Thursday 26 July 2012

Linksters now, baby boomers then

MONDAY'S article ('Generation what next?') portrayed today's youth - the 'Linksters' generation - as exotic, revolutionary or unprecedented.

In truth, they are similar to the generations that came before them. For example, Linksters reportedly take 'material things for granted', 'do not seek affluence', or 'aspire towards loftier ideals'.

In fact, many in the baby-boomer generation of the 1960s - the hippie youth - put their ideals first in a far more principled and radical way than today's relatively conservative Linksters. Baby boomers went beyond saying that money did not matter or that ideals were important: Many left their homes or suspended their university studies in a way that threatened their career prospects and material well-being.

Riots, political protests and sexual revolutions triggered by 1960s baby boomers make one thing obvious: The article's assertion that previous generations were 'reticent' about making themselves heard fails to stand up to actual history. If anything, baby boomers were far wilder, often risking their long-term prospects for their ideals.

Nor is the idea that Linksters are 'global citizens' new: The youth of the 1960s were strongly influenced by (then) new technologies such as television, radio and mass media. Academics including Professor Marshall McLuhan talked of youth using these pre-digital 1960s technologies to form a 'global village' (yes, a popular 1960s conception). Linksters certainly use more advanced technology than baby boomers but, in truth, globalisation started 40 years before Linksters were born. (Ask a grandparent if youth who 'want things fast, flexible and in tune with their beliefs' give them memories of raising Linkster's parents in the 1960s and 1970s.)

Throughout history and in every culture, youth have always been less concerned about material well-being, are more idealistic than their elders, and spend more time with their friends. As generations age and responsible adults confront the slog of paying bills and raising children, the idea of 'getting what you want, when you want it' goes out the window. Family takes first priority; saving the world or idealism is quickly forgotten. In other words, the Linksters are idealistic and use technology to bond with friends, much like previous generations of youth.

If parents strip away Internet connectivity and mobile phones, they will see something very familiar in the Linksters - a modern version of their own starry-eyed days of youth.

Eric J. Brooks
ST Forum, 25 Jul 2012

Generation what next?
Today's teens want things fast, flexible and in line with their beliefs
By Serene Luo, Linette Lai, Nicholas Teo, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2012

FOR 90 per cent of the time that he is awake, 17-year-old Ho Cheng Wei is online.

The Singapore Polytechnic aeronautical engineering student prefers his computer and mobile phone to pen and paper: They link him to his friends and the rest of the world.

As for the future, he believes it is up to individuals like him to shape the planet. He aims to invent something, although he is not sure what. But that is okay because, as he put it: 'I don't like to stress myself out.'

Get used to Cheng Wei, the Singaporean of tomorrow.

Known variously in popular culture as 'Linksters', 'Gen Z' or the 'C Generation', Cheng Wei and his peers will come of age, enter the job market and become consumers and voters in the next two to eight years.

But as teenagers today, their defining traits, influences and values are already showing up on Singapore's landscape.

How do they compare to their Generation Y predecessors from a decade ago or, for that matter, to the Generation X who are most likely their parents?

The Straits Times got a picture of today's youth through face-to- face interviews with 200 Singaporeans aged 13 to 19 last month.

They were mostly in school, and there were roughly equal numbers of males and females. They were polled during school activities, or on the streets, in malls and at youth hangouts. (See story on poll findings below.)

Like Gen Y a decade ago, many Linksters grow up in homes with live-in maids; they have fewer siblings and more disposable income.

Linksters come from even smaller households, where families have shifted from a 'parent- centric' to a 'child-centric' dynamic, as sociologist Tan Ern Ser of the National University of Singapore put it.

Their parents dote on them and shield them from hardships such as deprivation, he said.

But though they take these material things for granted, they say they do not seek affluence. They aspire towards loftier ideals and, nurtured by Internet connectedness, identify themselves as global citizens (see table).

These results from The Straits Times' interviews echo the findings of Singapore-based LifeWorkz, a training and management consultancy specialising in work-life and generation issues.

Having observed qualitative focus groups of more than 500 young people in four societies (China, India, Singapore and Hong Kong), it found that teens today regard personal time as a 'premium commodity', said Ms Cheryl Liew-Chng, vice-president of the company.

Globally, Linksters are similar. Like Cheng Wei, they are less worried about bread-and-butter issues and more likely to 'choose where they want to live, then find work there', she said.

They set high career goals. 'For example, they will be asking to be posted to London and New York, not the far-flung parts of China. There is a lot of work in emerging countries, but this generation may not want to go there,' said Ms Liew-Chng, referring to youth generally across countries.

Associate Professor Tan calls them 'post-materialist', unconcerned about fulfilling basic needs because they have never had to worry about money. They are also less traditional in their ways.

They are not reticent, like Gen X-ers or Baby Boomers, about making themselves heard.

'It means that we can have a more active citizenry, one which desires participation in the decisions that affect their lives and destinies,' he said.

Polytechnic student Elton Seah, 16, for instance, wants to start a social enterprise employing people who are wheelchair-bound or have mild intellectual disabilities. He was inspired after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a serious disorder in which the body's immune system turns on itself.

He said: 'I benefited a lot from social enterprise in the past, so when I was in my growing-up stages, I thought, I need to do something to give back to them.'

Mobile phones: The Linkster icon

A DEFINING icon for Linksters is the mobile phone.

'I would not be able to live without my phone, because I use it all the time,' said Sharon Foo, 14, a Secondary 2 student at Siglap Secondary School who has owned a phone since she was 11.

That dependence is typical, said Ms Liew-Chng. Smartphones - with Wi-Fi - have facilitated an existence on Web 2.0 so much that teens even carry them to the bathroom or to bed.

The Straits Times poll showed 186 out of 200 owned a mobile phone. Of those, 64 per cent had their first phone before they were 11. As Australian social researcher Mark McCrindle pointed out in his book, The ABC Of XYZ: Understanding The Global Generations, they are constantly linked to their friends.

In fact, they value Internet connections, mobile phones and the ability to send text messages more than pocket money and some activities like going to the movies, a sports match or dinner with friends, according to a study by marketing communications brand J. Walter Thompson. It surveyed 400 adults, 200 tweens and 200 teenagers in the United States and Britain this year.

In the study, over half of youth respondents said it was easier to chat with friends digitally, with about 40 per cent more comfortable talking to people online than in real life.

Linksters use phones as an active medium - for exchanging news and information, and to express themselves. Reaching a wide community through a mobile phone tops their list of priorities.

But when it comes to work, being 'offline' is a prized commodity. For instance, they may not want to take on jobs that require them to carry BlackBerry devices and answer e-mail 24/7, Ms Liew-Chng said.

As consumers, this interconnectedness has made them a homogenous demographic. Universally, Linksters are exposed to the same brands and marketing, as geographical location has become irrelevant, said neuroscience marketing expert Gemma Calvert, a visiting professor at Nanyang Technological University.

As they come of age, businesses, employers and even governments will want to steel themselves for this demanding generation: They want things fast, flexible and in tune with their beliefs.

To meet the challenges of crashing economies and global unemployment, they must be prepared.

The 'good news', said Prof Tan, is that many schools are exposing their students to internships and community projects, or students are trying their hand at being entrepreneurs or taking on part-time jobs. Parents can do more to help them cope with harsh realities too, he added, by not shielding them too much.

'There is a tension, especially for parents, between wanting to protect them, and needing to ensure that they can survive and be resilient in the real world,' he said.

Teens by any other name


Coined by the authors of the new book Generations, Inc: From Boomers To Linksters - Managing The Friction Between Generations At Work, to refer to children born after 1995, for their dependence on being 'linked'.


The C stands for Connectedness. Many would have got their first cellphones and started using social media while in primary school, whereas Gen Ys likely got their first cellphones in their late teens and first used social media in their 20s.


The M stands for Multi-tasking. They can watch TV while texting a friend and working on their laptops - and feel more comfortable doing it than not. Neuroscience expert Gemma Calvert from the Nanyang Technological University believes that this habit may have re-wired their brains to 'scan' and absorb information at the periphery, but could also dent their ability to deeply focus on one thing.


A term coined by Newsweek for those growing up after the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States. For them, fear lingers, and they do not have the sense of security of their older counterparts.


The first follows Generation X and Generation Y, while the second refers to the era they were born - the mid-1990s and 2000s. A Pew Research Centre report in 2010 characterises them as self-expressive, confident and open to change.

Singapore's 'Linksters'

SINGAPORE'S 'Linksters' view themselves as global citizens, are optimistic about the future and their values are firmly entrenched in the family.

These traits showed up when The Straits Times spoke to 200 students between the ages of 13 and 19 last month.

They were asked about their social and economic backgrounds and current influences in face-to-face interviews.

Broadly, they have grown up in small, more affluent households with an average of 3.5 members. By contrast, the Department of Statistics had it that the average teenager in 1970 grew up in a household with 5.4 family members, and in 1990, with 4.2 members.

Twenty years ago, just over half - or 51.5 per cent - of families lived in HDB four-room flats or larger, including private housing. In 2010, this number had jumped to 74.4 per cent. In the Straits Times poll, 167 lived in such flats, or 83.5 per cent, including private housing.

More than a quarter, 26.7 per cent of respondents, lived in households with a maid. Almost everyone had at least one computer at home - about 50 per cent had two or three. About 50 per cent also owned their own cameras and music players, while about 40 per cent had portable game consoles.

Culturally, Linksters feed off viral videos, ubiquitous social media and live Twitter updates. The result: a heightened awareness of world issues, even if they do not act on it. Up to 72.5 per cent agreed they 'felt strongly' on issues such as animal welfare and poverty, but only a third - 32.1 per cent - were doing something about it.

Interview results also suggested an ambivalence towards local politics. When asked if they felt they mattered in the development of public policy, most indicated a 'neutral' response.

Even so, those like 15-year-old Jowayne Chang felt her interest would change in time. 'Currently, politics doesn't concern me. That will probably change when I start voting or when I have to start handling my own stuff, like housing,' she said.

Despite a climate of economic uncertainty, 60.1 per cent felt they had many opportunities, with only 9 per cent disagreeing.

'If I flunk my O levels, I have other options to choose from without a formal education,' said Lim Zhong Yan, 15. 'For example, I could be a swimming instructor, or go into nursing.'

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