Moving from one communication channel to another is far from being just the preserve of Generation Y; their immediate elders have also completely assimilated the art of constantly shifting from one to the other in order to stay in touch.
Today’s younger generation are far from being the only people who have fully integrated electronic means of communication into their everyday lives. According to a report* based on an annual survey carried out by the University of Michigan, Generation X adults, at least those in their late thirties, keep in touch just as often as younger people via electronic platforms such as email, social media, instant messaging, webcam, etc. with their friends, family, colleagues and other professional contacts. Looking at the figures, in one month, the 3,000-plus adults who responded to the 2011 survey reported that they had “engaged in approximately 75 personal contacts or conversations,” but equally they had 74 ‘virtual’ contacts over the month as well. “Given the speed of emerging technologies, it is likely that electronic contacts will continue to grow in the years ahead, eventually exceeding face-to-face interactions,” says Jon D. Miller, research scientist and professor at the University of Michigan, who authored the latest issue of The Generation X Report.
Professor Miller underlines: “This is the first generation of Americans to reach adulthood at the beginning of the Electronic Era, so it’s understandable that they should show a substantial mix of tradition and electronic networking as they build and maintain the ‘social capital’ that will help to carry them through their lives.” However the report shows that not all those in their thirties are Generation X-ers to exactly the same extent. Factors such as gender, levels of formal education, and indeed whether or not a person has children are all aspects that make a difference. The survey results show that in a given month, the men in this age bracket spend more time with their work colleagues and tweet more than women, while the women spend more time on Facebook, send more social emails and visit family and friends more often. In addition people who have less formal education have slightly different habits from those with higher levels of education.
Virtual eventually exceeding real-world interactions?
Thus Miller found that survey participants who had not completed high school “relied more heavily on traditional personal networks and less on electronic networking”, sending 8.4 non-work emails per month, in comparison with 64.8 non-work emails per month for those with a PhD. From these figures, several conclusions can de drawn. Firstly, even though Generation X-ers are clearly keen on using the Internet to communicate, they still like to interact face-to-face. Secondly, though the Internet might not have made much of an impact on the total ‘social capital’of this generation, it undeniably makes life a great deal easier for those who possess the required technology. Finally, while virtual contact is set to exceed real-world interactions over time, it will never replace face-to-face relations.
*Social Capital: Networking in Generation X - Jon D. Miller, University of Michigan, [Volume 2, Issue 2, Winter 2013, of the Generation X Report, A Quarterly Research Report from the Longitudinal Study of American Youth.]