When I ask my son what nationality he thinks he is, his answer is interesting: “Mexican,” he says, though he was born in New York at the turn of this century. When I ask him what defines him as Mexican, the answer gets a bit nebulous and includes words like “soul” and “food....” What language does he prefer? English, but he’s perfectly comfortable speaking in Spanish. When I ask him if he feels American, the answer is: “I guess?!” When prodded even further, all I get is an irritated, “I’m human, okay? Why is my nationality so important to people like you?”
Like much of the youth of my son’s generation, skin color, parents’ country of origin, cultural background and other such qualities are less important to him than what he shares with his friends and the quality of people that they are.
What little TV my son watches is in the more widely used English language and, as is the case for many of his peers, a big portion of his interaction with other kids is via computer screens (the window to the world), i.e., instant messengers. His is the first generation to grow up with mobile devices as a common presence, and is fluent in “apps” and multiplayer games run on servers half a world away. For my son, the abuelos live far away and, when they make an appearance every so often, it’s on Skype.
My son’s generation is perhaps part of the beginning of a truer global community. One in which the concept of “culture” will be even more fluid and yet in flux than it is now, formed around the world by the sharing of information—in effect, creating a culture by consensus.
Like my son, millions of American-born teenagers are coming of age in a society in which their parents are still being counted as a minority (albeit the largest one), but they don’t seem too interested in quantitative statistics. They are globally connected and are able to communicate with other teens through acronyms and “txt” shorthand, no matter what language they speak.
These are the fast-approaching consumers of the future. Where will advertising be when they begin flexing their purchasing muscles? Will it be in a specific language? Will it still be multicultural? Will it be that only general-market campaigns are enough to reach all consumers across a uniform world? Will the grandmother still be the matron of the extended family that is portrayed in cereal commercials, targeting Hispanics? Will Hispanics be a minority or a majority? Will it even matter at that point?
I don’t have the answers to these questions. I only have more questions that come up every time I see my son interact with the world around him. Every time, I wonder what kind of world he will live in. And, suddenly, advertising seems a bit irrelevant and out of touch.