Posted: October 04, 2013
The futurist: A look at teens—past, present and future
Snapshots from 1994, 2014 and 2034Thomas Frey
How quickly we forget. Events of 20 years ago seem like a distant memory, but 1994 was the year when Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa, O.J. Simpson was arrested for killing his wife, huge massacres were happening in Rwanda and Sarajevo, and China got its first connection to the Internet.
Bill Clinton was president; the Academy Award for Best Picture went to Forrest Gump; and the world’s population reached 5.6 billion.
To put this year into perspective, this was before the Monica Lewinsky scandal (she was hired by the White House in 1995), before the Oklahoma City bombing (1995), and before the death of Princess Diana (1997).
It was also after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), after the Persian Gulf War (1991), after the Rodney King incident (1991), and after the Branch Davidian catastrophe in Waco, Texas (1993).
But most teen-agers weren’t talking about world affairs. Instead, they were far more interested in getting their driver’s license; listening to the music of Madonna, New Kids on the Block, Celine Dion, Coolio, or Prince; or going to the latest Jim Carrey movie.
More telling for these teen-agers was what they didn’t have yet. They didn’t have the Internet, email, smart phones, search engines, social networking, Sony Playstation, Apple iPods, or downloadable anything. Music, movies, and information came on CDs, cassettes, VHS, in cartridges, or in printed form.
But here’s one crazy detail you may not have considered. Many of the teens of 1994 are now the parents of teenagers in 2014. This is the group tasked with reinventing the rules of childhood in terms of screen time, cellphone curfews, social networking etiquette and more. But we’re just getting started.
In looking at generational changes, it’s important to put everything into context – what things have changed and what has stayed the same.
I’ve chosen to frame this discussion around middle class teenagers in the U.S., an influential, trend-setting segment of American society. Experiences differ greatly depending on economic status, cultural upbringing, community, location, and family structure, so this is not intended to be an all-encompassing look at teenage life, just snapshots of generational differences.
Changing Levels of Awareness
1994 – Heady issues for teens were Kurt Cobain’s suicide or watching a Jerry Springer interview with Lorena Bobbitt who was found not guilty for reasons of insanity for cutting off her husband John’s penis.
They were largely unaware of mass genocides happening in Rwanda and Sarajevo, because worldwide news coverage was still quite limited.
2014 – News has a way of finding you. Important topics have a way of entering conversations on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Skype.
The most influential sources of news for teens are humor-based shows like Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, The Daily Show, or The Colbert Report.
2034 – Anticipatory computing will make news very niched and nuanced, and focused on topics important to the individual.
Every choice a teen makes online will help define and redefine what information will enter into their own hyper-individualized newsfeeds.
Listening to Music
1994 – Music has a way of defining who we are and what we deem important. This was a year of big transition in the format of music as we began switching from cassettes to CDs. By 1993, annual shipments of CD players had reached 5 million, up 21 percent from the year before, while cassette player shipments had dropped 7% to approximately 3.4 million.
As a percentage of income, music was expensive and, at most, teens had access to a few thousand songs in their personal libraries. Purchasing music required a trip to Wal-Mart or the local record shop to find the latest hits.
Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker. At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come. His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.