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What does an entire generation mean in the following context?
Does this mean one generation (=around 30 years?) or 'generation of children, young adult and the elderly'? or the rest of life for the public? The meaning of the word generation seems different from that of the second in the passage below.

The victory of Blu-Ray over its rival, HD DVD, dominated the headlines for weeks. The only obvious difference was that the name of the victor was easier to pronounce. According to videophiles, however, the public was presented with a momentous choice that would affect their quality of life for an entire generation. In fact, there was a third option, which was not mentioned: to abandon pre-packaged entertainment in favor of more social activities, such as family conversation. Another thing that was not mentioned was that generations in the world of gizmos are measured not in decades but in months – the time it takes for a new, superior device to hit the market.

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  • That business about "there was a third option (besides Blu-Ray & HD DVD) ... such as family conversation" is just wishful thinking. The real "third option" as regards how people store their video content today is we just have entries in our web-browser "favourites", pointing to online streaming services. May 27, 2021 at 14:48

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"Generation" has many uses in different contexts. A generation is not a pre-determined period of time, but rather a time period with a marked beginning and end.

One context of generation is the time between parents and children. For example, a child, their parent, and their grandparent could be spoken of as "three generations" of that particular family.

"Generations" of people as a group vary greatly in length. For example, the generation known as 'centennials' is defined as people born between 1996-2010, a period of only 14 years. By contrast, the 'Baby Boomer' generation is recognised as those born from 1945-1964, a period of 19 years.

One other definition of a 'generation' as a group of people is "overlapping contemporaries" - think not about one person's lifespan, but the combined lifespans of people who would know each other. For example, a person born in the 1930s may well be a peer of someone born in the 1970s, perhaps working together when one is 60 and the other is 20. If the younger person lives until the 2050s, you could argue that their 'generation' began in the 1930s and ended in the 2050s.

In your example about technology though, I believe it refers, not to any of the above mentioned 'generations' of people, but a generation marked out in relation to the technology - for example, it could be argued that everybody who used VHS in their formative years was one generation, and then those who used its successor DVD are another. This is not dissimilar to the use of "age", as in the steam age, which was the time that people mainly travelled by steam train, and ended when the technology was usurped. You could also speak of different iterations of technology itself as being a 'generation' of technology.

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The ambiguity seems to me to be deliberate. The author quotes (via reported speech) videophiles as saying "the public was presented with a momentous choice that would affect their quality of life for an entire generation". The obvious interpretation is that since the choice was given to "the public", i.e. people, the "generation" is a generation of people. The term "generation", when referring to people, can refer to the time that it takes for children to grow up and have children of their own, or the entire lifespan of a typical person. Either way, it's a long time.

However, the author later says "Another thing that was not mentioned was that generations in the world of gizmos are measured not in decades but in months". That is, the word "generation", when referring to "gizmos", as the author calls them, refers to how long it takes for there to be a significant change in the state of the art, which can be only a few months.

The suggestion is that "videophiles" exaggerated the importance of the choice between Blu-Ray and HD DVD; they presented it as something that would affect people for decades, but in fact whichever one was chosen would become obsolete soon anyway, making the choice moot

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The full OED defines generation as...

The average time it takes for children to grow up, become adults, and have children of their own, generally considered to be about thirty years, and used as a rough measure of historical time.


But here's Merriam-Webster's definition for Generation Y...

the generation of people born in the period roughly from 1980 to the mid-1990s : the millennials

By that definition, "a generation" lasts just 10-15 years. The referendum on independence for Scotland in September 2014 was supposed to settle that question "for a generation". I'm sure those who voted for independence (who "lost") will be vociferously calling for another vote well before 2030 (justified by M-W's implicitly shorter definition).


There are at least two relatively common understandings as to how long "a generation" lasts for Anglophones. Traditionally, about 30 years, but there's now an alternative context where it's half that or less. Almost certainly, OP's example is intended to reference the shorter period.


Intel started classifying their microprocessors into "generations" about a decade ago. They're currently on generation 10 or 11, so in that highly metaphorical context, a generation lasts about a year. But that's not a normal use of the term - it's basically just a marketing ploy intended to imply that you should replace your 6-month old supercomputer because it's outdated (Intel have a slightly improved version which they want to present as being in a completely different league).

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  • This fails to address the matter of "generations in the world of gizmos" detailed in the OP's question.
    – Astralbee
    May 27, 2021 at 13:54

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