Four 19-year-old girls sit in a sub shop in Boston talking about music.
“I thought Hall and Oates were black when I first heard them,” says Nikkina Hankins to her friends, “and I thought Chuck Berry was white.”
Hankins and her friends share their opinions on their favorite acts, which effortlessly run the gamut from contemporary artists to delta blues and swing musicians from the 1930s.
They are part of an age group that could be renamed from Generation Y to the Information Generation. Technology and accessibility of information have cultivated an eagerness within young adults to learn more about the music that came before them and an appreciation for their elders that may even bridge the generation gap.
“I definitely feel like I’m more self-aware that I want to expand my knowledge of everything and culture myself,” says Hankins’ friend Layne Wineland. “I think of it being back then and just try to educate myself.”
But the Information Generation is only a part of this perfect storm that is washing away barriers between age groups.
“I think the generation gap, as it was called in the ‘60s, has gradually eroded, and a lot of it has to do with the Baby Boomer generation itself and its reluctance to get older and its need to be as cool as their kids,” says Adam Hanft, who considers himself a decoder of consumer culture, and has written a book called “The Dictionary of the Future.” Incidentally Hanft’s word for older people are using technology to stay young is “bo-tech.”
And while the Information Generation takes an interest in understanding the Boomers and beyond, the elders are also able to see what the kids are doing.
“Now, grandparents are updating their Facebook statuses just as often as their teen and tween grandkids,” says Ashley Dos Santos, a self-professed tween social marketing expert and an account supervisor for Crosby-Volmer International Communications. “When a new slang term or pop sensation hits the market, formerly out-of-touch parents no longer have to wait for their children to clue them in. One quick YouTube search for ‘Justin Bieber’ will have them singing along with their kids to the same hit songs during afternoon carpool.”
And once those kids aren’t embarrassed about their parent of grandparent singing along, that is when the generation gap is finally gone for good (or bad).
‘All You Need is Love’ (and free wi-fi)
Somebody who doesn’t need bo-tech to stay young is 92-year-old Sid Bernstein, who has his own ideas of what is bridging the generation gap.
“The Beatles have filled the gap,” he says. “They came at the right time, and they’re still here.”
We should probably point out that Bernstein might be a little biased in that he is the first person to have ever brought the Beatles to the U.S., and he has just recently written the forward to Judith Furedi’s new book on John Lennon. But Bernstein has a point. Not only has the Fab Four’s Rock Band game become a bestseller since its release last June, but figures released by Nielsen SoundScan — the company which compiles the Billboard charts — last month found that the band sold more than 11 million copies of their compilation “1,” since its release in November of 2000, making it the biggest seller of the decade.
“I see lately very young people singing the songs,” says Bernstein. “It hasn’t stopped and it never will. They just have a language that goes beyond borders. It’s universal.”
‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ (for information)
Are these generation gap-bridging technological advancements all positive? Duran Duran bassist John Taylor delivered a speech at a UCLA celebration of the 40th anniversary of the first message sent over the Internet in October. In his talk, he pondered a few of the negative effects of this progress, such as the demand on artists to Tweet every spare thought, and how the thrill of the chase has disappeared for music lovers, because they can find whatever they’re looking for in a few clicks.
“Anybody that has half a clue about how to surf the Net has access to their own reference library in a way that we didn’t,” says Taylor.
Lest it sounds like he’s a bitter old man, Taylor also credits the Boomers that popularized the theory of a generation gap in the first place, as being a key component to bridging it.
“Well, there was a much bigger gap, certainly between me and the kind of music that my parents were listening to, which was sort light classical, I suppose you could say with the odd sort of Perry Como or kind of crooner thrown in,” he says. “Kids that are 18 today, they’ve got parents who were into Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and the Clash or whatever, so it’s a little bit harder to say, ‘Oh God, your music’s so uncool, Dad.’ And I think actually that generation of dads take a great pride in the music of their generation.”