Is Generation X Really Disengaged?

This article in City Journal suggests that the characterization of Generation X (born 1961-1981) as disengaged politically is not true. They cite a survey from National Conference on Citizenship (download the report in PDF format). It’s an interesting take on the civic attitude of generations. They have stats from their surveys showing that Generation X is just as likely to volunteer or donate as Millennial (born 1982-2004) and even more so than Boomer (born 1943-1960). Their birth years for the generations differ from the ones I use (based on the work of Neil Howe and William Strauss), but they are close enough.

So what is going on here? Are we not the cynical, politically disengaged bunch that people believe we are? Well, I think we are certainly not as extreme as we are often portrayed, but the numbers for cynicism about politics and institutions is highest amongst Gen X’ers in the report. And as for the volunteering and donation rates, we should consider comparing Gen X’ers to Millennials when we were their age. I think the numbers would show that Millennials rate much higher in these civic activities than we did at their age.

Don’t get me wrong: I think a lot of the Millennial volunteer-ism has to do with looking good for colleges and following their parents expectations. And I definitely agree that painting Gen X as a bunch of individualists who don’t care about society is unfair. Be we certainly don’t aspire to be seen as the do-gooders that Millennials seem to be. It’s just not our style.

Green the new American Dream?

This post from Matt over at TheWyze is interesting:

‘Green’ is to Gen Y what ‘Peace’ was to Gen X

He does seem to confuse the attitude of Boomer (born 1943-1960) with Generation X (born 1961-1981), since Boomers were the ones protesting for peace for so many years. Gen X didn’t protest for (or against) anything.

But there is another aspect to the green attitude of Millennial (born 1982-2004) which is their tendency towards group think. Millennials are excellent at teamwork and collectivism, but they are also subject to over-simplifying problems. In this way they are very similar to the G.I. (born 1901-1924) who overcame the Axis in WWII. That generation also had a severe case of group think which became more obvious after the war when they put together the shallow “American Dream” which their Boomer kids later rebelled against.

I believe “green” will be held by the Millennials (aka Gen Y) in the same way as the American Dream was held by the GI’s: as a shallow ideal that their kids will eventually rebel against. For example, I can see that 30 years from now everyone will have a “carbon counter” on their phone, house, whatever, and they will measure their status by the number on that device. But, as their kids will probably point out, they won’t be any more connected to mother nature. And so the cycle continues.

This recent article about a Volvo experiment with “CO2 pedometers” is a forerunner to this concept. I picture CO2 emission counters being used in daily life, either on a cell phone or attached to your house/car/children. Your CO2 count will be a measure of your social conscience just like a well-manicured lawn was back in the 1950’s. But, just like those 50’s ideals, it will be a thin veneer that will eventually be challenged by the next Prophet generation (the kids of the Millennials). I can hear them saying, “Okay, Mom, your carbon count is tiny but where is your connection to Mother Earth? When is the last time you actually rolled in the dirt?”). The more things change…

Another Gen X icon, John Hughes, Passes On.

Generation X (born 1961-1981) lost another icon today when Baby Boomer (born 1943-1960) John Hughes died. Hughes wrote and directed many movies that were influential to my generation, from “The Breakfast Club” to “Home Alone”.  Although he was a Boomer (born in 1950) he had his pulse on the teen angst that surrounded him in the 80’s and 90’s. He made it onto my “Top 10 Gen X Movies” lists (twice on both!) and most of us have seen almost every movie he directed:

  1. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
  2. Weird Science (1985)
  3. The Breakfast Club (1985)
  4. Sixteen Candles (1984)

RIP John Hughes, February 1950 – August 2009

A great Gen X Thinker and Writer

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 GilbertHer 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.

Haven’t we had enough with Angry Boomers? Time for Gen X to Lead!

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.”

[See Howe and Strauss’ full script for Boomers]

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:

Why Generation X Has the Leaders We Need Now

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.

Gen X Parent Tattoos

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:

When_Parents_Get_Tattoos_to_Honor_Baby from CafeMom

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.

Twinguistics: How Twitter is Forming the Future of Language

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).

In the words of Marshall McLuhan:

“The medium is the message”

Generation X Mourns Two Icons on the Same Day

Both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died today. They shared a common bond as wildly popular stars who had strange behavior and controversy later in their careers. But there was another bond as well. Although both of them were Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960), they were icons to the the generation that was young during the peak of their stardom: Generation X (born 1961-1981).
Many Generation X boys remember having this poster of Farrah up on their walls:

She was the pinup girl of our generation, and her feathered hair inspired many a (now terribly dated) hairdo at my Junior High and High School.

The cultural impact of MJ was also enormous. His style, his moves, his sheer entertaining ability were all admired by Gen X’ers during his peak. I clearly remember watching his performance during the Motown 25th anniversary celebration on television where he introduced the world to the moon walk and his one white glove:

His hits were enormous and his failings, later in life, just as large.
They were not Gen X’ers themselves (MJ was born in ’58, Farrah in ’47), but like all generations, our entertainment icons came from the generation before us (the Boomers in this case). So what does this mean for Generation X? First of all, it means we are getting older. Most of us are entering midlife and loss of these cultural references are a big reminder of that fact. The “new kids” coming up in entertainment we only hear about from our kids. And although many of the popular entertainers today are Gen X’ers, they don’t connect us with our youth.
It’s a sad day for Generation X. Sadder still because we realize that the arbiters of today’s youth culture (the Millennials, born 1982-200?) think of Farrah and Michael as some crazy old people.

The Seasons of Generations

I was really impressed with Jessie Newburn’s post about how children during the different “seasons” of the generational cycle. Her post on “The Terrible Octomommy” (Go and read it now!) does a great job of explaining how attitudes toward child-bearing and child-rearing have changed over the last 80 years. It inspired me to do a short video explanation of the concept. There will be more refined versions of this to follow, but this first one is meant to introduce the concept of the turnings and the children that are reared during each part of the cycle.

BTW, both Jessie (follow here on Twitter as @JessieX) and I use the generational research of William Strauss and Neil Howe as guides for our work. You can learn more about their research at If you want a basic primer on the research you can look at my “Start Here” section.

Will We Miss the Boomer Generation Managers?

I found an interesting article about the differences between Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960) and Gen X’ers (born 1961-1981) as managers. It is written by Bob Filipczak, who is a Gen X’er.

My favorite quote:

The attitude that “organizations are interchangeable” is beginning to evolve into “employees are interchangeable, and thereby disposable.” If you thought corporations were ruthless during the 80s and 90s, you may be unpleasantly surprised by organizations under the stewardship of Generation X management.