Jared Cohen, a member of the U.S. State Department, spoke about how the Internet is affecting foreign policy and How Gen Y & Technology Are Changing the Course of History. Projects like the “Text Haiti to 90999” donation drive are well-known examples of how people are now using technology and social media to affect change. Cohen shared a story of his time in Iran in the mid-00s when he came across a group of youth using their cell phones to organize illegal underground parties. They were using the Bluetooth technology on their phones to reach out anonymously to people in close proximity to them. When he asked them about the risk of doing so, he found that they were fearless: they told him that no one in Iran over the age of 30 knew how to use Bluetooth. In fact, when Cohen discussed this with engineers who had helped develop Bluetooth, he found that the inventors themselves hadn’t dreamed of using the technology in that way. The same energy for emerging tech that helped these Iranians organize parties was used again a few years later to organize public demonstrations after the election crisis. The importance of governments and companies recognizing the opportunities offered by the embrace of technology was summed up succinctly by realizing that “we can’t control it, but we can influence it.” Whereas past generations rallied against a Berlin Wall, Generation Y is rallying against firewalls. Those who understand this and leverage this will have an advantage in dealing with this generation.
Krystal Ball, a candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 1st District was the first speaker who really made me feel old. At 28 years old, she would be the youngest woman to serve in the House of Representative if she wins in November. Ball spoke about how Generation Y Does Politics, highlighting the differences in how they run political organizations (such as her campaign) and how they view their place in the political world. She highlighted a few key differences between Generation Y and past politically participating generations, and here are a few points that I took from it.
- Generation Y views political campaigns more like start-ups that traditional organizations. They have an entrepreneurial fervor rather and eschew a formal hierarchy.
- Generation Y relies more heavily on competency than experience. They look for the best person to do the job, not just the person with the most experience or the next in line.
- Generation Y is willing to take chances, valuing growth over security. This is reflected, obviously, by a small business owner taking her chance at running for Congress, but it’s also reflected by the fact that 10% of Ivy League graduates are signing up for groups like Teach for America, putting off an opportunity to make money in order to make a difference.
(I did make one observation to a friend while we watched Ball speak. While Laura McEwen supported her point on Generation Y’s impact on the fashion of older Generations by dressing in a young style, Ball dressed more conservatively. She was like any young job seeker, more interested in making an impression than making a statement. This is true whether you’re running for Congress or looking for a position in marketing!)
Tony Haile, the general manager of Chartbeat, gave the next product demo. In showcasing a real-time web analytics tool, he noted that “the real-time web is not just business as usual but faster.” While classic post facto web analytics allow a user to see how visitors have made use of a site (where I can see, for example, that my Miracle Whip case study is the most common landing page for visitors from search engines), real-time analytics allow a user to exploit unusual behavior now.
Jeff Denby, the chief creative officer of PACT, an organic underwear company, spoke on how Change Starts With Your Underwear. The critical point that I think he covered is that companies must find a balance between evolution and force of habit. Companies can embrace small changes to make a difference and win the business (and esteem) of Generation Y consumers. Jeff also shared a PACT discount code for those in attendance at the Forum, so missing out on the event also means that you’re missing out on a great deal on organic underwear!
Dr. Jay Parkinson, a Brooklyn-based pediatrician and founder of The Future Well, spoke on how health-care can evolve with Generation Y in a presentation on Health, Happiness, & Gen Y. Like Matthew Bishop, Dr. Parkinson shared a concern that Generation Y had been stuck with problems from its predecessors, even calling them “the clean-up generation.” He spoke on the importance of changing how the health care system operates, focusing on changes in how the patient and doctor interact and how doctors are compensated. The critical theme was that health care should be designed around demand, not supply.
Erin Schrode, the 19 year old founder of Teens Turning Green, once again made me feel like I haven’t been doing enough with my life! In her presentation on The Green Generation, she didn’t just focus on the environmental consciousness of Generation Y (which is already well-known), but on how they are using technology to aid their search for green lifestyles. With today’s search engines and online databases, it’s incredibly easy for a consumer to disprove false claims about the environmental impact of a product, so it’s crucial that companies are more honest and open than ever. Companies marketing to Generation Y consumers also need to keep one other fact in mind, whether they are catering to a green lifestyle or any other attribute, Generation Y consumers have a great ability to multi-task, but they have a short attention span. It’s all about how you leverage social media tools.
Terri Walter, the chief digital marketing storyteller at Microsoft, presented a product demonstration on the Microsoft Kin phones. I don’t feel like I got any particular insights on Generation Y from the presentation that are worth sharing. I think that Microsoft’s marketing will give you a better insight on how the Kin One and Kin Two phones utilize social media tools, so I’ll let you do your own web searches. (Alternately, check out this advertisement. It captured my interest and imagination better than this presentation did.)
Tavi Gevinson, the 14 year old author of The Style Rookie blog, probably made the 19 and 20-something year old presenters feel as old as I did! She wrapped the first half of the presentations, and there was no doubt that she would get the warmest reception from the Forum (and a nice gift from Galloway.) In describing The Unpredictability of Gen Y, Tavi explained how Generation Y consumers are getting over trends and creating their own looks. This means that they have a greater interest in understanding brands rather than just copying the look of a peer. Companies need to be more transparent when marketing to Generation Y consumers, but they can also benefit from the increased attention to detail. Young consumers get more from watching a fashion show rebroadcast on a web site than from a slick (and expensive) advertisement. The search for insider knowledge defines Generation Y, as they “want to know what others don’t know about.” (Tavi did succeed to bridging the age gap between me and her when she quoted MTV’s Daria when she defined “edgy.” It was a show I enjoyed a great deal growing up, and I’m pleased to see it still resonates with today’s youth.)
At the request of Scott Galloway in a follow-up to her presentation, Tavi described the brands that she wears and to which she relates (you can find her answers if you read the live-tweeting under the #L2GenNext hash tag. I guess teenagers are a lot more brand-conscious today than I was at that age. The only brand I consciously remember wearing back then was Levi’s 501 jeans.
How about you? What were your favorite fashion brands at age 14?
Check out the third part of my review to read about presentations on pornography, blogging, and the rise of social games. Don’t worry; this isn’t a preview of my next career!