Hippies became Yippies and Yuppies. They fought their parents. Then they became parents.
Maybe the last time you thought about it like this was when the careerist character played by Diane Keaton struggled to diaper her distant relative's abandoned bundle of joy in Baby Boom.
So here's the thing: These kids are Boomers, too.
The echo describes a reverb - the Doppler effect of the first population spike. "Think of this in terms of the ripple that forms when you drop a rock into a pool. The farther you get from the original splash, the smaller the wave," says Mark Mather, deputy director of domestic programs at the Population Reference Bureau.
The Echos have been raised by parents who questioned everything - especially the media, so even though they seem to be embracing it in all forms, they know better than to swallow whatever is being fed to them. Almost 65 million strong, this is not a generation fumbling around. They have a voice, and the means and tools to use it. Their parents are now the nation's wealthiest bracket, according to Anna Papadopoulos, interactive media director for Euro RSCG 4d in New York, and "their lives have mimicked their parents' lives in that they are scheduled and driven to succeed."
While they are users of all media (and they often use different ones simultaneously), the Internet is their world, and it gives them the control and exposure they want without imposing any limitations. And because they come from money, are comfortable with it, and are beginning to look for ways to make their own, they are naturally finding ways to capitalize on this world. And they are changing it in the process.
Mark Zuckerberg, the 23-year-old CEO of Facebook, could be considered the Echo Auteur. He has created more than just a social networking device: It, and other sites like it, are changing media by providing one place to share and download music, videos, TV shows and photos. This integrated approach gives users the freedom and power to customize their media usage to make it fit their values and lifestyles.
They also decide what stays and what goes, which can be a hard thing for advertisers to keep up with. The Internet is saturated with advertising, and Echos "hate anything that's forced down their throats," says Christopher Vary, vice president of social marketing at Screengrab. Todd Kirby, associate director of strategic research at Spark Communications, recognizes the growing importance of communicating with the consumer. "The more dialogue you have with them, the better off you're going to be," Kirby says. "They're going to talk about you anyway," agrees Daniel Bennett, account director at Agency.com. "If you don't give them an opportunity to provide feedback in your environment, they're going to do it in a multitude of other places." The Echo generation is bombarded with advertising, but online, they feel like they can control what they look at. And they trust their friends more than the media. Which, of course, is nothing new, but now instead of calling someone up to tell them not to bother seeing Noah Baumbach's latest flick, they can tell all of their friends at once.
And their influence is not limited to entertainment. Gina Waldhorn, digital media planner at Carat Fusion, notes that it is now easier than it ever was to "get involved because of online media. People are starting their own groups with their friends and connecting directly with associations and causes, finding things that are specific to their interest." Using the Internet as a means of getting involved has extended itself to the presidential campaign trail, as candidates have started accepting questions via YouTube during debates.
Test Tube Babies
Their 24-hour access to and usage of the Internet doesn't seem to be taking any time away from television. "Echo Boomers are still relevant in terms of their television usage," says Kirby. "They're not going away from TV even though they are embracing [and creating, we would add] digital media at an incredible pace." In fact, 67 percent of Echo Boomers responding to the latest Yankelovich Monitor study said they agree or strongly agree with the statement "TV channels have gotten better about providing programming which interests me," compared to 63 percent for Gen-Xers and 51 percent for Baby Boomers.
Possibly, this increase is happening because Echos, who we have already established are control freaks, don't have to watch whatever happens to be on when their boxed sushi arrives. Technology like DVRs and on-demand programming have given them the ability to choose what they want to watch and when, and they are more inclined to take advantage of this than older generations.
What has changed, however, is the kind of television programming that piques their interest today. "In the 1980s, Nickelodeon called a block of shows the 'Parent Free Zone,' where there were no parents and they would try to sell things to the kids," recalls historian, economist and author Neil Howe. "But they found in the 1990s that the kids wanted their parents in the shows. Now, on networks like Disney, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, you see shows with older people in them." Even in teen soaps like The O.C., Gilmore Girls and Gossip Girl, he says, the parents' lives and problems have been completely intertwined with the weekly plot. "This is a change," he says.
Interestingly enough, all this cross-media consumption might actually be stimulating the Echo's brain function. According to Dr. Moshe Bar, director of the visual NeuroCognition Lab at the HarvardMedicalSchool, "Interactive media are better for general brain development than passive viewing (which is also true for kids TV programs where viewers are asked to respond versus passive viewing)." Even the hours they've logged in front of Playstations are giving them an advantage, "Gamers are much better in their distribution of visuo-spatial attention than peers who do not play such action computer games," says Bar. But he adds that all this interactivity, makes the job of marketers more difficult, of course, because this generation takes advantage of the many ways they have of avoiding messages they find irrelevant or uninteresting.
Even with all the digital stimulation, print media has not been left in the dust. Besides all the reading they are doing on the Web - Dr. Bar cites exciting new research that shows the Internet actually has a positive effect on the development of reading skills - according to Yankelovich, 33 percent of Echos are still reading only the print version of a newspaper, while 25 percent read both the print and online, and a measly 8 percent read the online version exclusively. And while 31 percent said they don't have the time to read, 41 percent are still subscribing to magazines. While the demand for print may be lower for Echos than for other generations, it still exists.
"The decline of the popularity of print started at the tail end of the Boomer generation and the beginning of Gen X," says Howe, the co-author of Millennials Rising and Generations. But he is not giving up on the medium. "It's not a millennial phenomenon - what is a phenomenon is how they're using print. They like to share it socially when they get together and pass it around, something you can't do with a computer." Socializing and networking are important to the Echos, and while the Internet is their main outlet, it seems that print is benefiting from these values as well. The death knell for print might not be ringing just yet, but whatever form their text takes, this generation and their future ripple offspring aren't going to stop reading.
This is no shout in the street. The scream is bouncing off every canyon wall and it will keep coming back. What's this mean? It means Diane Keaton is ready for her next role: Grandma.