Generations

I was reading Paul’s post about my generation’s tastes and thought about, as I often have, inter-generational differences. Many of the comments have pointed out an interesting issue as far as generations go; that is, how are they defined? The traditional definition is based upon procreation, i.e., my grandparents are one generation, my dad the next, and so on. Obviously, this is a shifting definition as it is relative to whom it is applied. Another definition, the more common one in use today, defines generations based on year of birth, though there is no set formula. My generation, “Generation Y”, seems to be defined as those born in the 1980s and 1990s, putting me about in the middle (I was born in 1991). The preceding generation, “Generation X”, would be our parents, their parents being the “Baby Boomers” and their parents being the “World War II Generation”.

I suppose it is because I am partially on the receiving end that I am attuned to the sometimes extreme level of bile that is aimed at people in my generation. Many of the stereotypes began with a book called “Generation Me” by a professor at San Diego State University named Jean Twenge. Don’t get me started on the academic credentials of a professor who teaches at SDSU, a conduit for the US/Mexican drug trade more than a university, but that is beside the point. We are entitled, spoiled, narcissists. We don’t want to work for anything, and we expect everyone to change to suit us. Some conservatives blame us for Barack Obama and we apparently ruined vampires for everyone. I seriously believe the best response to such allegations is whatever, enjoy the retirement home, bitch. And I don’t mean a nice retirement home, I mean one of those that they feature on Dateline.

So, what did these previous generations give us?

The World War II Generation
You saved the world, permanently changed the US economy from agrarian to industrial, and deserve the real credit for creating the internet. You can’t really find a lot of fault with grandma and grandpa.

The Baby Boomers
You gave us the Vietnam War, Watergate, drugs, free sex, Bill Clinton, the end of social security, massive government debts, and hypocrisy on a staggering level. Thanks for all that. Your contributions to culture don’t save you, by the way; people my age who claim  to like The Beatles are just humoring their parents or grandparents.

Generation X
I don’t know that much about you, other than my dad (38) and my step-mom (34) are members. You seem alright, but my grandma (World War II, fortunately my immediate family skipped the Baby Boomer generation) still thinks my dad would have made a better doctor than an attorney. So, you know, the older generation just isn’t going to be pleased. The stereotypes about you are that you are a bunch of cynical, slacker losers. Your music consists of a lot of guys who killed themselves and you still wear shirts with their pictures on them. Your seminal contribution to culture seems to have been Friends. Sad.

So, see, anyone can find a lot of stupidity amongst the generations. Except the World War II generation. They’re just plain bad ass. You stop Hitler and you’ll get a free pass on everything else, too. Most of it seems to apply to us when we are young, when it is easy to make fun of our likes and dislikes. But I think Paul alluded to a good point, that is that these cultural phenomena are fed to us by those from a previous generation. We are just perhaps too willing to eat sometimes.

I understand the inclinations to wage generational warfare, and I am already thinking of ways to tell my baby sister how Generation Whatever Comes after Z is ruining the world. I can’t count how many times my opinion around here has been written off due to may age, but I have become more tolerant of those exhaling their last gasp of power and authority. But remember these two things about my generation:

1. You are our parents and teachers. Every single authority figure who could exert any little amount of influence on our life is one of you.
2. To exert change, even bad change, you need to have power. We have very little power. No one listens to me. If anyone screwed up the world, it’s you. In fact, the vast majority of those in leadership positions are “Baby Boomers”. So, more specifically, it’s you.

Now, next time we come up with a cool website, please go away and don’t ruin it like you ruined Facebook before some of us even had a chance to use it when it was cool.

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3 responses to “Generations

  1. Hmm … I’m 1979 so does that put me outside of your generation? If so, I blame you for all of the time I’m wasting on the twitter and the facebook these days :p Anyway, very thought provoking post.

    Yeah, Twenge is an idiot – and I mostly disagree with the mis-characterizations of the “Digital Generation” too and most of the work is done by dumb-ass scholars like Oppenhemier and Twenge (watch the Frontline on The Digital Age). I think what these scholars fail to account for is that my generation and definitely your generation have seen the single biggest technology revolution since the Industrial Age. And, in a way, the shift from print to digital media is as drastic as going from the oral to the written tradition. There’s a lot of complaining about how computing has lessened brain power and people “look up” information now. I don’t see this as a bad thing. I think it frees up space in the brain for abstract thinking and, again, liken it from the shift to an oral to a print tradition. (When I teach math I try to empahsize this – I’d rather my students be awesome at using software and modeling to solve complex real-world problems than memorizing how to integrate 100 different functions.) Did we lose a lot of memory capacity when we shifted to print? Of course – people used to memorize entire volumes of epic poems. But we got over it and leveraged the good, hence freeing our brain capacities to concentrate on other things. Being in academia, it’s sad to see this because now that there are so many different and creative ways to express thoughts, ideas, etc. but the academy is staunchly hanging on to the idea of the print journal as the only way to convey information.

    The other thing I think that is misrepresented with your generation (and mine too for that matter – if there even is a difference) is the idea that we are “greedier” than previous generations. If anything, we are being made to pay a greater price than past generations ever did just to get started with our lives. Take average college debt for example. In 1970 (adjusting for inflation) it was around $5000 but in 2008 it was up to $23,800 and rises every year. Of course in 1970 one could make a middle class wage with a high school diploma and that’s no longer true. That means people in our generation are more unlikely to be able to reinvest into the economy until paying off debts. I was disgusted with the talk at Harvard a few years ago when one of the rich trustees basically called out all of the graduates for being greedy and accepting jobs in banks and consulting firms rather than the peace corps or giving of themselves for a few years by taking low paying public sector jobs. Well, guess what, when you have $40,000 (as was my case) in loans you really can’t afford to give of yourself and are going to take the best offer. Sorry to break it to you – we have to eat too and ramon just won’t cut it sometimes.

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading this. Only other thing I would say is although SDSU seems like a horrendous academic institution, I do have some math friends who are there that do great work and I think at every university you can find a bunch of overgeneralizing douch-heads. I’m hoping you won’t overgeneralize. I went to an elite private school too and thought there was nothing to recommend state run public universities outside of California, but many of them actually have people that do good work – unfortunately surrounded by a bunch of idiots. Hmm … just like everywhere else!

    • Well, yes, I was being a little mean with SDSU heehee. We used to live there and they have a bad reputation in San Diego. It seems like every time you hear about them, it is some huge drug bust of a bunch of their students. But, yes, it was probably not necessary to say that.

      I think older generations look for fault with younger people and they will emphasize the worse over the best every time. I want to think I won’t actually do the same thing. I hope not.

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