The Most Useless Generation

Tom Brokaw calls the folks who survived the Great Depression and went on to fight in Word War II “the Greatest Generation”. That’s fine – i’ll give them that. When they make movies based on the Greatest Generation, we get Saving Private Ryan. When they make movies based on my generation, we get Dude, Where’s My Car?

Dude, Where's My Car?

Once more into the breach, dear bro …

Following the Greatest Generation, we had the Baby Boomers, and then Generation X (which is lazy naming), followed by my people, Generation Y (which is even lazier). i have a feeling we’ll eventually take to renaming Generation Y “the Internet Generation” if we haven’t already.

Rare Sandwich Filling

Generational Technological Competence

It’s scienticious!

The interesting thing i’ve noticed about the Internet Generation is that it’s sandwiched between two generations of people who are completely crap at using technology and computers: the kids who are now 45-50, who went to high school in the 80’s, and their kids, who are currently in – or graduating from – college and University. The difference between the kids of the 80’s and their kids is that while the parents arguably didn’t need to know how to use computers effectively in the workplace while they were being hired, their kids absolutely do. But since the parents weren’t immersed in the Internet and computers, they raised their kids to be similarly disconnected. The result is a generation of kids who absolutely do need to know how to use computers and the Internet, but don’t. i dub them the Most Useless Generation.

Oh no you di'int

Oh yes i did …

Simple Pleasures

i can honestly say that one of the biggest thrills, one of the most memorable times in my life, was when i sat down at my friend’s computer while he launched mIRC, an Internet Relay Chat client. These were the early days of home Internet usage … the 14.4 dial-up days. My friend, a year older than me, had convinced his parents to get access because he wanted to use the Internet at home. Universities across Canada were providing Internet access to their students, right in their own dorm rooms.

Until then, the only real access high school students could get was on ONE machine in the school library, IF their school was progressive. And that computer was treated like a rare and precious angel fart – you had to book it in advance, and the whole time you used it, you’d have the head librarian breathing down your neck making sure you didn’t “hack NASA” or whatever.

War Games

Damn you and your far-fetched legacy, Broderick.

But here in my friend’s room, and in Universities across the country (it was one agonizingly long year until i’d get my chance), we had unfettered, gloriously unsupervised access to the Internet. The thrill – the unbridled thrill of chatting to complete strangers in a text-only chat channel was a magical moment i’ll honestly never forget as long as i live. i’m not being cynical here: it absolutely blew my mind.


All through grade school, only the nerdiest kids learned to use computers because it was a niche interest that effectively turned you into a social outcast. But in high school, with the advent of the Internatz, everyone learned how to use computers – often under their own initiative – because computers became that damned interesting.

Al Gore Internet

Flash forward to today, when i discover while teaching group of college students that they don’t know how zip a file and send it as an attachment in an email. This is email we’re talking about – the Internet’s killer app – and it was causing anxiety attacks in students enrolled in a computer art program.

This is the generation of kids who were horror-stricken that i’d been teaching Sunday School using Wikipedia as a research guide. Their teachers have long told them that Wikipedia is absolutely unreliable, and they’re not to use it. This is the generation that can’t Google worth a fat damn.


Your Google-Fu is weak. Now we fight. Heeya.

This is also the generation, incidentally, that doesn’t offer the courtesy of a phone call or an email when they don’t come into work. This comes from both personal experience and from anecdotal word-of-mouth, as i’ve heard that many employers are frustrated with The Most Useless Generation. Instead of giving notice, they just don’t show up. If they don’t want to do something because they don’t find it fun or interesting or engaging, they don’t do it. i once had an intern quit on me by phone call, with zero notice, and i suspect it’s because he wasn’t having any luck with the CSS task i’d given him. Based on all i’ve been hearing, i’m frankly surprised i received a phone call at all.

Let’s Get Out of Here

i’m not sure how to solve this problem, or even if we need to? Maybe we just have to put up with a generation of unemployable kids, until the next generation can put us back on track? Perhaps we can wage a special, separate World War III and draft everyone between the ages of 15 and 25 to fight it? But there’s a good chance they’ll find war either too difficult or too uninteresting, and will lay down their guns so they can butcher the English language in undecipherable text messages to each other.

Or maybe we should just build a spaceship to somewhere else? Everyone is freely invited to board it and get off this rock. We’ll send the invite by email.

39 thoughts on “The Most Useless Generation

  1. Mushyrulez

    Heh, I’d say the more useless generation is the one that’s far too Internet-connected, but doesn’t /do/ anything. The generation that texts useless texts, tweets useless tweets (stop looking at me), uses Facebook for useless purposes, watches funny videos on YouTube for half of their Internet time, spouts random memes, pretends to be knowledgable about the hidden ways of the Intranetz, and really does nothing.

    They’re much better than the people who don’t know how to use the Internet, but still do things like, I don’t know, get a job while doing something productive.

  2. Joseph Cassano

    The entire generation? Woooooooow. Generalize much?

    Due to the prevalence of computers now, it’s obvious that a lot of people who use them don’t really know about them (do most people who drive have any idea how the car works? Don’t ask me, I’m not a car nerd). I think you’re looking for computer nerds and not finding them. All I gotta say is search harder; the Internet’s chock-full of ’em if you know where to look.

    In terms of manners, there have always been jerks in the world, throughout time. This ain’t new.

  3. Iain

    You’re absolutely right of course. This generation were completely babied by their parents and sold a consumerist fantasy that their hardworking parents could afford but they probably never will. This is the Super Sweet 16 Generation. Tremble in fear!

  4. Max

    Randy is typing up a hideously long response. I’d just like to say you’re right, I support our future war veterans.

  5. Randy Orenstein

    I’m not too sure where I fit into this, as I’m just outside of the age bracket you’re talking about, but in school with most of it. Regardless of whether I’m shooting myself in the foot with this, I have to say I agree with you Ryan. There is an underlying and fundamental lack of respect for other people in a lot of what you are talking about, that I see all the time (and no doubt add to from time to time). Few people think outside of their own needs or wants, and a basic concept like giving notice because it helps the people you are leaving behind just doesn’t seem to penetrate. It seems reliability isn’t a factor in self-evaluation, and its doing no one any favors. Then again, I’m not at all sure that’s purely generational. I think there are lots of people who match these descriptions across the age spectrum.

  6. Michael Todd

    Life is a filter for this purpose. The ones who are underachievers won’t achieve, the ones who can’t .zip files won’t survive the interview process and the ones who can’t run fast enough will be eaten by tigers.

  7. Paolo

    At least we won’t have to worry about job security until our kids are grown. Mwahahahah~!

    But seriously…. Part of the problem is that most of these kids have been raised to be consumers and expect to be spoon-fed an education. They are visibly disturbed when you hand them their own spoon and can’t figure out how to feed themselves and learn.

    1. Cidolfas

      I’m in the older set of the “Useless Generation”. And Paolo is dead on with it. It’s not a matter of being good with technology – I’m working in tech support and I think that Ryan is vastly overrating his generation’s technical aptitude – it’s a lack of being taught the importance of calling in sick, because you’ve had your lives spoon fed to you so far. From what I can tell, kids have been pampered and infantalized by the ways adults have treated them (systemically, not specifically), and this is the result. But the general techincal aptitute – especially the removal of stigma while my generation were in middle/high school – causes a lot of people so treated to seek careers in the fields Ryan’s dealing without an underlying mastery of technology. That makes people with no technical skills come into contact into what had previously been closed areas, reserved for nerds.

      I also feel it depends a lot on what generation your parents came from. Raised by parents who were getting their PhDs in the early 80’s, I have a different outlook on life than my peers, whose parents would still have been in high school/early college.

    2. Ryan Henson Creighton

      SO well-said. i had one moment while teaching at Herve Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined, where i addressed the class and said something like “it’s really important for you to learn this stuff,” and a student piped up and said “well that’s YOUR job”. i said “What’s my job?” She said “to make us learn.”

      The expectation is that they go to school and the education is pumped automagically into their brains like in the Matrix. i actually have an entire blog entry called How to Be a Student that addresses this … maybe i’ll fire it up next week?

  8. Chris Harshman

    I am lucky to be just beyond the scope of what he is describing, I can zip a file and email it, I love wikipedia and edit alot of the World War Sections, no real facebook usage, no twitter account, youtube is only for knowledge building, funny videos waste time that I can spend on ryan’s new book and working on Dawn of Fantasy.

  9. Matthew Fabb

    Yeah, pretty big generalizations that I don’t see at all. I see & talk to quite a number of students at various user group meetings and I never got the impression that any particular generation was any worst than any other. Each generation seems to be filled with mix people who are smart and stupid. So yeah, I know plenty of students from that generation who know how to use Wikipedia, Google, CSS, program well and more.

    On top of user group meetings, I continue to go to the open house of Sheridan’s Interactive Multimedia program to see the latest graduates, since I graduated from that program way back in 2002 and I’ve always been interested in seeing how it’s changed & what students are now up to. Plus my where my wife work is often hiring people and so I help them out in that aspect. And I’ve never seen a generation who’s been worst than the previous, just generally a bunch of talented people.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      That program has a decent reputation. Is it worth checking out for new hires? Because the quality of Sheridan’s Illustration and Classical Animation students is going dramatically down.

      1. Matthew Fabb

        Yeah, the students from that program still seem to be quite good. When I took the program it was absolutely crazy how much they sqeezed into a 1 year post-grade program. Lots of sleeping on the floor of the lab and working around the clock towards the end of each term. It seems to be just as intense, producing some decent graduates.

        Also thinking back on your complaints about particular people about any particular generation, I think I could make those same arguements about our generation (since I think you’re around the same age as me) and the upcoming generation.

        My dad was a high-school computer teach, who has since retired. He was head of the computer department, which allowed him to only teach OAC’s & grade 12, or grade 11 & 12 after OAC was removed. He did this because he only want to teach to the students who really wanted to be there, rather than students who felt they needed the class for whatever reason. Anyone who took computer classes to that point was generally quite interested.

  10. Mushyrulez

    Hrmmm, another point I forgot to raise.

    What do you think geographical location has to do with this?

    From what I see, Western kids are generally more…. creative, I don’t know, but spoiled – they don’t work. Eastern kids work from dawn to dusk on homework, and when they get a job that doesn’t have to do with hammering out pages and pages of homework, they get stuck too.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      My experience is limited, but my gut tells me this: if you are Asian, you are taught work ethic … perhaps even to the oppositely extreme end of the spectrum. i watch movies like Spellbound and see how the Indian parents work their kids to the bone, and set these super-high expectations. i can’t comment on a creative deficit, except to say that anecdotally, i’ve heard many stories about outsourced Indian and Southeast Asian firms not “getting it” creatively … not sure whether that’s just a difference in pop culture consumption though.

  11. Otto Hottentot

    Really lame article.
    The fact you spend so much time writing such thing really tells a lot of things about yourself, and not only yourself I believe.

    I’m not at all surprised that you work in an University because while spending time there I va seen how people with phd and other researchers believe they are the most clever people in the world, and if you have not done your phs youre just a lame guy that never do any intellect work.

    It is not surprising too that you are not a great researcher, who has done excellent research, but a lightly below average one, so of course you need to increase importance of such criterion, as your work alone is not an indicator of your greatness.

    I would say too that it doesnt take a very open mind to understand that overgeneralizations and prejudices are always false. But this open mindeness you have not, like a lot if Academia. IMO, pathetic.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      1. i don’t work in a University
      2. i don’t have a phD … in fact, i dropped out of my first year to take a job as a game developer
      3. Is English your first language?

  12. Luis Henrique

    Don’t you think you are generalizating way too much?
    I’m 18 years old (19 in a few days) and I know how to zip files and send them attached to emails. I also know how to use a search engine pretty well, and I’m not the type that don’t show up on meetings or don’t give notice. Also, I’m no nerd.

    Then again, I don’t live in North America, so I don’t know how much my across the ocean generation bros are spoiled.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      i’m definitely generalizing, but not ‘way too much’, i don’t think. Where are you, Luis? In the UK? Australia?

      1. Luis Henrique

        Brazil. It’s a country in a very different situation, I know, but since computers here are also an integral component of study and work (and since we consume pretty much everything that’s popular out there), I read the article as you were refering us, too. And frankly, I do think it applies to some people – just not the whole generation.

        1. Ryan Henson Creighton

          Ok! So tell me something about Brazil … when i check analytics, all the Westernized English-speaking countries light up – Canada, USA, UK, and Australia. And you know who’s next in line? Brazil, always. What’s up with that? Does Brazil have some crazy infrastructure, or … ? What’s going on down there?

          1. Gabriel R

            Apart from having a population of about 190 million Brazil also has a significant middle class that has eagerly taken to the internet and happen to also be very willing early adopters of new trends, especially social services such as Twitter, Facebook and Orkut (which has an interesting history you can check out at wikipedia).

            From what I gather Brazil’s middle-class has been around for a bit longer and is more robust then those of other developing countries like India and China which are still in the process of building theirs, hence a better access to computers and internet connections. I’ve read a report a while back that Brazilians internet users also spent more time online per person, losing only to the Americans.

            I don’t think the article directly applies to Brazil as the country’s history and development has created different generational identities, ones that of course also bring their own unique set of problems. ;)

          2. Ryan Henson Creighton

            Thanks for the infoz! (i thought South Korea had everyone beat for time spent online per-person?)

          3. Luis Henrique

            You know, I don’t have the answer for that. There’s no infrastructure. Our public schools are horrible, and a lot of us are poor. Still, you will find brazilians in every little inch of the internet.
            I came here because of Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure (cute game btw, your daughter is lucky to have such parents), but I don’t know about the others. Probably most because of the same thing? I guess the fact that we are numerous and the fact that we consume a lot of American culture has something to do with it. We learn a bit of english, we are curious, we are numerous, so we show up on analytics.

          4. Gabriel R

            I believe my data might have been kind of old. According to comScore Brazil is currently at 6th in the world on “Average Time Spent Online” while Canada seems to have taken the #1 spot from the US. South Korea is currently in 4th place with 27.7 hours/month.

          5. Ryan Henson Creighton

            If i’m any indication, those stats are accurate. In fact, i’m spending time online right now.

  13. norker

    all the kids who really know this shit? they’re not in your class, dude. THEY CAN USE THE COMMAND LINE. >:)

      1. Gabe

        Then get out of your majority.

        There are plenty of students in that age range who are very professional. Who can zip a file and send it. Who can use the command line. Who can program and/or animate amazingly well.

        Your problem is that you seem to be looking in the wrong places. You will have a hard time finding them in game design programs in colleges, for reasons you yourself pointed out. ( ) You’ll also have a hard time finding them through unpaid internships. Most of the better students have many, many options for paid internships, and while it’s an amazing opportunity to work for a videogame developer (I know plenty that would jump at the offer), in the end University is expensive and pragmatism wins out over idealism.

        I’ll say it again. If you’re finding that the students you’ve been seeing are crap, look elsewhere. Go looking in the universities. Sign up with the U of T’s eSIP or PEY programs (from what I hear you get a nice tax break), or other similar programs. Hold an information session or a talk at schools so you can speak one-on-one to the more enthusiastic students first-hand and personally gauge who it is that’s *really* interested (I know you’ve done some already, but keep doing them). Push outward and broaden your horizons.

        1. Ryan Henson Creighton

          i don’t see it as a college/University divide. i interviewed a University comp sci graduate who looked at our 2D game and said “so because the character walks behind the table, that’s 3D, right?” And i said “mmmno … ” and he said “Oh, right…. in order for it to be 3D, the character would have to get smaller the farther back he walked.” Um …

          i set up a meeting with another University grad – this one was a software engineer or a comp sci student or somesuch – and he was 45 minutes late, with no phone call or email or anything. He apologized – said he wasn’t really watching the time.

          This is not a few isolated cases: this is an epidemic of lethargy – a marked influx of dull, disrespectful navel-gazers.

          Now, no need to get offended … if YOU are that age, and YOU don’t fit the description, just be happy that your mama taught you right, and realize that you’re going to stand head and shoulders above your peers. But you’re also going to carry your peers with your taxes, because most of them will be too dull to feed and take care of themselves.

  14. Christina Beard

    Interesting article, I will reiterate what others have said in that I think you’re overgeneralizing, but you know that. One thing I will say is that there is definitely a prevasive entitlement culture that persists in my generation. I am 25 and a game developer as well. I noticed it when I went to college, people expect to just be fed money or a job without really working to better themselves, do something for free, network or learn something on there own, it was something one of my teachers confined in me as well and something that worried him. It definitely wasn’t everyone, but there were a lot of people like that.

    I do wonder now though if the recession we’re in is changing that for a lot of college aged kids. I sure hope so. There is a study I read a while ago that talked about how our kids in the USA excelled in one category above all others, and that was in confidence, not science, not reading, writing or arithmetic, but confidence. I think that shows the pervasiveness of feeling entitled, but not working for it right there.

    I would also mention that I know as a kid I was fed the dream that I will go on to a wonderful job and house and life if I work hard enough, and the recession has really flushed that idea down the drain, hard. I graduated right as the downturn happened and I know a lot of people who have had a similarly hard time finding jobs, many taking a year or more after graduating to even be able to work as a barista or waitress.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      i remember the study you’re talking to.

      Obviously, the article generalizes. i’ve talked to a lot of people who have called me out on that, saying i’m “over-generalizing”. i agree that i’m generalizing, but disagree that i’m over-generalizing. This generation is too far removed from hardship – from wars like WWII, from hardship like the Great Depression, and from struggle like the early 20th century immigration boom in North America, to understand that prosperity comes at the cost of hard work and sacrifice.

      i’m amazed i forgot to talk about entitlement in the article … in every conversation i’ve had about it since its publication, the word has come up.

      Interesting perspective on the recession. But then again, do i detect a vague hint of entitlement in your expectation that graduates should be able to find jobs in their chosen industry right out of school? i was adrift for two years out of college before eventually resigning myself to University enrollment to up my chances of employment. i spent a year there before coming across an unbelievable (and, believe, God-driven) opportunity, but so many people i speak to aren’t nearly as blessed.

  15. Andy

    See, I’m shocked by your experiences. I’m 24, and I can honestly say that I have never met someone my age who didn’t know how to use the internet. I would also be completely appalled at the idea of just not going into work and not calling in sick.

    I will say that we seem to be lazier than other generations. I know a lot of people around my age who don’t think to call in if they’re -late- to work, and who are late to work practically every day.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      i’m not just talking about people not calling in when they’re staying home sick … i’m talking about people not calling in when they decide they don’t want to work there any more. They’re just no-shows.

      There’s a difference between people who know how to use the Internet (ie web surf), and people who know how to use the Internet (do proper and thorough research, send and receive email, use attachements … even knowing how to use boolean search queries, how to tell the difference between sponsored content and “real” content … that type of thing).

      There’s also a real lack of understanding about computer use. So many young people don’t know how to navigate a file structure. Many of my students at Herve Velasquez had trouble saving files. i’d say “remember to save your file to your user folder, or to a memory stick … these machines are wiped every night at midnight”. Without fail, the next class, someone would complain about missing files. “Where did you save your files?” “i dunno … on the computer!”

      i was shocked … SHOCKED … that in the first Flash class i taught, which was a second semester class, after the students had received 4 months of Flash training already (in addition to 3D Studio Max and various other programs), the students spent a whole class coming to grips with the idea that you had to SAVE a class file before you could compile your game and see the results. “Sir, it didn’t work.” “Did you save your file?” “Yeah.” Then i’d walk over to the computer, and the little “YOU HAVE UNSAVED CHANGES” asterisk was lit up, and i’d say “no you didn’t.” The first two times it happened, i was surprised, so i explained the concept to the entire (second semester) class. When it kept happening throughout the whole 3-hour class, and continued to happen in subsequent classes, i knew something must be wrong with these kids.

      The Offspring were right: the kids aren’t alright.

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  18. Aveles

    i bet unless you’re plugged into something you’re as useless as an infant. That’s the problem with your generation. You can point and click on things and suddenly you’re a genius. Well you’re not. I build computers for a hobby and install operating systems on them and do whatever I want with them and have been playing with them since the early 80’s. I had an Apple IIgs and ran my own BBS. The only people that used computers back then have forgotten more about computers then you will ever learn. Myself included, so don’t go acting as if you’re real-world superhuman because you’re working on the next version of candy crush. Social media is a joke, and so are all of you gen y fuck-yards who can’t even change a tire. I’ve no idea why you’re so arrogant. You sound like a self important twit. Try doing something real that doesn’t exist on a screen some time…. and actually be productive in the real world, where currently your accomplishments most likely wouldn’t fill a thimble.


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