Is Generation X Really Disengaged?

This article in City Journal suggests that the characterization of [X] 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 [Mill] and even more so than [Boom]. 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 [Boom] with [X], 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 [Mill] 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 [GI] 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…

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”

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 Lifecourse.com. If you want a basic primer on the research you can look at my “Start Here” section.

Generation X: Bad Parents?

The over-scheduling, over-achieving and stressed-out parenting style that has been the hallmark of the Boomer (born 1943-1960) generation may finally be coming to a close now that Generation X (born 1961-1981) is fully taking over as parent of young children. There is a backlash developing in the form of the “Bad Parent” who isn’t willing to sacrifice everything to be the perfect Mom or Dad. And, like everything suggested by Generation X it was initially reviled but now starting to gain acceptance. This short (2.5 minute) video on CNN give a quick picture of the shift:

While they seem to understand that the parenting style so dominant when the Millennials (born 1982-200?) is coming to a close, there is little awareness of what comes next. The Boomers dove into parenting like everything else they did, with idealism and righteousness. By the time that Gen X’er started to have kids they got overwhelmed with the expectations (that were unrealistic, especially for Moms) and are finally starting to rebel.

All of this makes sense in generational terms, but the thing that is being missed is the parenting style that will dominate for the next 20 years. According to Strauss and Howe’s generational theory, the next “cohort” or generation began a few years ago, perhaps in 2003, perhaps in 2005 (that will become clearer in time). The next generation (that they have named “Homelander” for now) will be raised very differently than the previous generation (the Millennials). The Homelanders will be raised during a massive crisis, much like the Great Depression and WWII that was faced 80+ years ago. This period of crisis is known as the “Fourth Turning” (the title of one of Strauss and Howe’s best, but  most difficult, books). We are at the start of the Crisis/Fourth Turning right now (they call it the Millennial Crisis) and it will likely last until 2025.

So how will Gen X’ers (and eventually Millennials) parent during this Fourth Turning? Probably in the same way that the Lost Generation (born 1883-1900) and GI Generation (born 1901-1924) did in the 1930’s: by protecting the children from the chaos in the world. This protection will go completely overboard in the upcoming years and the kids will end up in ridiculously cloistered environments (“They stroll in sidewalk versions of sport utility vehicles, learn to swim in U.V. protective full-body suits.” from a recent NYTimes article) and will probably turn out much like their grandparents, from the Silent Generation (born 1925-1942). As usual, most institutions (schools in particular) won’t be prepared for this shift and will assume what worked for the previous batch of kids (Millennials) will work with this bunch as well. The result will be a very challenging time for schools (and eventually companies) as these stifled, conformist and compliant kids move up through the years.

Of course, as I have mentioned before, their parents (Gen X’ers) will be entirely different (and more difficult) matter…

Made for the Millennial Generation: Barney and High School Musical

This post is potentially more embarrassing than my commentary on the American Girl Dolls. Last week we watched the first “High School Musical” and I was struck by how similar the themes in the film were to the old Barney and Friends shows. Then I realized that they are made for the same generation: the Millennials, born 1982-200?.

Check out these lyrics from Barney:

You’re remarkable – you really are
You’re the only one like you
There isn’t another in the whole wide world
Who can do the things you do
Because you are special- special
Everyone is special
Everyone in his or her own way
Yes you re special -special
Everyone is special
Everyone in his or her own way!

And from “We’re All in this together” lyrics from High School Musical:

Everyone is special in their own way
We make each other strong (each other strong)
Were not the same
Were different in a good way
Together’s where we belong

The message from both is consistently about specialness and teamwork, both characteristics often ascribed to Millennials. This is definitely what the Boomer Generation (born 1943-1960) wants their kids (the Millennials) to be about, and these shows are like a pop culture love letter between generations. Of course, most of us Gen X’ers (born 1961-1981) almost puked when we saw Barney for the first time (even if our kids loved it). And, believe me, High School Musical is no different in that regard. If you were born from 1961-1981, I dare you to make it through this entire clip without rolling your eyes:


(in case you’re counting: that video has 38 Million views on Youtube)

Or how about this one: