Monday, April 18, 2011

Generation X -- Yes, We Are Still Here. Thanks For Asking!

I never liked the term "Generation X".  It was dumped into the culture when I was in my mid-twenties.  I had never looked at my peers as having shared the same cultural experiences as the World War II veterans, or the turmoil of the 1960s that bonded those pesky "Baby Boomers".  We grew up in a time of relative peace (well there was that invasion of Granada) and there was not a group concert that captured our souls.  Sure, we had MTV and Madonna, but a pop star with her underwear on the outside is not really the same thing as fighting in WWII, protesting against Vietnam or a stoned weekend at Woodstock.

Nowadays the media spends far too much time describing, dissecting and deluding the different generations.  We all get lumped together with people born over decade plus span of years, and the worst traits of those around us are flaunted as the norm.

Today's youth (are they Gen Y or Millennials?) have been spoon fed an identity before they were old enough to figure it out for themselves.  Meanwhile, the Baby Boomers have hogged all the oxygen in the room since the late 1960's, with each milestone in their lives (They turned 50, 60, 65, etc...) chronicled on the cover of Time Magazine.

When I was coming of age nobody yet had placed a label on me and my peeps.  We grew up "Free Range" until some Canadian novelist dropped the "Generation X" title on the world in 1991.  Wammo, the news media went on a feeding frenzy trying to categorize everyone born post baby boom through 1979. Then Kurt Cobain died and we were pegged to the event as if the had been the death of JFK or MLK (the proof that the grunge musicians passing is not the same thing is clear in the fact that nobody refers to the late Mr. Cobain as KDC).

Is my life experience being born in 1966 the same as my friend, Kurt Gregg of Boise, ID, who was born in 1979?  In the 1980s we lived on the same street in Southern California.  We are both called Gen X, but I babysat him, changed his diaper and was in college by the time he was 5-years-old.  Where I watched Scooby-doo on Saturday mornings he watched Ninja Turtles on cable TV or video cassette.  Those crime solving cartoon kids who came on once a week are not the same role models as mutant reptiles on demand.  Hardly the same generation, yet we fall prey to the lumping of generations.

I regularly speak to corporate audiences about the mix of the generations in the workplace as part of my "Some Assembly Required" presentation.  My belief is there are fewer differences than the media and the paid consultant "gurus" want you to believe.  Millions of dollars is being spent by corporations to "understand" how to work with the olds and the youngs, but people are really just people.  Remember in the 1960s the Boomers said "Don't Trust Anyone Over 40".  Today the same group does not trust anyone under 40.

Today's Gen Y is taking on many similar chants and mantras of superiority to other generations, as did their Boomer parents, who also falsely believed they were the unique pioneers of wanting to change the world (I think everyone has that desire to change the world for the better).  They too are disregarding their elders experiences and mistaking the technologies they use as something they invented.  It will be interesting to see what happens when they reach middle age, become parents, and have the mortgages and BMW payments.  Will they really be as different as the media is predicting?

While situations in the outside world have always changed over time, people are still people.  Reading about the issues facing humanity in historical texts (the bible or others) shows many challenges we face today are not that different than the challenges of the past, we just have the internet.

Sure there are some generalizations within each generation, and the narcissistic tendencies of the Boomers and Generation Y do play well to having all the attention in the media lumped upon them.  But Generation X is coming of age (currently in our 30s and 40's and 46 million strong in the US) and are assuming leadership positions in corporations, governement, and non-profits.  You will not read about it on the cover of Time Magazine, as the media does not see the sizzle of Gen X.  But yes,,,,, we are still here and working hard.  Thanks for asking.

I think the smartest thing anyone can do is make friends across generational lines.  Diversity is key. It is common to see HR departments in companies of all sizes educating employees about tolerance and acceptance of different races, religions, sexual orientations, etc.... but rare is the advice to embrace meaningful connections across the lines of age.  Friendships lead to respectful mentoring (in both directions).

If you are over 50-years-old invest the time to make a new friend every year (a real friend, not a "Facebook friend") with someone in their 20s.  If you are under 35-years old, make a new friend who is over 50.  If you are in the middle (That's you, Gen X), make two new friends each year (one older, one younger).  This will provide you with perspective on the generations and help keep you relevant.  You will discover there are many more similarities than there are differences.  Knowing this will make you laugh at the media's love affair with creating artificial divisions between people of different ages.

I grew up as the youngest of 26 grand-children, and I am the only one who is not a Baby Boomer.  My brothers were almost teenagers when I was born.  Many of my sibling's and cousin's children are Millennials, so I see both sides.  I am in the middle.  I am the bridge.  We choose to divide, but there is no reason for it.

Batons are being passed from older to younger generations, but that has happened for thousands of years.  It is not a conspiracy or a phenomena.  It is the circle of life (yes, we have all seen the Lion King, it was not just a movie for the Gen Y crowd!).

Have A Great Day.

thom singer


Vinny said...

I enjoyed this post.

Gen X will always be the middle child between the Baby Boomers and the Generation Y Millennials. And I too abhor the idea of grouping people into specific marketing groups based solely on their birth date.

My dad was born in 1942. His youngest sibling was born in 1961, only 5 years before me. I'm the oldest of 19 grand-children just on my dad's side. The youngest grandchild was born after both of my own kids. At every family gathering (Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, July 4th, etc.) I see a range of generations that spans over 60 years - and there are exceptions to all of them.

My mom is more tech savvy than anyone else over the age of 45 and more so than some under 45, some of her cohorts aren't even able to email pictures (they print them out from their computers and bring them to the parties).

And you can't even judge people on what technologies they adopt. For instance, people over the age of 40 might be the fast growing age group on Facebook, but we use it differently.

I do however take exception to your comment that Gen X isn't a cohesive and important generational cohort just because we didn't have a common war that we all fought in or against.

Maybe it was because I've always been the oldest kid(in the family, in the neighborhood, etc.), but I've always identified with Generation X a lot more than the Boomers.

It might be because my own peers have always been younger than me and I had a little brother (born in '72), so my own preferences and experiences have always skewed a little younger along the scale. I readily identify with the shared common experiences of people born throughout the 70's.

And as for importance, among other things it was generation X that was the market for MTV and that spawned the cable landscape that we have today (and media fragmentation in general).

And it was generation X that created Amazon, Yahoo and Google. In fact, other than Facebook, the Internet we use today is the product of Generation X.

And we'll be the generation that says goodbye to broadcast news, newspapers and sadly, chain bookstores.

Maybe we don't have a World War or a Vietnam, but that doesn't make us in-cohesive. Listen to the lyrics of Mark Wills song "19-something", if you identify with it, you're likely a Gen X - regardless of the year on your birth certificate.

And you can't judge a generation by their media coverage.

We might not be on the cover of Time magazine et al, but that's only because those magazines are run by Boomers and aimed at Boomers. To their editorial boards we're merely a demographic they don't understand how to reach.

The larger question is how much longer will the Boomers hold on to their positions of power. Batons are not passing as fast they've been received.

Your remark about the trusting of people above or below the age of 40 is dead on.

They were a generation that proclaimed their own youth would change the world, but now that their hair is turning gray, they don't want to let go of the reins.

If you're looking for a more perfect metaphor of the battle between Gen X and the Boomers, then look no further than the Leno vs. Conan debacle on late night TV.

As you said "Batons are being passed from older to younger generations, but that has happened for thousands of years. It is not a conspiracy or a phenomena. It is the circle of life (yes, we have all seen the Lion King, it was not just a movie for the Gen Y crowd!)."

Maybe some more of the Boomers should have watched that movie.
Again, good post.

Thom Singer said...


thanks for the comment.

I guess my lack of seeing generations also comes from the fact that my own dad was born in 1914 (he was 52 when I was born).

I have gotten several people who have sent me the lyrics to "19-Something" since posting this blog this morning. I am not much of a country music guy (I like it, however).... but have listened to the song 3 times today. You are right... it as if it was written for us!

My point about not feeling the same cohesive connection maybe is not as much that it does not exist, but the Xers do not seem to need to brag about our bonds in the same way.

I love the passion in your comment. I hope our paths cross someday.


Anonymous said...

>>there was not a group concert that captured our souls

Live Aid
Farm Aid
And all that awesome '80's music such as REM!