The Culture Code

There’s a book with that title I wish I had read after a year or so of living in the States.  The Culture Code found me in 2006, the year it was published and it was a veritable “aha” experience.  Clotaire Rapaille, cultural anthropologist and marketing expert (not without controversies), originally from France takes an advertising approach of distilling each experience, i.e. cultural differentiator into one word.  He gives the example of car advertisement in The Culture Code. 

What would the one word be that comes to mind when advertising cars to Americans?  It would be “freedom” – look at the truck commercials in particular – the car in the wild-wild west scaling some desert mountain, or roaming freely deserted down town streets:  it screams freedom to move around as you please.  How would you sell a car to Germans?  “Precision” – Germans want to know their car is of highest quality precision engineering possible.  No “over-engineered” Mercedes would ever come out of Detroit.

Rapaille takes this premise into all sorts of different directions from how British, American, French or German men see their women (or not).  How the French savor their wine and how American vernacular treats alcohol with words like “sloshed”, “drunk”, “plastered” and “hammered” and how indicative that is of Americans relationship to Alcohol, or should I say booze?   In short The Culture Code explains how we are raised in our cultures to behave in a certain way that makes us distinctly Japanese, or American, or Swiss.

But there is also a cross-generational Culture Code; as there is a socio-economic one. For now I would like to concentrate on the generational differences.  If we look at Millennials (generation Y) and the following generation, Digital Natives, or generation X, there is a paradigm shift in cultural behavior from Baby Boomers and generation X to those generations.

My generation (X) was born into a world without computers and cell phones, let alone a world wide web.  We were young enough to make a quick move to understand computers and the internet, but we are not native speakers.  Millennials and Digital Natives listen to my stories of standing at the public phone booth with rolls of quarters on shoot days to conduct my business as production coordinator with a look of bewilderment and “whatever”, making me feel VERY old (it’s still a great story – especially the guy who was running his “business” from the same phone booth, who nearly punched me in the face because I had hawked “his” phone for a week during the filming of a low-budget feature on his block.)

If I were to attempt to give today’s generations a one word label (and this from my Swiss-born and raised, but 25 year native of New York City point of view), it would be:

          “monochrome” for the silent generation (1925 – 1942, great depression and WW ll)
          “frugal” for baby boomers  (post war generation)
          “enabled” or better “liberated” for generation X – (1965 – early 1980ies)
          “entitled” or “co-creators” for generation Y, aka Millennials – (early 1980ies – 2000)
          “digital natives” for generation Z, aka Digital Natives (sic!) (early 2000 to today) 
Befittingly generation Y has also been called the “me” generation and as much as there is talk about the entitlement, the arrogance and the self-involvement of that generation there is also a strong current of young people who counter that sentiment and use the power of the digital connectedness to work in non-profit, to make a change in the world and to reach out and demand co-creation; from politics, to activism, to creativity and consumerism.  I think as the Millennials grow up and deal with baby diapers, mortgage payments and aging parents, they will hopefully emerge from their sense of entitlement to see the bigger picture.
This is to say: the people who will run this country, will run the companies and will make the decisions are now Millennials and soon Digital Natives.  We, the geezers, cannot afford not engage digitally – it’s just not an option.  If we do not want to get lost in translation we need to engage and fully so, no short cuts.  It’s no longer a griping of the loss of “proper language” and the demise of morals, it’s a whole entire new way of communicating, period.  And the sooner we latch on the better, because it’s going to keep moving exponentially. 
My mother’s good friend Elisabeth who’s in her early eighties, told me that her children told her if she wanted to know what was going on in her seven grandchildren’s lives to go on Facebook – and she did. Good for her. 
Where do you see the biggest challenges between the generations and the digital age?

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