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 / Spring 2011 / Issue 62(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Rise of Generation C

This is the first generation that has never known any reality other than that defined and enabled by the Internet, mobile devices, and social networking. They have owned various handheld devices all their lives, so they are intimately familiar with them and use them for as much as six hours a day. They all have mobile phones, yet they prefer sending text messages to talking with people. More than 95 percent of them have computers, and more than half use instant messaging to communicate, have Facebook pages, and watch videos on YouTube. Their familiarity with technology; reliance on mobile communications; and desire to remain in contact with large networks of family members, friends, business contacts, and people with common interests will transform how we work and how we consume.

We expect that, in keeping with expectations for long-term economic development, the world that Generation C will make theirs in 2020 will be a better place, with a brighter future for a much larger proportion of the population in both the developed and the developing world. Following the lull that has taken place during the recent, persistent, worldwide recession, there is reason to believe the world will revert to the economic mean of steady growth, with globalization picking up speed again.

As populations in Western countries age, powerful new consumer segments will be created, including a relatively wealthy retirement segment and a rising young middle class. The pace of innovation will accelerate, creating an ever more digital world, even as wireless devices become the dominant tool for trade, entrepreneurship, and Internet access. Indeed, the very rise of Generation C will help create a virtuous circle that will help stimulate economic growth, which in turn will encourage both the public and private sectors to continue to invest in faster and more widespread communications infrastructure, thus enabling even greater growth.

Although climate change and energy security will remain major concerns, stable electric power will likely be available to a substantially larger part of society, and energy inefficiency will no longer represent a hurdle to progress. High-speed broadband, whether fixed or mobile, will be pervasive and affordable. Secure online identity systems will allow reliable user authentication. It is likely that increasingly rational regulatory schemes will open up commercial activity worldwide, and that companies and individuals will be able to profit fairly from the intellectual property they generate.

Connected Consumers

The trends outlined above will have a wide range of effects on how members of Generation C — and, by extension, other generations as well — use communications technology, how they access and consume information and entertainment, and how they interact. These effects will be determined in part by the progress of technologies over the course of the next decade.

On the grid 24/7. Being connected around the clock will be the norm in 2020 — indeed, it will be a prerequisite for participation in society. Currently, there are 4.6 billion mobile users (67 percent of the world population) and 1.7 billion Internet users globally. By 2020, the number of people using mobile phones will reach 6 billion (nearly 80 percent of the world population) and 4.7 billion people will access the Internet, primarily through their mobile devices. Among younger Europeans, 52 percent already say they feel disconnected from the world if they don’t have their mobile phones with them, and 91 percent of all mobile users keep their phones within arm’s reach, waking or sleeping.

The Internet’s power will develop not just through its online economic might, but also offline, as a result of its cultural and political influence. At the same time, personal and business activities will mingle seamlessly, as the day fragments into a flexible mix of personal and business activities — work, commuting, shopping, socializing, and entertainment. The inevitable corollary: As “off-grid” time becomes rarer, it will become more valued.

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  1. Roman Friedrich, Michael Peterson, Alex Koster, and Sebastian Blum, “The Rise of Generation C” (PDF), Booz & Company white paper, March 2010: The paper from which this article was adapted.
  2. Michael Peterson, Volkmar Koch, Florian Gröne, and Kiet Vo, “Online Customer, Digital Marketing: The CIO–CMO Connection” (PDF), Booz & Company white paper, August 2009: Why information and marketing officers must work together to develop a marketing architecture for an increasingly digital and connected future.
  3. Daniel W. Rasmus, “Keeping Up with Workforce 2020,” s+b, 2/24/2009: How organizations can adopt and internalize the technology and skills needed to thrive in an increasingly virtual and flexible work environment.
  4. Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (Penguin Press, 2010): How the Internet and its tools will change leisure time, society, and the process of innovation.
  5. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:
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