Here they are, The Exponentials, the generation once weakly called 'Z', the ones behind the millennials. For the Exponentials technology is not interesting in and of itself. They grew up in an Aether of internet with phones faster than supercomputers of old. Starting in the 90s we began to separate. Each year of being alive in the Exponential generation looks different from the last in enough profound socio-technical ways that lumping them is impossible. When my 10 year old next door neighbor came over with a robot that balances on its own that you drive with a phone and asked me (27) and my brother (23) if we ‘had this when we were kids’ we could only laugh and explain that when we were kids computers weighed 15 pounds and gyroscopes cost thousands of dollars. He didn’t really understand.
Exponential technological change has created a segmentation of experience between generations that takes years to change, not decades; and it’s getting faster.
Let’s quickly compare a 6 year old’s general technological landscape since 1990:
A child born in 1990 (me) used a computer plugged into the wall that was a heavy box when they were 6 years old and a very text-heavy internet at 56k dialup. A child born in 1995 could have had broadband internet allowing them to upload and download rich media. A child born in 2000 could have had wireless internet and a laptop to work with and a few more videos with some social media blossoming up. A child born in 2005 had wireless internet by default with multiple communication and networking channels all in rich media. A child born in 2010 can potentially access virtual reality and definitely has omnipresent smartphone access with infinite communication channels, 3D printing access, and even access to entirely new kinds of money. A child born in 2015 will have mixed reality headsets and holographics, intelligent inferential computing, potentially even 4D reactive printing materials, quantum computing access, ‘action voxels’ such as synthetic biology and swarm robotics, their real-world becoming programmatic.
This is why the only generational definition that matters is Exponential. Each ‘childhood’ experience is now defined by vast leaps in technological capability. Each specific experience looks different in what tools and toys are around. Yet each childhood experience is unified by a dark thread: the unaddressed trauma and cost of the weight of human action on the world.
The Exponentials are here, they swim in the Internet and they think with each other in rich hypermedia as their default way of being. There is no lost dream for them, no economy that should be working better, only the tools to build a better one. They care about the real, deep issues and they have little luxury for distractions on rat races and exploitation. They can’t be told to stop because they have too many resources for moving forward. They don’t just appear on talk shows, they make them daily for fun. For them technology is used in context, yet not marveled at as its own achievement. Only the actions matter. There is no other option than deep social reform.
The teens of Parkland are our signal. The Exponentials have arrived. These brave humans are riding the ripples of convergent technological ability to fix real and very old issues. We waited for super heros when they are already among us. The Exponentials are already working, picking up on the threads left behind by the previous generations. The Exponentials have no distinctions between what is allowed and what should be done. They care not for titles and honors, only for the safety of their friends and loved ones. You cannot convince them that the world is ‘ok’ and they should just wait it out because they know better, in their hearts and minds. They cannot and will not stop until the world has been cleaned up. They are articulate, able to query global expertise at the tap of some fingers, and soon with merely looking and thinking into EEG readers on their headsets.
Each year the technological tools at their disposal will only get exponentially more powerful. Their networks will only get exponentially more interconnected. The movement is here. The Exponentials have arrived.
It is all other generations’ duty to help them and invite them into the meetings. They’ll find their way eventually, so let’s network with them now. Millennials, drop your cynicism, let go of your shields. Forget the faded vision of capitalism past. Join your brothers and sisters of the Exponentials to create a golden chain into the new future. One where we do not hide from trauma, nor wallow in it, rather network with each other to transform trauma into action. A world where we know only two things: problems are inevitable, and problems are solvable, together.
The real exponential change of our time is in the people ourselves: we have the means to communicate with light and radio. There is no more need to stay in the shadows. Rise up and find the others. Rise up and we are uplifting the world.
The jewel of our age, the ones who swim in cyberspace as fish, unaware of the novelty of their medium, these are the ones who will connect the dots. The Exponentials are here. Let’s get to work brothers and sisters, the next phase has begun.