Generations in the Workplace – Part 2

June 26, 2024

More on generations in the workforce: How attitudes toward tech and AI define us

In our last installment of Hire Thoughts, we told you about a recent roundtable chat among women representing three generations: Gina (a Boomer); Perry (a Millennial); and Emma (a Gen-Z college student soon to depart her teens).

We recommend that you check out the earlier piece if you haven’t already – as it mentions, the US workplace is now one of unprecedented generational breadth and variety, with five commonly recognized age cohorts simultaneously present within it, from Emma’s own up-and-coming Gen Z all the way to President Biden’s Silent Generation.

While the last Hire Thoughts touched on an array of topics – from dress to stereotypes to work-life balance – this one is going to focus on one subject that occupied an especially large chunk of the discussion, and is only going to become more prominent in years to come.

That subject is technology, specifically the rapid acceleration of artificial intelligence. The three women identified attitudes toward tech adoption as important markers of difference among the generations – and, perhaps more importantly, among people within generations.

Perry and Emma noted a distinction between Millennials and Gen Z in this regard: Transformative applications like social media arrived in the course of the older generation’s adolescence, whereas Gen Z was immersed in them from the very start.

“Something unique that happened in my generation was how much technology we’ve had access to and social media and all of that stuff, which has so transformed our society in the past ten years,” Emma said. “Whereas Millennials would have been almost my age or early high school maybe when those things started.”

“I was your age when I first got a Facebook account,” Perry replied.

“I think when you’re trying to make that transition as a Millennial – I mean, I can’t speak because I don’t know – but not that it would be difficult, but it’s just a totally different game than, like, my brain developing as social media and [other] media technology is developing,” Emma said. “I wasn’t trying to catch up with it, if that makes sense.”

Of course, the innovation that all generations are “trying to catch up with” right now is AI, and our panelists conveyed the same mix of fascination and existential dread that so many are feeling toward this technology.

Gina marveled at Microsoft’s Copilot AI and expressed delight at being an early adopter of the tech. But concerns about AI’s potential ramifications were not far from the surface.

“I was apologizing to my little one-year-old grand-daughter,” Gina said. “I said, “I’m really sorry, Palmer, that we’re leaving you with AI.”

Several other comments captured the dizzying duality of AI’s possibilities: “It’s one of those things where it’s like, it probably will go horribly wrong and horribly amazing at the same time”; “It’s going to rapidly develop and it’s going to be helpful and terrifying.”

(By the way, “horribly amazing” may be an early contender for the best two-word summation of AI that anyone’s come up with yet. It even captures that slightly-off feel that has characterized so many AI “creations” to date. “Helpful and terrifying” is pretty great too – sounds like some kind of creepy butler.)

Generational attitudes toward AI – or anything else – are not monolithic. As mentioned, there’s plenty of variety both between and within age cohorts.

While the discussion participants enthused about AI’s potential as a “brainstorm partner,” the youngest of them, Emma, stood staunchly against the use of the technology as a lazy substitute for human cognition and creativity.

“I’m paying to be here,” she said of her college experience. “I’m paying to develop my brain and learn as much as possible, and if I take this shortcut, Number One, AI right now doesn’t fully produce all of the information that I should be producing on an essay question or whatever. And I’d like to push myself so that I can learn more. I’m not going to be reliant on that [AI].”

Then she added, “But I think a lot of college students will use it because we just have so much to do. It’s like a time thing.”

Well, Emma – if it’s any reassurance, we at PSP think there will always be a market for smart people (from any generation) who know how to make adept use of technology while still maintaining a healthy appreciation of the integrity of their own minds. You give us hope for the future!

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