This past weekend was Father’s Day and outside of my hometown bringing back an NBA Championship (Go Cavs!) capping the day, I got to hang out with my son above and beyond the normal weekly rush of household chores and repairs, grocery shopping and the usual noise of life. He is twelve going on eighty sometimes in how he thinks about things and I am always amazed at his attitude about the world and how we should take care of it.
One of the things we did this past weekend was tending to a peach tree in our yard which, due to an annoying leaf curl fungus, unfortunately required us to pick all the peaches off the tree while they were still very small to allow the tree the energy to fight the fungus along with a heavy spray of fungicide. He was concerned about the fungicide poisoning the tree and other plant life surrounding it and killing it in addition to running into the storm sewers to Lake Erie and wanted to know why we had to use it. I have tried for the last several years to get rid of the fungus every natural way I could, I explained, and this was a last resort or else we would lose a beautiful peach tree that has been very good to us with its bounty for the last 10 years.
Now this conversation was not what really took me by surprise — it was his comment after that stopped me in my tracks. He wanted to know what I would do with the tree if it died. I said probably cut it up for firewood. He asked why I couldn’t just turn it into something else so we could still keep it around. He reminded me I have a garage full of tools and like to build things. That way it would always be with us or we could make it into something useful for other people and share it.
This got me thinking about his generation – he is a Millennial. This generation’s mindset is different as it relates to consumption, technology and the special things in life. For example, my son and many kids his age we know don’t seek out possessions in the same way we did as kids in the ’70s and ’80s. There seems to be less interest in owning stuff and the stuff they do own has an indifferent attachment to it. They also tend to own a lot more “virtual” stuff through video games, music and movies and connections. They also get rid of this stuff in a very different manner than my generation in that they are more likely to repurpose, share or donate rather than dispose or sell items.
Some retailers and manufacturers are getting this and adapting to how they manage the product’s lifecycle after it leaves their hands. Take cell phones and the accessories used with them as an example. Where my generation may have a particular emotional connection and desire for a brand’s stuff from the initial point of purchase, Millennials will shift quickly to the next brand if the product works and meets their criteria of longevity, adaptability and reusability. This is outside of brand-specific technology (sorry, Apple) as they are less likely to care who makes it if it serves their needs. Additionally, if they have a product that does die on them, they are more apt to recycle it rather than simply toss it in the trash. This recovery of raw materials back into future products can knowingly or subconsciously provide them with the emotional attachment that their actions will let their things live on and the planet will be better off. Manufacturers that make these materials easier to recover strengthen that connection and build brand loyalty in a different way than the relationship of manufacturer/consumer immediate and primary transfer of goods where the manufacturer than steps of the lifecycle of that good.
Virtualization is another avenue in which there seems to be more of a tendency to migrate with this generation. Just as I have boxes of cassette tapes from my youth in the ’80s (yes I still have a working player), my son’s generation is more likely to purchase their music online through iTunes, Amazon or another cloud-based venue than to run out to the music store and buy that CD (or vinyl if you’re a hipster). They are more likely to watch movies, YouTube and other online content rather than pop in a Blu-ray. I honestly can’t remember the last time we used our Blu-ray player other than for the web access to Amazon Prime Videos.
So as a technology designer, this strikes my fancy as I now have to be clued into how the Millennials are consuming and sharing information and pairing that with technology they feel good about and connected to on their terms. Since this demographic is soon to become the largest block of the workforce (75 percent by 2020, by some estimates) we need to pay attention to their needs of total lifecycle attachment to stuff in a different way than we have in the past. And of course since this model tends towards a greener path with technology, Millennials are also more on-board as statistically this generation has the highest and strongest attitudes towards conservation and sustainability.
If my peach tree ever does die, maybe my son and I will turn it into some accessory related to technology and give them out to our friends.