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A few years ago I read Alain de Botton‘s “Status Anxiety“. I found de Botton’s writing to be fascinating, but difficult. He is a well-educated Swiss Gen X’er (born 1961-1981) and many of his references were to literature I was not familiar with. Even so, it was clear that he had thought long and hard about the nature of status in our society, and he had done so from a uniquely Gen X viewpoint.
I just came upon this wonderful talk that Alain gave at TED this year:
I particularly like his take at the very end of the talk about what makes a good father. He talks about the need for fathers (and father/heroic figures) in society to be “tough but kind”. His description fits with the view of many Gen X fathers I know: they don’t want the permissiveness of their parent’s generation (Silents, born 1924-1942 and Boomers, born 1943-1960), but also want to avoid the strict disciplinarian attitude of earlier generations. Is this possible? I don’t know, but that seems to be the ideal that Generation X strives for.
de Botton’s take on the nature of success bears a strong resemblance to that of another Gen X TEDster: Elizabeth Gilbert. Her talk about the nature of creativity contained many similar ideas about where success is truly derived. I see a Gen X philosophy being discussed more regularly, with a much more balanced and positive take now that we are reaching middle age. Perhaps it is time for older generations (Boomers in particular) to listen to what the individualistic Gen X’ers have to say about the direction of society. Just because we are cynical does not mean we don’t have any ideals.
Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960) are rather famous for their outspoken and contreversial manner. In their youth they expressed a great deal of anger at “The Man” (aka their GI Generation parents) and used that anger to stop the Vietnam War and break down the shallow society that surrounded them. Even as a Gen X’er (born 1961-1981) I have respect and admiration for the changes that they instigated (I am not really a fan of the idealized American Dream) but times have changed, and I wonder if Boomers are ready to adapt.
I came upon a site that was truly troubling: “Angriest Generation” which has a call to action for the Baby Boomers to “Get Angry”. The author is looking for stories about what angers Boomers and why we need to listen to them rage about it. My response: sorry Boomers, you had your chance at protest, and now it is time to grow up and help the younger generations put this society back together. Enough of the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” already. If Boomers really want to be productive, they should follow the advice of Neil Howe and William Strausss from their book “The Fourth Turning“:
“The continued maturation of Boomers is vital for the Crisis to end in triumph. These one-time worshipers of youth must relinquish it entirely before they can demand from Millennials the civic virtue they themselves did not display during the Awakening.”
So we don’t need anymore anger or outrage from Boomers, we need forbearance and wisdom. If you are a Boomer and you are ready to put your idealistic rhertoric aside, we need you in leadership. But if not, then it is time to let Generation X lead the way. In fact, an article from the Harvard Business Review Blogs a few days ago, makes this point very well:
We already have a Gen X’er in the White House. Time for other Gen X’ers to step up and heed the call of pragmatic leadership at all levels. And Boomers we need your help! Just don’t think we are going to be interested in hearing what you are angry about, or that it will help solve the monumental problems our world is facing today.
“He was a tremendous character, one of the last representatives of a generation of tremendous characters.”
This stands in stark contrast to what people would say about the generation following the Lost: the GI Generation (born 1901-1924) who are referred to as being heroes rather than “characters”. The GI’s are known as “The Greatest Generation” while the Lost Generation were the wild youth of the “Roaring 20’s” and although many fought in WWII, they were often the grizzled leaders (think Tom Hanks’ character in “Saving Private Ryan”) rather than the noble young warriors.
This bears a strong resemblance to today’s Generation X. We certainly are not looked up to as heroes and are often accused of being the cause of many of our current social ills. But I believe our generation will be instrumental in building a new foundation for our society. Although Millennials (born 1982-200?) will be fighting on the front lines and get most of the glory, Generation X’ers will be doing the dirty work and heavy lifting of change in our society.
I also think it’s likely that we will eventually get a grudging respect, as Henry and his generation now have. Fifty years from now we will be remembered as the tough elders who were willing to take the worst of these troubled times on the chin. We will be remembered as “characters”, which is fine with me.
For more on how the cycle of generations repeats, see the “Start Here” section of my blog.
There are many correlations between present day US and the 1930’s. Although I don’t want to get into the argument of recession vs. depression, the parallels between these times goes beyond just economic strife. According to the theories of Neil Howe and William Strauss, we are going through a generational shift that is similar to the one experienced in the 1930’s (they call it a “The Fourth Turning” and wrote a book about it in 1997).
According to Strauss and Howe, we are entering a time that is analagous to Winter: a time of hardship and scarcity. Eventually we will arrive at “Spring” (they call it the “High”), probably between 2020 and 2025. For more explanation of their generational theories, see my “Start Here” section which has a few short tutorials.
I recently discovered a blog that provides a wonderful service: summaries of the news from the Wall Street Journal from 1930. Each day the author reads through the news from that day in history and summarizes it, along with weekly highlights. Some of them are eerily similar to today’s headlines. Definitely worth a read:
Generation X (born 1961-1981) are famous for their “I don’t give a damn” attitude. Many Gen X’ers sport tattoos proudly even now that they are moving into middle age. I know many parents with tattoos (including several who are pretty well covered in them) but there seems to be a new trend developing where Gen X aged parents are getting tattoos to honor their new babies:
As D. Anderson at “My Generation X” pointed out in a recent post, the meaning of tattoos has changed over the years. Millennials(born 1982-200?) seem to get tattoos as a sign of social inclusion. Older Gen X’ers remember a time when tattoos were a sign of an amoral attitude (or at least rugged individualism), but this does not seem to be the case for the younger generation. I am not sure what Boomers (born 1943-1960) but I am sure that most Silents (born 1925-1942) think they are low-class or even degenerate. The last generation that really seemed to have a high regard for tattoos was the GI Generation(born 1901-1924) where tattoos among the war heroes were seen as a sign of honor and respect among peers. No surprise that the Millennials might be taking on some of the characteristics of the last “Hero” generation.
A little while ago I posted an open letter to Guy Kawasaki asking him to add an Alltop group for Generations. @JenX67 added on with a suggestion for a Generation X(born 1961-1981) category (Boomers already have a category). Guy responded and asked that we put together a list of good Generation X blogs and he would make it happen. Here is our list (in no particular order):
If you need writeups on why each of these deserves to be on the alltop list of Gen X blogs, we can provide. But suffice to say that they are great examples of “Blogs about Gen X, by Gen X” and they do our generation proud!
If you need more than this list, let us know and we will dig up some more worth Generation X blogs.
As Twitter continues to rise in popularity it may change the language we use in subtle ways. Although there are many pundits (particularly Boomers, born 1943-1960) who have said that email and texting are bastardizing our language, my take is slightly different. Twitter is famous for one thing in particular: the 140 character limitation on messages. This limitation supposedly results in people carefully crafting their updates to make them brief and useful. To quote Blaise Pascal:
“I made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.”
Being concise is a requirement of Twitter, and sometimes this results in very insightful updates. I believe that if Millennials were dominant on Twitter (it seems to be a Gen X thing) we might see more of the texting style abbreviations. I sometimes use the “shorten this update” feature in TweetDeck, but mainly for retweets. For the most part the Tweets are written in complete sentences that are comprehensible regardless of your generation.
But there is another effect I have noticed and that is word choice. When you only have 140 characters to use you are often tempted to use shorter words to express yourself. On the face of it there is nothing wrong with this since shorter words can often increase comprehension. But over time this may change the nature of our language in subtle ways.
The example of this phenomenon that inspired this post is the naming of the generation that comes after Generation X (born 1961-1981). According to generational researchers William Strauss and Neil Howe, the next generation is born from 1982-2003 (or so). Strauss and Howe named this generation the “Millennial” generation to reflect the fact that the first of them graduated high school in the year 2000. There are many other names popular in other circles, such as Generation Y, Generation Me, Generation NeXt, Generation Txt and The Baby Boomlet. Strauss and Howe chose “Millennials” based on the result of a poll given to members of the generation. They argue that Gen Y implies that they are somehow similar to Gen X (which is not the case) and that Gen Me also does not reflect the character of this generation (they are more outward focused than many give them credit for). Naming of a generation is a contentious thing (they originally called Gen X “The 13th Generation”, a name that, thankfully did not stick) that is eventually decided by popular opinion.
So what does this have to do with Twitter? As I have many conversations about generations on Twitter, I notice that I am tending to use GenY (4 characters) rather than Millennials (11 characters) to describe this generation. It may seem a minor thing, but as new terms appear in our language brevity may be valued above accuracy. Is this a trend we will see in other areas of the language: preferring shorter words as new terms are developed? I am sure similar arguments have been made about all forms of media (television dumbing down language being a good example).