They are definitively different, to my opinion… or is it that I get older and fall into the same trap as my parents and their parents did before me: into the one of ignorance? With them, I refer to the youth, of course. No, the current generation is a definitively different one!

But what has the youth to do with design, you might ask: well, everything. Just like with design, the youth should occupy itself with what should or could be, and not with what has been.

The fact that the elderly try to suppress this, and therefore educate them to also focus on what has been (rules, order, behaviour and all that is related to this), is a result out of pure envy: because the youth, as with design, has the future!

Hence my experience from the last weeks, which confirmed to me that something is changing. As ever, we older people want to look back, and by means of this learn and teach, which often annoys the younger: they want to speed ahead, as quickly as possible, right into the future! And just like for my generation, the one from the cold war, also the current one is facing uncertain times ahead – so what’s new?

Well, obviously nothing with regard to the general outlook of younger generations and their struggle with the older ones, but very much so in what technological possibilities can do for them – and what that does to them.

Whoever is in front of students these days, is confronted with inpatient looking faces, not with clueless ones. They are not secretly passing-on notes on paper to each other, no, they twitter or chat online. Instead of paper and pen, they have a laptop on their table, by which they are constantly connecting to the world wide web and can, therefore, check, at any given moment, if that what the teacher says is valid, or not. Fortunately, they are that occupied with the twittering and chatting that they hardly have time left to thoroughly check-up…

Likewise, they do not own a car (not even the ‘borrowed’ one from mum): not because they act sustainably, but because they already are ‘on the road’, continuously connected with the world and friends through SMS, apps, twitter and so on.
When was the last time you saw a hitchhiking student? There you go.

I – just like my parents and the generation before them – used to take the car, take the bike or hitch-hike to go to town, in the hope to meet-up with somebody. You never knew for sure who to meet, and not being around meant not being connected.

On the digital highroad, you don’t need to hitch, because nobody is driving – they already are connected to each other!

For me, this shows the paradigm change we live in, and I wonder what this will mean for design. Especially for the one which deals with the physical world…

Lately, still puzzled, I was having a chat with another father, on the experiences we share with our sons. His conclusion was clear: “they can build a web-page for ya, but they cannot repair a tire on their frikkin bike!”

Is this how it’s meant to be, or do I now belong to the ‘old farts’ and complain just for the sake of it? Well, my observation is that things are really changing fundamentally – everything is turning digital.

But we do remain physical beings, living in a physical world, for which we need the appropriate design, also in future. Do we run the risk that the things surrounding us will no longer be improved by engaged, future-oriented designers, simply because they cannot comprehend the ‘physical’ anymore? Could it be that in 50 years from now, old folks will wander around with toolboxes to keep rusted and ran down hardware of our society up and running, simply because all others are ‘on-line’? This might be securing our pension, but it’s a real setback to all those, who are not satisfied with today’s ‘hardware’: much of what is physically around us today, has to be improved and needs a designer who can tackle this, also in future.

Will ‘generation digital’ be able to accomplish, or is it time to get seriously worried?

Or are my kids right – and I’m just getting old?!

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