Several months ago, I received a call from a leader who wanted to invite me to speak to his organization. He said he has sent me several emails with no response, which caused me a bit of a panic. I am notoriously aware of my email. I don’t always remember to respond to everything, but I definitely pay attention to what is coming in, and I hadn’t seen anything from him. So off I went to explore my spam folder, and there it was. It went to spam:
Okay, his name was not LeaderX, but you get the point. He had an AOL.com email address, and my email filter determined that obviously meant it must be spam. (Fun fact: AoL merged with Yahoo in 2019 to become Verizon Media, and then the whole thing became Yahoo again. But you can still log on to aol.com to check your email). I had not met this leader in person, but based on the email address, I took an educated guess that he was in his 60s or 70s. When we did finally meet in person for the company visit, my guess was confirmed.
You’ve Got Mail!
Was my presumption somehow an age-based stereotype? (When you’ve written a book on championing generational diversity, you really must be tough on yourself about whether you are inadvertently carrying around age-based biases. To do so would most definitely NOT be Gentelligent).
The thing is, it’s not a stereotype, it’s a hallmark of sorts for a particular generation. Many in their 60s and 70s first set up their personal email addresses during a time in history when AoL was THE game in town:
If it wasn’t for AoL and a man named Elwood Edwards, it’s possible none of us would even have email today. Edwards is the famous voice behind that legendary phrase “You’ve Got Mail!”
And if those individuals in their 60s and 70s weren’t required or encouraged to move their email address to another browser, many in that age group may have seen no reason to do so. As we get older, research shows we tend to prefer using what is known as crystallized intelligence: we use what we know works, and we are less interested in seeking out or trying the newest tools or tech just because they are there.
This should not be confused with not being able to learn new tools or technology. THAT is a stereotype, and an incorrect one: research shows older people are just as able to learn new tech, they just may be less interested than younger people are in doing so. Younger people have been shown to be more apt to use fluid intelligence, which makes them more likely to embrace new trends and ideas.
Back to my spam folder and that AoL address. I began to conduct some non-scientific, anecdotal research: the few other AoL addresses I was able to verify in my contacts belonged to those in that 58-76-year-old Baby Boomer age group (full disclosure, these were dads of friends and relatives of mine). Hundreds of thousands of Baby Boomers have chosen to move on to more updated options, but the remaining AoL addresses out there do likely belong to the Baby Boomer generation, happy enough with what AoL provides them and seeing no need for an update.
Here We Are Now…Entertain Us.
Lest we leave out Gen X (and I never do), we can find a similar pattern in the hallowed halls of Yahoo and Hotmail. We’re talking about My Generation (hat tip to The Who), and I had a LOT more data on this one. Without exception, every remaining hotmail.com and yahoo.com address in my inbox belongs to someone 43-57 years old.
This is because we got our first email accounts when Microsoft (who owns Hotmail) was all the rage, and Yahoo was the browser of choice. Many Gen Xers have held onto those personal accounts even as their work emails have evolved to company domains or Gmail. They work well enough, and at our age, who wants to try to remember everyone who might need to be given your new email address? That’s a solid 25-30 years’ worth of friends, family, and colleagues who have that yahoo account saved in their contacts, and nobody has time for that nonsense.
Me Me Me.com
As for the Millennials, most are still young enough to fall into that fluid knowledge phase of life (the oldest are turning 41 this year, so this is changing as we speak), and most seem to have committed to Gmail as the optimal option for their personal email. I have a lot of former students who are Millennials, and some still retain their university email addresses for personal communications. There was a point in time when they embraced the @me.com trend, or maybe even the icloud.com. This is not a commentary on the “Me Generation” nickname (remember, I love Millennials and have a TEDx Talk to prove it!)
Apple backs me up on this one, people. According to Apple:
- If you created an iCloud account on or after September 19, 2012, your email address ends with @icloud.com. Learn more about @icloud.com mail addresses.
- If you created an iCloud account before September 19, 2012, or moved to iCloud with an active MobileMe account before August 1, 2012, you have both @me.com and @icloud.com email addresses.
- If you had a working @mac.com email address as of July 9, 2008, kept your MobileMe account active and moved to iCloud before August 1, 2012, you can use @icloud.com, @me.com, and @mac.com email addresses with your iCloud account.
And Gen Z? It’s my prediction they just might stop using email altogether at some point, favoring Slack and texts and all other more efficient forms of communication. For now, most are in camp Gmail or are still using their school email accounts for personal communications. So as the world turns, so do our email addresses.
I went digging to see if anyone else had picked up on this phenomenon. Twitter came through, though I think this tweet gives Gen X way too much credit for modernity, while this one went too far in the other direction. The website sixtyandme.com advised Boomers to rethink their AoL addresses, citing a lack of updated security and protection measures.
There’s no earthshattering conclusion here, nor is there a recommendation. I suppose I could go down the rabbit hole and point out that we could inadvertently be signaling to others (like potential employers) how old we are by using these emails, flying our generational flag without realizing we are doing so. But I’ll leave that one to you to think about, as I am always an advocate of owning your generational identity.
Instead, it’s just an interesting observation, the kind that I love to come across in my Gentelligence work. The kind that reminds us that growing up in a particular time in history brings with it all kinds of artifacts and souvenirs of what was new, what was popular, and what was important when we were first starting our careers and establishing ourselves as adults. Next time you’ve got mail, gather some data for me on my hypothesis and see if it holds up.