Not just an iPhone, but a tribal rite for Gen Y

June 28, 2007, 9:32 PM UTC
Fortune

When the iPhone goes on sale tomorrow, the wireless world as we know it may well change. Or so those in the know say. And gadget-lovers that we Gen Yers are, we’ll probably be at the forefront of it. Sure, many a boomer CEO or exec will rush out and get the phone, but will it mean to them what it means to us? I’m thinking no. For us, it’s not just a new tool — it’s our every obsession wrapped together in one beautiful package, a package that also doubles as one of the ultimate symbols of cool.

The iPhone could be the new mark of our tribe, as the iPod before it was. And if the iPod, with just music to start, was a revolution, well then it doesn’t seem that radical to say that the iPhone could change the world — insane price tag ($499) and AT&T subscription be damned.

“Gen Yers, I think, will love having a gorgeous phone that also includes a WiFi network and video,” says Linda Stone, a writer and lecturer who’s also a former Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL) exec. But she also has high hopes for how we’ll use it: “In the same way that the iPod enabled podcasting — something that wasn’t necessarily in Apple’s plans, (though Apple embraced it as it took off) — I’m certain that in 6 to 8 months, we’ll have found some new and interesting things to do with our iPhones that weren’t necessarily in Apple’s plans.”

And because we grew up with technology like this, it’s cool, yes, but also sort of essential. It doesn’t seem as ridiculous to drop a couple grand on a fancy laptop when you never knew a home with no computer at all. Never mind that the “it’s just too much stuff” objection doesn’t really apply to us: “For Gen Yers, life has always included iPods, video games, text messaging, cell phones, e-mail, IM, and so forth,” says Stone. “There’s a habituation to the constant flow of input and at the same time, a greater ease with ignoring messages, tapping the off switch or tuning out via iPod. Many Yers look at boomers and are incredulous, ‘Don’t they know there’s an off switch?!'”

Even then, I for one will likely still straggle among the iPhone-less dinosaurs for a while — I didn’t even get a cell phone till 2000, I so cherished my dis-connectivity — but that probably makes me the exception not the rule of the Gen Y set. And it doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate this thing of beauty; I practically get misty watching the commercials. (Those Apple people get me every time.) I just find it’s better to wait till all my friends have it, then let the peer pressure do its good work.

What about you guys? Rushing out to the store, watching the cash, or just plain not interested?