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The tie that binds
What Gen are you?
X? Y? Z? If you say Zee instead of Zed, you’re probably Gen Z.
Maybe you are a hard-working Traditionalist or a prosperous Baby Boomer.
And what does your generation say about you? Does it really define a whole group of people born at a certain time or is it just an arbitrary way of putting folks in boxes?
Probably both. But there are certain common experiences and challenges that shape the thinking and values of people born of an era.
X,Y,Z or earlier?
For example, if you are a Traditionalist (born before 1945), you were influenced by Big Wars of the 20th-century and the Great Depression. You knew hard times and scarcity. You value hard-work, frugality and loyalty. You respect authority and understand the notion of paying your dues. And you probably aren’t afraid to tell people about it. Traditionalists wrote letters and read newspapers.
Say you’re a Boomer (1946- 1960, depending on where you draw the line). You were born into the post-war good times and lived under the cloud of the Cold War and nuclear annihilation. You enjoyed the fruits of economic growth and advertising-driven consumption. You challenged authority and had jobs for life. Boomers started out reading papers and then took to Facebook like a duck to water.
If you are Gen X (1960-1980) you grew up in the shadow of the Boomer bulge. You are the “latch-key kids,” the first generation with both parents in working outside the home. You value independence and skepticism. You didn’t necessarily expect to have a job for life so you've turned to entrepreneurial pursuits. You cozied up to email and dumped your Hotmail account for Gmail, because Hotmail is so yesterday.
If you’re Gen Y or a Millennial (1980- 1995), you are the trophy kids who grew up under new models of parenting. You were rewarded for every little thing and there was no such thing as failure in your world. You adopted technology as fast as it was thrown at you.
Gen Z or iGen (born after 1995) is the next generational phenomenon. You are a digital native who never knew life before a world infused by technology. You are the screen kids who communicate and socialize in isolation via social media and online games. You’ve unplugged cable and stream your entertainment. You can binge on Netflix, do homework and text with three friends all at once. You don’t drink or have sex at a young age in the same way previous generations did. And Facebook? What’s that?
Every generation criticizes the next
It’s safe to say that no generation has been more vilified than the Millennials. You could call them the Villenials. They are called entitled, lazy, narcissistic and overly sensitive snowflakes who are more interested in smashed avocados on toast than saving up to buy a house.
Not so fast.
This is not fair. Millennials are the butt of older generations who have always shaken their heads at and mocked “kids today.”
And just wait until Millennials start beating up on Gen. Z. Millennials have taken a lot of flack over the years and are going to see Gen Z as low-hanging fruit. Just wait for it.
This inclination to criticize the generation below has always been there.
Take the words Greek philosopher Aristotle. “They [Young People] have exalted notions, because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things ...”
Victorian do-gooders worked themselves into moral panics over the amount of time young people were spending … reading books. Would this destroy their ability to discern fact from fiction, they trilled. And what would all this reading do to their memories?
It even happened inter-generationally. Remember when older Boomers made fun of young upwardly-mobile professionals - or Yuppies - in the ’80s? In the same vein, Millennials are demeaned as hipsters.
'They' want to know what makes you tick
Does it really matter which generation you are? And why do we care, anyway?
It turns out that it does matter and a lot of people care. Marketers want to understand the purchasing behaviours of certain age groups so they can develop and pitch products that will be attractive.
Politicians want to know what is important to certain age groups and how they will vote. And educators want to know how to reach students.
And generations like Millennials and Gen Z are bonded by challenges like climate change. Their values and problem-solving strategies will form the politics and governance of the future.
It’s well worth our while to stop dumping on them and to understand their perspectives and challenges. And younger generations would also do themselves a favour to learn from the experiences and solutions of their generational forbearers.