by Prof. David J. Coleman, President-elect
Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association
In a conference presentation in mid-2005, I described the contributions of SDI and geospatial information to the knowledge economy and then speculated on the potential contributions of the “millennial generation” to the future of SDI. After six years, how have some of those predictions played out?
Called the “Millennial Generation” by researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss, this group represented those (predominantly but not exclusively) North Americans born between 1982 and 2001. More generally speaking, this is the “under-30’s” generation.
Millennials have been characterized as being more affluent, better educated, and more ethnically diverse than members of any previous generation. Raised by “Baby Boomers”, Millennials have been made to feel they could accomplish anything in their lives & careers and have calibrated their job expectations accordingly. Involved in organized activities (competitive sports and daycare, for example) since the age of 3, most have enjoyed a very structured upbringing.
In part because of this, Howe & Strauss suggested that Millennials displayed strong teamwork skills, are more respectful of authority, collaborative, achievement-oriented, and sensitive to multiple cultures. Raised on home computers and the Internet, they are far more locally and globally connected than any previous generation. Raised on a diet of television and video games, critics accuse Millennials of requiring constant stimulation. Even Howe & Strauss suggest that this generation displays a “drive-through” mentality: things must be quick, easy to access, and anonymous. Think “drive-thru fast food” rather than restaurant dining, and using ATMs rather than speaking to a bank teller.
While still outmatched by an aging “Baby Boom” generation in terms of sheer numbers and buying power, it is Millennials who are now the most influential in terms of driving the market. Considering the above, it should be no surprise that they want reliable & authoritative products and services that are quick & easy to access, that can be used anonymously, and that make it easy to share information and experiences with friends and colleagues.
In 2005, I wondered with conference participants whether the “look & feel” of SDI services would change as Millennials begin to dominate the marker. I’m delighted that my question has been answered with such speed and variety. Some great personal positioning and way-finding smartphone apps have already been built atop Google and Bing platforms, and more are being developed every month. At the same time, I certainly underestimated the degree to which more general applications like Facebook™ and services like Flickr™ would add a geospatial dimension to their services.
I also underestimated the degree to which Millennials would be prepared to share their personal location information with a widening circle of acquaintances. It has been left largely to the “Boomers” to raise concerns over the extent to which personal location data from smartphones may be collected and subsequently shared with third parties for commercial purposes.
Are the indicators and success factors we have developed for SDIs appropriate for a market being increasingly dominated by the tastes of this Millennial Generation? If not, how should we be measuring success and what new questions should we be posing? We need more good examples of how SDI programs are explicitly engaging this generation of young, sophisticated and demanding users.
Learn more about the GSDI Association and how to participate here: http://www.gsdi.org/joinGSDI
Dr. David Coleman is President-elect of the GSDI Association. He is currently a professor of geomatics engineering and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.
An edited version of this article with graphics and/or photos was published in the July 2011 issue of GIM International.