there are very few differences between millennials and older generations. Whilst millennials knew better for example that Wikipedia was collaboratively edited, older generations had better knowledge on what the acronym, URL, stood for, and so on. In addition to knowledge about the web, studies have also shown that actual knowledge about computer skills is also not significantly higher for the younger generation. A recent study in Austria, for example, indicated that only 7% of 15-29 year olds had very good computer skills. Fuelling this myth is millennials’ own misconceptions about their abilities when it comes to technology. Whilst 84% of surveyed millennials expressed that they had ‘good’ or ‘very good’ computer skills, over 40% scored ‘badly’ or ‘very badly’ when it came to the actual practical test. In fact, the study added that the biggest gap between perceived and actual skills was consistently found in the 15 to 29-year-old participants.
It is incredibly important to question the myths around generations and the digital world. The question remains however as to why millennials may have more difficulties with technology in the workplace than older generations. Here are some ideas:
• First, millennials may have more difficulty with technology than older generations as they are more likely to get distracted in the workplace due to technology. For example, a study by Nextrio found that whilst 50% of employees younger than 43 access personal websites and emails at work, only 13% of employees aged 44-60 do so. With technology creating more distractions for millennials at work, this could explain why stress levels associated with technology are higher for millennials and why difficulties may arise when millennials try to handle multiple devices, as they are overloaded with distractions online.
• Second, millennials have more of an expectation of technology to work all the time. Growing up with immediate access to simple technology (Facebook, iPhones, Google etc), millennials may be less tolerant of issues with technology at work, causing more stress and difficulty with digital programs. In turn, older generations who have seen the development of technology first hand, witnessing the struggles of slow servers, crashing programs and more, are more tolerant of technological issues and better at navigating around them. Almost 60% of millennials would bring their own device to work compared to less than 40% of older generation employees.
Returning to my story with the laptops being introduced for note-taking, I personally believe that older generations have less difficulty with technology as they are more likely to actively choose to incorporate technology into their lives without assuming it to be the only way. As a millennial who has not had the option of technology, I cherish human face-to-face interactions with as little technology imposed on me as possible. In fact, I believe that being a millennial makes me appreciate opportunities away from the chaos of the digital world in the workplace even more than older generations, as it is something quite rare and special. Five years have passed since my graduation in 2012 and I still firmly believe that my school’s addition of laptops for note-taking was a terrible and detrimental idea for its students. What would be interesting would be to give the students an actual choice about whether to use technology in the classroom or not and then explore which of these students perceive and interact with technology most positively in the future.
By Raphael Korine, Research, Hot Spots Movement
To find out more about generational myth debunking, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ronald Bieber “Survey: computer skills in Austria (2014)”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtAFgBiTb5g.