The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

Let’s Talk Generations!


Any questions that define who someone is and what group he or she may belong to are essential questions.

It was only recently that one of my Physics students asked me about the difference between a physician (a doctor of medicine; word origin: 1175-1225) and a physicist (a scientist who specialises in physics; word origin: 1710-20).

Looking back at the history of physicians we discover that in the 18th century, for example, apothecaries (what we now call pharmacists; word origin: 1325-75) were recognised as GPs (general practitioners, today’s family doctors). The apothecaries were affiliated to a Society of Apothecaries and could ascend to higher positions such as, for example, Masters of the Society of Apothecaries, which granted them a respectable position at the royal court in 18th-century England.

Further back in history, the Anglo-Saxon guilds had a strong religious component; they were burial societies that paid for masses for the souls of deceased members as well as paying fines in cases of justified crime. The continental custom of guilds of merchants arrived after the Conquest, with incorporated societies of merchants in each town or city holding exclusive rights of doing business there. In many cases they became the governing body of a town (cf. Guildhall, which came to be the London city hall). Trade guilds arose  in the 14th century, as craftsmen united to protect their common interest.

The tradition of guilds, based on special knowledge and connections such as the disciple-apprentice relationship has grown less popular in today’s world, where anyone willing to learn may jump at the opportunity of getting a degree in a certain field of knowledge that was restricted to special circles and elites centuries ago.


You are probably familiar with abbreviations like   BC or AD. What about a newcomer like BG?

It stands for Before Google (1996).

As Tonya Trappe suggested in a workshop she held in Krakow a few days ago, people over 35 now are considerably younger, BG age considered (your BG age= your real age – 14 years). Leaving the joke aside, what do you see as the characteristics of your generation?

Before considering any answers to this question, let’s look at the definition of a generation, as given by Tammy Erickson in her article “Generational Differences between India and the U.S.

By definition, a generation is a group a people who, based on their age, share not only a chronological location in history but also the experiences that accompany it. These common experiences, in turn, prompt the formation of shared beliefs and behaviors. Of course, the commonalities are far from the whole story. Even those of you who grew up in the same country also had unique teen experiences, based on your family’s socioeconomic background, your parents’ philosophies, and a host of other factors. But the prominent events you share – particularly during formative teen years – are what give your generation its defining characteristics.

After defining the concept of generation, Tammy Erickson proceeds with a comparison between Indian and American generations. I would like you to consider her observations and add your own thoughts and comments on the generation we (myself and most of you currently contributing to the ELB) belong to, called Generation Y (also known as Generation Next or the Millenials).

Generation Y – Born from 1980 to 1995

Globally, Generation Ys‘ immersion in personal technology enabled this generation to experience many of the same events and, as a result, develop as the most globally similar generation yet. Acts of terrorism and school violence were among this generation’s most significant shared formative events. The random nature of terrorism – in which inexplicable things happen unexpectedly to anyone at any time – left many Y‘s with the view that it is logical to live life fully now. Around the world, this generation has a sense of immediacy that is often misinterpreted by older co-workers as impatience.

In the U.S., Y‘s teen years were marked by an unprecedented bull market and a strong pro-child culture. As a result, they are optimistic, goal-oriented, and very family-centric.

In India, the late 1990’s and 2000’s saw the development of a large middle-class and increased demand for and production of many consumer goods – in many ways, a situation reminiscent of the U.S. Traditionalists‘ experience with a rapidly expanding pie. The Indian economy grew under liberalization and reform policies, the country was stable and prosperous, and political power changed hands without incident. India became a prestigious educational powerhouse and respected source of IT talent. By 2008, 34 Indian companies were listed in Forbes Global 2000 ranking.

Y’s in India share the generation’s global sense of immediacy, coupled with the excitement of being part of the country’s first wave of broad economic opportunity. As a result, young employees in India tend to share the rapid tempo of U.S. Y’s ambitions, but with a greater emphasis on financial reward as a desired outcome. They have come of age in an exciting, dynamic country with significant economic opportunity. Most are entrepreneurial and business savvy, as well as technologically capable and connected. Their mental model is heavily influenced by India’s rich, complex democracy – they easily accept diversity of opinion – as well as by the Western heritage of laws and customs left from the old days of British rule, making them strongly suited for global interaction.

If you like to learn more about Tammy Erickson’s take on various generations, have a look at her two videos you can down-load from the “Leading Across the Ages” site. More articles by the author on career advice for Generation X (the people  in their 30s or 40s), on Gen Xers’ dissatisfaction at work and other topics now available online.

Wikipedia lists as the next generation the one referred to as Generation Z, Generation I, Digital Natives, Gen. Tech, or the internet generation.

People from this generation  were born between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s. The oldest members of this generation were born during the late-1990s, usually with the start year of 1997, and the youngest of the generation were born during a baby boomlet around the time of the 2008 Global financial crisis.

What is your opinion about Generation Y in Poland, today? What were its greatest influences and how will it influence the generation(s) to come? You may think about the influence of communism on the current Polish mentality in forms you remember from early childhood, your parents or other people, as well as in other forms you may experience today.

Do you believe you are part of a certain generation? Why? Why not? In either case, what do you think makes you (and others like you) different (if at all) from older generations?

Whatever your point of view is in the present, do you believe it might change as you grow “younger and wiser”?


Filed under: ■ Generations, ■ Harvard Business Review

38 Responses

  1. Alina Alens says:

    Some of you (like my student Paulina, who reads minimum 5 books at a time, studies both Biology and Geography at the Jagiellonian University & therefore has less time to visit the ELB 🙂 ) might say that you belong to a reading generation. Good for you! You could write some interesting comments on writing styles of old and your more contemporary preferences, authors, quotes, the list is endless.
    Here’s a visual incentive I just stumbled upon on Flickr.

    • Magdalena G. says:

      The reading generation – that’s right. We use the Internet so much, and the text is a major part of the Internet. So, the generation of the Internet = the reading generation.

  2. Agnieszka Kow. says:

    I’ve heard also the name “Generation Nothing“, because some older people think that we believe in nothing and we don’t obey any rules (the old, traditional ones).
    I suppose that our generation is just the first one which is truly free to make its own decisions. 🙂

    • Alina Alens says:

      What about “generation EVERYTHING“?
      Have you ever been told that you are focusing on multiple tasks at a time, that you are doing something while thinking about the next thing on your “to do” list, and in this you’re not really giving the thing you’re doing “its due” (your whole attention & consideration etc)?

      • Agnieszka Kow. says:

        May be… The world is so diverse now that we want to taste as much of it as we can. There is more to see, to feel, to experience, than there was for, example, 20 years ago, and time is running the same way it had been running then.

    • Imladris says:

      Well, if traditional rules means respect for opinions, recommendations, and rules dictated by older persons for young people, respect based on their age, I`m strongly opposite. I have very painful experience in this field. I`m still paying the price. Don`t understand me wrong. I think it is necessary to help older people, to free seat for them in tram or bus; also everyone earns respect for themselfs as individual, regardless of age. But I think that intelligence and knowledge essential for righteous decisions don`t depend on age. Quite the contrary – young people are more familiar with quick flow of information indispensible for correct jugements. There is wisdom stemmed from long life experience but it is not enough, even slightly. And it is often hideous mistake of older ones to extrapolate their own experience gained in old times and different conditions to modernity, especially when someone`s else`s life is involved. I measure old and young people with the same yardstick; they have to represent something more by themselfs than simple date in ID.

  3. Alina Alens says:

    The issue of “nothingness” is extremely interesting, which is why I’d like to get back to this topic (and open up a discussion about the “nothingness” in Astronomy – thanks to the insights I recently received from some students who study this subject).

    In terms of generations, it seems to me that “Generation Nothing” is somewhat depreciatory. As for rule obeying and decision making, our generation is neither the first nor the last to take a stand.

    Here’s a snippet of what Roy Sorensen wrote on “nothingness” for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    “Parmenides maintained that it is self-defeating to say that something does not exist. The linguistic rendering of this insight is the problem of negative existentials: ‘Atlantis does not exist’ is about Atlantis. A statement can be about something only if that something exists. No relation without relata! Therefore, ‘Atlantis does not exist’ cannot be true. Parmenides and his disciples elaborated conceptual difficulties with negation into an incredible metaphysical monolith.”

    … and the polemics continues…

  4. Alina Alens says:

    Another interesting issue would be:
    How do Y-s perceive authority?
    What do they consider authority in a certain domain?

  5. Matylda says:

    I think that young people want to be liberal democrats.The American philosopher John Rawls introduced two principles of justice.

    1.Each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme for all; and in this scheme the equal political liberties, and only those liberties, are to be guaranteed their fair value.
    2.Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: first, they are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and second, they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society.

    Rawls believed that parties would find his favored principles of justice to be especially attractive, winning out over varied alternatives, including utilitarian and libertarian accounts. His Theory of Justice gave basics for the American democracy.

    • Alina Alens says:

      Do these principles apply to Poland in a similar way they apply to the American young generation?
      Which brings me to another question about the differences &/or similarities between the American and the Polish Y-s.

  6. KasiaU2 says:

    I was born in 1988 when there was still communism in Poland, but I don’t think I’m different from the people who were born after the system. I feel like I’m part of the young Polish generation, that’s all. 🙂

    • Alina Alens says:

      I believe that many people from our generation share the same view you expressed. My question was: do you notice any differences between today’s young generation and, say, our parents’ generations? The communist system people experienced in Eastern Europe has left, there’s no question about that, certain “scars” or signs on the system we are part of today, on the way generations act, think and behave. I think any observations on the nature and variety of such “inheritance” are very valuable.
      (The influences of the past system may be easier to spot by someone who has not experienced communism at all, someone from Western Europe, for example. I’m interested in your thoughts as well, so give it a try!)

      • Imladris says:

        Some time ago I cogitated the differences between generations, between ours and our grand parents/ great grand parents. I read an old school book on geography edited in 1924. I was shocked. The book was dedicated to 11 year-olds, but the language and the approach suited students 7 years older. I remember that my own school book was incomparably more serious, even though it couldn’t rival with those used in the time of communism, when the level of education was very high.
        Another example is Ann of Green Gables. The heroine is approximately 12, but her thoughts and her naivety suits a 6 year old. I think that the modern information smog and the computers (I have been playing computer games for as long as I can remember) contribute to widening the horizons of today’s generation.

  7. KasiaU2 says:

    I heard that in communistic times there were no problems with finding a job in Poland – everybody had a job. Now we all know that the situation is not so good because even after studies it’s hard to get a job…

    • Alina Alens says:

      During communism (or communist times) it was also difficult to get into University. If you were interested in becoming an actor, then you knew from the start that in 2 or 3 or even more years you might get your lucky break and become a student.
      Entertainment, as a matter of fact, was greatly influenced by the “iron curtain,” to the extent that all books, all songs, all theatre shows had to praise the so-called “golden” regime. There wasn’t much (of) television, either.
      People in Eastern Europe also had a lot of other problems, restrictions, and difficulties that have generally been overcome nowadays, for better or worse.
      There are, however, remnants still lingering in the collective mentality, such as the desire to “stay the same,” “don’t be noticed” (which could have negative consequences), the desire to please authority (at work, at school or in public) to the extent of annihilating your true views, resistance to change or a distrust for anything out of the ordinary in people’s dress code, speech, ideas, and the list may continue…

    • Imladris says:

      Yeah, that`s what should be guaranteed for everyone because everyone has right for decent life.

  8. Matylda says:

    About the conception of John Rawls… It depends on our world views. For example, Communitarians don’t agree with Rawls. They claim that the values and beliefs are formed in the public space in which the debate takes place. However, I prefer the contractualism to the communitarianism.

    • as says:

      Let’s imagine, Matylda, that you had been born in America, let’s say in New York City.
      What would your life look like for you today?
      Any different than its current Polish version?

  9. Aga P. says:

    Our generation is the first generation in history that has common access to the Internet and mobile phones, and this makes such a big difference in comparison our parents’ generation that we cannot evaluate it. It is an enormous social change that affects every part of our life.
    Moreover, we live in capitalism and our parents lived in socialism. All these things make our generation a completely new ‘formation’ that can’t be compared to any generation that were before us (or before Google 😉 )

    • Rafał G. says:

      What is the difference between capitalism and socialism? The shops are full of products – that’s right. But is it really a good way of life, which means gathering money, money, money… What is money?

      • Krzysztof says:

        I don’t want to say whether this or that is good, but for me it’s obvious that there are always some advantages and disadvantages… I could name people who say: “It’s better now”, but also some who say: “It was better before capitalism”.

        I don’t think I am able to say anything more, because I was born in capitalism, and have never lived in socialism.

      • Imladris says:

        This poses a problem. We cannot say more because we were born in capitalism and don’t know the real picture of the old times. We don’t know how life looked like then. As for goods, I think everybody should have guaranteed job, accommodation, access to cheap food, pharmaceuticals and free medicine. Then everybody could be focused on being creative, self-developement, instead of fighting for survival with today’s modern weapon, money.

  10. Mariusz says:

    I think we can compare our generation with our parents’. The most significant difference is the way we relate at an interpersonal level. In the past people always used to meet each other when they wanted to talk. Today we have alternative methods like these mentioned above, so we don’t need to meet as frequently as before. But in general we still need to stay in contact with our friends and relatives. It is only the methods that became different.

    • as says:

      And how do the changes you mention affect the interpersonal relationships people establish in Poland today?

      Yes, these changes may make the young people today more confident, more open and maybe more communicative in the larger context of their social and professional lives compared to the youngsters of the earlier generation. But are Polish people open enough today?
      Different races (Chinese, Japanese, Black people, etc) are still stared at by most Polish people, young and old. Racism is sometimes manifest and the social prejudices seem to pervade in certain areas.

      Are the Polish youngsters today ready to embrace the global society when it reaches them in all its complex ethnical, national or racial variety?

      • Przemek says:

        You mentioned a few significant problems connected with fast technology development which are observed nowadays. Due to the fact that Polish borders were almost closed until 1989, there were not many people from abroad that lived in our country. This fact, at least in my opinion, causes problems with racism.
        However, the situation changes when one considers people young enough to be participants in the Internet era. I hope that those who know how to use it are taking advantage of its benefits and within a few years our society, on average, will become slightly more open-minded than it is at the moment.

      • Mariusz says:

        Generally speaking, these changes affect the interpersonal relationships in a positive way – contact is easier, quicker, you can keep in touch even with friends who live far away from you.

        I think you exaggerate the problem of racism a bit . The majority of Polish people (young or old) treat different races the same way they treat their compatriots. I agree that in some cases race persecution is present in Poland and in the world in general, but it is very rare today. At least I haven’t noticed such incidents.

        In my opinion Polish youngsters are ready to embrace the global society because we all realise that the variety of our cultures and customs is very interesting and worth discovering.

        I’m curious, have you been a witness of repression directed against different races in Poland?

    • as says:

      Unfortunately I witnessed it on many occasions…
      which leads me to believe that “a few years” (till this will change) is an optimistic prediction.
      Let’s see…

      • Imladris says:

        Oh, no! Something like that in a country that considers itself civilised? I am looking forward to the birth of an equitable global society; we can learn so much from each other; with less prominent barriers in our social interactions, it would be also easier to avoid society problems, of course with competent people in charge.

    • Krzysztof says:

      I could even try to compare, lets say, my ‘generation’ (from around ’87) with people who were born 10 years later. When I was in elementary school, only a few kids had a computer, there was no Internet at all. So if there was nothing special to do at home everyone was outside. I can remember going back from school, and then spending whole days outside with my friends playing football, other games, having fun without all these modern stuff.

      Yes, I’ve found it. Unfortunately it is in Polish, but you can think about those days:

  11. Łukasz G. says:

    I think that everyone in some way makes his own generation. I won’t say yes to generalisation. After all, it’s our decision what kind of men we’ll become.

    • Przemek says:

      I can clearly see your point, but on the other hand there exists a strong connection between the people born at a time and the technology created a few years after that. What I mean is the link between our grand-grandparents and the analog radio, between our parents and TV, between us and the Internet or the MP3 players. Of course I’m listening to the radio too, but I’m doing it via the Internet.
      To sum up, I would say that it’s up to us who we’ll become, but for sure we’re influenced quite a lot by the technology available in our times.

  12. Ada says:

    I start to think about the changes in defining our Generation. For instance, right now I think of children let’s say 10 years younger. I feel like they are different generation, because of the differences in the way they grow up and behave. But I guess this point of view can change with time.

  13. Iza B. says:

    I won’t talk about generations but want to say that I love this: “BG = Before Google” 🙂
    I totally agree that the Internet has changed our world, but it wouldn’t be such a powerful tool if we didn’t have this great browser! 🙂
    By the way, do you, all non-Physics students, know that the Internet was invented in one of the biggest Physics laboratories in the World, which is CERN in Geneva? Physicists wanted to share somehow data from experiments with the scientists all over the world… and they succeeded 😀

    • Krzysztof says:

      As a physicist I shouldn’t say this but… not exactly. What was invented at CERN is the www protocol, so the ‘thing’ which allows you to see this and other websites. It was in the beginning of 90s. The history of the Internet started at least 30 years earlier.

      Source: Krzysztof’s presentation 🙂 (not mine)

    • Imladris says:

      Well, I’m a Biology student and I know about the role of CERN in the creation of Internet, but there was also another information I came across: the connection between computers located very far from each other, the web that allowed the data exchange, was initiated by the US army in case of cataclysms and war. It was quickly picked up by universities and developed. It seems that the creation of the Internet was a complex, multi-staged process. It unfolded within many research facilities, so that various scientists finally contributed to the creation of the Internet.

  14. Ada says:

    It is all about Physics 😀

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