Yesterday I spent the day at the start of the HYDROGEN ROAD TOUR in Portland Maine USA, creating a EPK (Electronic Press Kit) for Volkswagen. I got to observe the visitors, and listen to their questions for three hours. Here was a chance to see cutting edge hydrogen cell vehicles and talk in depth with the engineers that actually built them. You would think that 20-somethings, the generation who is going to solve the current energy mess and reap the benefits of solving the same, would be all over this. Here was millions of dollars worth of new technology from the US, Asia and Europe, sitting on the foggy lawn in front of the Portland Head Light (lighthouse)… Free and open to the public.
Yet the average age of the audience was 65+. I estimated that 70% of the audience was over 65, with 25% 30 to 65 and the rest (5%) under 30. John Tillman, who is Program Manager for Volkswagen’s US Advanced Powertrain Research Program and one of the top fuel cell engineers in the US, blamed it on being in Maine, with a large retiree population, but I was not so sure. I saw plenty of young people in Portland, and many college kids home for the summer. 5% under 30? That was a shock. Energy Costs, Sustainability and it’s cousin, Climate Change are the most important topics in the US now… What is the deal?
Let’s assume that the low turnout was due to bad PR. But, those <30 that did come seemed to be content to just look at the cars, take photos on their cell phones and maybe listen in to the discussions for a minute or two – in the 3 hours I was there, not ONE person under 30 asked a question. The older folks however (men and women) were not at all shy about getting their questions answered, adding in their opinions and generally being very proactive getting info. John almost last his voice answering questions for 3 hours.
The difference in the generations was more than dramatic. The 70 plus people were very at ease verbally… enthusiastic and involved. The under 30’s hung back and clicked away with their mobile. They showed no interest in getting information verbally. Okay, lets assume they wanted to get info online… The older person who asked questions got the information much faster, in a personalized fashion and they would have had to go to a dozen sites to get the answers they wanted, assuming they answers were online. In many cases you could get information from John that was not published anywhere.
So does a life staring at a computer screen create a generation of people who can’t engage in conversations and seek information verbally? Snoop around (online of course) and you get differing data. From “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30) By Mark Bauerlein” to this quote from Medscape.com:
“This generation has a great ability to multitask and maintain several dialogues, which makes them versatile communicators. While this generation communicates through technology, they remain quite savvy in verbal communication skills (Melik, 2007).”
Beyond all of that, the ease in which these 70+ folks connected with one another was striking. The social and self esteem benefits were visible. They felt hooked in, empowered and important. You don’t get that from a Wiki page. It’s too bad they will never see these cars go into the mass market.
VW’s prediction for their fuel cell cars was sometime in the years 2015 – 2019, long after most of the people attending would have passed on. Very few of those attending would live long enough to see the world John was describing.
Where were those who would?