The Generation Changes
GI Generation (born 1901-1924) - This generation consists of the grandparents and great-grandparents that we know today. The elderly are a fascinating group who have evolved in their use of email. Members of this group aren't the fastest adopters of the Internet, but there is no mistaking their presence. Considering the youngest in this generation is in their 80s, email for them is traditionally kept to social networking and research-related activities.
Silent Generation (born 1924-1942) - This generation is widely recognized as the "activist" generation and is still driving social changes that you see today. They're the meat behind "cause marketing." To see their influence, look at cause marketing and how fundraising through the Internet has evolved, and you'll see a progressively growing trend in how members use email for business, marketing and general awareness of issues. Although an aging generation, this group includes the older parents and grandparents who buy/sell and email every joke, religious and motivational viral message there is.
Boom Generation (born 1943-1960) - The phenomenon of the Internet can be attributed to this generation. They are the consumers, the high-value earners, the suburban dwellers, and the first generation of women challenging the corporate glass ceiling. There are many books written about the power of women, including their influence on household income and how that income is disposed of. Women are the health researchers when their parents are ill, the surfers of the Web, the catalysts to retail, and have even progressed as buyers of high-priced items. Email is a fulfillment vehicle to them, a tool for social networking and a way to be more efficient in their day. The primary activity on the Internet for a boomer is email, closely followed by search. Members of this group are VERY involved in their children's lives -- more so than the previous generation. Key examples of this trend are the popularity of child-related sites, parent support sites, health-related sites and social networking in general. PTA groups have each other's email addresses now and schools have email newsletters. While Generation X is the catalyst of email as a social networking and business tool, the followers that bring "mass" to this phenomenon are the Boomers.
Generation X (born 1961-1981) - This is the MTV, hip-hop and risk-taking generation. Of all living generations, we are the most active in the management of our lives via digital channels. We are best described as wanting to be our own bosses and will be the generation that struggles to corral the next line or workforce entering the market in the next 20 years. In the U.S, this group also represents the largest percentage of immigrants, which has added fuel to the emerging trend of globalization. This generation is the one that I see at conferences, whose members raise their hands when I ask who has more than 4 + email addresses, has answered email at church, answered email before they brushed their teeth and while driving. This generation is the reason for books like "Send: The Essential Guide to Email for the Office and Home."
A longer version of this column is located on my blog.