This Thursday saw the 8th Trajectory Trends Breakfast of the year turn its attention to the relationship between technology and generational cohorts. The topic is a particularly interesting one for us in the futures industry, juxtaposing the relatively predictable and stable nature of demographic analysis with the ever-changing, ever-progressing nature of technology.
A recurring theme in much of our work, and indeed, our breakfast presentations, is the UK’s current and future demographic context. We have reached what David Willetts has referred to as a ‘point of Generational Equipoise’, a state in which the life expectancy is 80 years and the median person is around 40 years old, with a generational balance of four large and distinct cohorts existing at one time.
While we are sceptical of much generational analysis – it’s likely that class, level of education, or where you grew up is a better indicator of who you identify with than simply age – technology is one area where age makes a clear and measurable difference. Whether we look at access or sophistication, the younger you are, the more likely you are to have better access, and a higher level of sophistication when it comes to using technology – with significant impacts on consumption and transactional behaviour.
This is crucial for just about any consumer facing business. While a minority of companies will cope by catering to one or two generational groups, the reality for the majority is far more complex.
As it stands, our current context of generational equipoise sees four significantly sized generational cohorts – each accounting for approximately 20% of the population – with differing and distinct technological literacy.
Technology companies – particularly those who make products for consumers in countries with old or ageing populations such as Japan and China – have begun to develop products that incorporate the functionality of a mass-use devices such as smartphones or tablets, while accounting for the biomechanical needs of older users, and it is developments such as these which must be adopted by almost all businesses.
A smartphone with big buttons may seem like the most obvious way in which technological implementation must be tailored to fit demographic contexts, but with more and more consumer interaction mediated by technology, it will be crucial to find solutions that are appropriate for different audiences, whether this means more accessible individual products, a wider range of products, or several journeys to purchase, each targeted at different segments of society.
With four large, distinct generational cohorts at present, now is the time to figure out how to cater to the masses, as this is not a short-term demographic glitch. By 2026 there will be five equally sized generations – adding even greater complexity.