Media commentators like to label each generation as it emerges on society's center stage. The current spotlight is on the Boomer Generation. Boomers rule...for now. Pity the poor generations that are following the Boomers. They get labels like Gen X, Gen Y, Next Gen. Hurricanes get better names. If you agree that generational names should reflect a dominate characteristic of a group, (think Greatest, Silent and Boomer) then the new players waiting in the wings might well be called the ADD Generation - and not because of biologically induced ADHD. This generation's name is about the other contributing factor, the media - meaning our consumer-driven media either reflects or actually fosters this ADHD Generation.
The biological explanation for ADHD (widely called ADD because we tend to prefer three-letter acronyms) is the inability of the brain's command center to sort through the multitude of inputs, images, and sounds that engulf us. A lot of folks can ignore the extraneous and focus on one thing. ADDers have difficulty 1) focusing on one thing, 2) tend to jump from one input to the next, and 3) often feel impatient and unfulfilled. Which is exactly what happens during the 7 hours and 12 minutes a day we Americans spend with our TVs turned on. Talk about focus. At a critical moment in a favorite TV show, the actors from the next show do a jolly jump-up on screen demanding attention while the viewer is texting one of her favorite-five on her multi-function cell phone, while simultaneously going through her mail. Or, the blabbing head on the news show shares screen time with EyeWitness-Action7-Live-News-Video-Crisis-Update-Storm-Watch in the upper right corner while a news crawl on the bottom warns of mad-goat disease in Tierra del Fuego, while the young viewer is talking on the phone. Focus? Where? OK, some would say it's this generation's ability to multitask. The 'some-say' being the ones doing the multitasking. While the Greatest, Silent or Boomers might say one person's multitasking is another's inability to concentrate on any one thing effectively.
So, what about the other ADD behaviors -- jumping from one thing to the next and impatience? By golly, that's what the TV remote clicker in your hand is for. If you've got cable, or satellite, you are not sitting through 6-8 minutes of an assaulting commercial break where the audio seems to be much louder than the show. You are impatiently clicking and jumping through the other 199 TV channels, while eating dinner and planning your next day's schedule.
If you ask network or programming chiefs if they are fostering this ADD Generation, they would probably fall back on their time-honored response: "No, we are only giving the consumer what they want." You think? That argument didn't wash for auto pioneer Henry Ford when he said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."
If communications theorist Marshall McLuhan was right and the "medium is the message," then we are what we watch. And what we watch is a significant contributor to the making of this ADD generation. What does that mean for future generations? Two possibilities. One, the Darwinian choice: succeeding generations develop survival-focus skills and learn to adapt to ever increasing fragmentation. Or, they don't and we evolve into a confused, impatient culture marching towards debilitating fragmentation and chaos. Ironically, this up-and-coming ADD Generation is brought to us, in great part, by the good folks of the Boomer Generation, who currently dominate ownership and execution of all media.