How Technology Explodes the Concept of ‘Generations’

illustration of headphones a CD Player and a game console - Illustration: Vasya Kolotusha

How Technology Explodes the Concept of ‘Generations’
WIRED, February 18, 2020
By Paul Ford

“Immense changes show us, year after year, that we are basically the same as ever, just reacting to the curves of life well out of our control.”


Among the detritus to survive my late adolescence are a few cases of cassettes, dozens of paper books, a crate of vinyl albums, and many plastic albums filled with CDs. Typical Gen X ephemera. Today, scanning all of that and creating digital versions would require about 20 gigabytes of storage.


Back then I would have needed to spend around $15,000 to buy a bunch of hard drives to store that stuff, roughly the same amount as my student loans. I probably shouldn’t say that so loud that millennials might hear, but it would have seemed like a lot of money at the time.


Today the local electronics store gives you 32-gig SD cards free with a coupon. Which is insulting. I lugged this essential information around for three decades and you tell me it fits on a black chip of plastic smaller than my (admittedly curiously broad) thumbnail?


I hate the concept of generations. Maybe it’s because I’m Generation X, and I hate popular things. But that’s not a correct characterization—I enjoy things, dammit. I have been to therapy and I am capable of like. I tweet. I leave others’ yums unyucked. I am glad you like Coldplay. I welcome feedback. It’s cool that you believe in astrology (sound of grinding jaw).


A generation, at its footnoted best, is a sociological tool intended to make sense of behavior across large cohorts—i.e., if geography can influence a culture, then so can time: market crashes, earthquakes, war, the VMAs. Certainly a noble horseman of the Khan had a different worldview than I do, and drank more horse blood. But that’s not what generations represent right now. Generations are drama.

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About the Author:

Paul Ford is a programmer, award-winning essayist, and cofounder of Postlight, a digital product studio.

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