Age-based Segregation Among Young People

Out here in YouthLand (which is across the river, up the valley, and down the mountainside from AdultLand), there are literally 1000s of divergent views of young people. Some folks see children and youth like puppies, simply needing good owners to care for them; others see young people as merciless opportunists lost to media-fueled consumerism; still other people see the youngest among us as a boundless fount of potential: its this last group that I tend to watch with a leery eye.

Within that watch there is a lot of variation, and that’s why I want to call your attention to YPulse. This blog, whose mission is to provide “news & commentary about Generation Y for media and marketing professionals,” creeps me out. They are so friendly in their approach to young people, sounding both wise and ally-like throughout their blog postings. However, “Youth as consumer” does not equal “Youth as decision-maker,” or any other analysis Freechild has shared in the past.

All that said, I constantly want to better understand the subtle insecurities that marketers prey upon, particularly among young people. Recently YPulse gave me a glimpse into the near future: Generation X vs. Generation Y – and I don’t expect it to stop there.

“Generational gap” was supposed to seperate me from my dieing grandma. A couple of years ago when she was on her deathbed I badgered my grandma with questions. At one point she flat-out asked me, “What do you want from me, Adam?” And cheesily enough I said, “I just want to know you.” She said, “You already do- look in the mirror.” With that, she helped me defeat what 28 years of slyly manipulative marketing was intended to do: Grandma drew together the years between us and made a bridge, helping me connect to eons of knowledge and history that I thought I was disconnected from.

As if that generation gap throughout time hasn’t been enough, now marketers are going to squeeze together the distant generations and make the number of years smaller, so that instead of fighting against my father’s generation, I can fight my older brother’s generation! This thinking has been thrust upon young people for 50+ years, as public schools segregated children and youth by age; now marketers are going to pick up on it and encourage “tweens” to war with “teens” for “hipness” and relevance. By “caricature-izing” this difference businesses will be able to capitalize on the differences between “I love 1989” and “I love 1991”. That’s an important marketing difference.

But its also an important cultural difference. Democracy demands community; this type of age-based segregation instigates further chaos. Educating folks about youth-adult partnerships has been difficult enough; is the next big movement going to be towards “peers as allies”? Cynically, I propose that this could provide a new boon of business for organizations that do that work, but what kind of challenge would that present to the National Youth Rights Association?

One Reply to “Age-based Segregation Among Young People”

  1. Long-time reader first-time poster (I think)…

    Didn’t quite catch your point about Ypulse – even though I’m not their biggest fans I cannot criticise their focus and content or the flavour in which it is presented. I also tended to agree with the post highlighted (but hey, that’s my bag!)

    Sure there are evil marketers out there but there are good ones also – I’m still quite positive in my opinions on how young people participate in their consumer decisions (just as some kids couldn’t give a toss about buying from MacD’s there are a hell of a lot more adults in the same camp).

    I no longer see ‘age gaps’ but ‘interest gaps’ as technology blurs the boundaries – you should check out the latest research from MTV: http://www.phatgnat.com/log/2006/May/01/589/ – hell, I sound optimistic but that’s what I am…

    …we’ve come full circle – I think I’ve lost my point 🙂

    DK

    PS that green on your hyperlinks is damn hard to read my friend!

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