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Haroon Sheikh is a senior scientist at The Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR). I consider him to be a bit like the Dutch version of the famous historian and writer Yuval Noah Harari (Homo Sapiens). Some time ago I attended a presentation by him. It was about the origins of generational differences that we have identified in our society, such as generation X, Y or Z. He said that each generation has had specific ‘formative experiences.’ Which have all had a strong collective influence on their norms and values. Human intellect increases very rapidly, especially between the seventh and eleventh year of life. The things we learn or experience then become firmly anchored in what we think and do during the rest of our lives. An event of global significance can, therefore, be formative for an entire generation.

I myself come from the millennial generation. The generation that grew up with the 9-11 attacks, school shootings, and TV talk shows like Jerry Springer. Haroon encapsulated our interpretation of the world as: “The world is broken and we need to fix it.” As a consequence, we are intrinsically driven to leave the world a better place than we found it. By teaching our own parents how to behave in a good and sustainable way, among other things. This is a totally different view from the one that prevailed around children when our parents were growing up. Cartoon series from those days (like Dennis the Menace) depict children as disobedient. Just busy with getting up to mischief. Children were seen as difficult. It was up to the parents to teach them responsibility and raise them to become sensible adults.

Generation X

Our parents, Generation X, grew up with images of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the introduction of the first personal computers. Independence became an overriding generational theme. “Do it your way” and “fuck the rules” were common slogans. There was a great distrust towards institutions and the government.

Personally, my generation sometimes feels a bit like the FOMO generation. Fear of missing out. The fear of missing out on life. Your studies are a key means to get ahead. But your Instagram feed or Facebook profile sometimes seem to be even more important indicators of a successful life. We tend to try to outdo each other on these online outlets. By showing off all the fun, beautiful and entertaining photos of all manner of faraway travels, cool concerts and festivals, healthy meals, and running or fitness sessions. We are constantly working on improving ourselves on every level. Most millennials often have their agenda overloaded months in advance. Not so surprising that we are also referred to as the burn-out generation. Could the corona crisis indirectly prevent a lot of burn-outs now that we have been forced to slow down

Never going back?

Compulsory unwinding is also one of the unexpected, positive social advantages of electric cars. You don’t drive as fast. You plan your trips more efficiently. No fines, no hurry, or frustrations in traffic. You usually arrive on time and feel more relaxed. These were some of the things evident in a test carried out by Royal Haskoning (an independent engineering consultancy firm, ed.). Thanks to the autopilot function of electric cars, you can safely read a book or your email when you are stuck in traffic. Traffic congestion is not solved physically, but psychologically. Most people who started driving an electric car (even though it was initially for tax reasons) consequently never want to go back to a gasoline car.

The corona crisis will undoubtedly be a formative experience for the current generation between the ages of 7 and 11. Yet what lesson will the older generations have learned? Are we really going to do things differently soon? Or are we going to slip back into our bad habits just as quickly? And just wait until the next generation takes over the helm?

About this column

In a weekly column, alternately written by Hans Helsloot, Eveline van Zeeland, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous episodes.

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