A Very Lost Generation Indeed

“Millennials are Killing [Fill in the blank].” “Boomers Retire, Millennials To Take Over.” “How Millennials Will Save the World After Boomers Ruined It.” I made these up but we’ve all seen thousands of headlines along these lines. Notice anything missing? No? Then you’re either a baby boomer or a millennial.Millennials, the generation born between the early 1980s and early 2000s has been getting a lot of media attention in the digital era. Marketers are so eager to, heh-heh, serve them, they’ve focused all sorts of narratives on this single generation, using baby boomers (late 1940 to mid-1960s) as the counterpoint to the millennials.

The mainstream media has all too happily gone with this. Everything seems to be about millennials and baby boomers these days but mostly about millennials. I had no problem with that, except the problem I have with every topic that is being pushed into my face with excessive frequency, which is that I begin to have a negative attitude to it. (And no, staying away from the topic doesn’t work in my case, I can’t unsee headlines) But one day I came across a story whose author basically said the baby boomer generation spanned not the usual 20 but 40 years. This lady, implicitly, called me and a few hundred million people born between the mid-60s and early 80s baby boomers.

I don’t have a problem with baby boomers. My mother was a baby boomer (Dad was from the earlier, Silent, generation). My first employers were boomers. So it’s not that I got offended by being bundled together with a previous generation. I was bewildered by the fact that a lot of people writing about generational this and that simply forgot there was a whole generation between the baby boomers and the millennials. The lost generation. How fitting, right?

Generation X, the name for the cohort born between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, was taken from the title of a book by Douglas Coupland. I admit I haven’t read it but I will: the story strikes a loud chord even if I’m well past the age of the characters and their problems. I remember that age.

I’ve always felt great about being part of this generation: we straddle the analog and the digital eras. We can use the latest smartphones and we can also use an analogue phone with a dialer instead of buttons. I’m sure the earlier millennials can do this, too, of course, that’s generational overlap, but still, leave us something to be happy about.

Here’s how a Business Insider generational breakdown defines Gen Xers: “Grew up in the political climate in the aftermath of Watergate and the Vietnam War, during a series of recessions, the Reagan presidency, the AIDS epidemic, and the end of the Cold War.” Nice, right? We lived through some very interesting times,  especially those among us who happened to be born behind the Iron Curtain. Talk about bearing witness to some seismic changes. But if anything, I’d say we should be called The Last Generation.

We were the last overwhelmingly reading generation, I suspect. When we were growing up there was not internet and no TV streaming, so we read and we did it on paper. I only recently stopped resisting an e-reader for purely pragmatic reasons such as the limitations of space, but I still prefer paperbacks. There is something about the smell of paper… We also played outside without supervision — something I can’t imagine letting my daughter do today, unfortunately, for various reasons, all having to do with other people.

We Gen Xers were also lucky enough to enjoy the last great era in music. I’m sorry, I really don’t want to offend anyone but I do believe the 90s were the last time people were creative and original in music. Like post-modernism, the last great creative burst in the fine arts, whose sadly toxic spawn we see everywhere around us today, grunge and electronic music were the last great creative burst in music. Why last? Because there is nothing new left to discover, there’s only tech to make things sound in certain ways and covers and re-covers, and here and there good people keeping good traditions going.

Thirty years ago we had punk, we had gothic, which at the time we called new wave and dark wave, we had all sorts of genius music, most of them the brain children of baby boomers, by the way. Twenty years ago we had alternative rock and we had industrial, and we had more gothic. Good times. That’s not to say there is no good music left, of course, see above about traditions. But I don’t expect anything conceptually new to pop out in this field anytime soon if ever. Same with literature, but from a selfish perspective that’s fine. I’m not as picky about my reading as I am about the music I listen to.

“We saw the Berlin Wall fall, the Cold War end, Communism disintegrate and saw the end of Apartheid in South Africa, all to a backdrop of grunge and disillusionment,” writes marketing expert Angela Woo for Forbes. We are “often referred to as the “slacker generation” or the “forgotten middle child.” ” Charming. We’re the spotty teen with the glasses who everyone prefers not to see even though this teen is now in his and her forties and fifties, no longer has spots, has switched the glasses for contacts, has a good job and a family, and does not whine about everything (sorry, sorry, sorry, I know not all millennials and digital natives whine!)

Actually, I think I like this “forgotten” status. I don’t want to be the target of advertising campaigns. I want to be left alone. I think we all want to be left alone, those of us who even think about generational cohorts, which is not many. We had great pre-internet childhoods, we had loads of books and music, and sharp growth pains and bullies and self-doubt, and rebelled against the pressure of conformity. In the ninth grade I started a petition against my maths teacher for not teaching us anything but being generous with the verbal abuse. That was after the Fall of the Wall, where it was all about freedooooom! Few people from my class were brave enough to sign it. Yeah, we learned the hard way that freedom means responsibility. But at least we learned it. Along with many other things lost on the next generations.

Why did I just waste your time with a 1,000+-word rant of the “Ah, the good old times” sort that middle-aged people like me are notorious for? Well, first of all, I don’t consider myself middle-aged, thank you very much. Forty is the new thirty or whatever, right? For me, forty is even beyond the middle of my life based on my family history of vascular disease and my smoking habit, though you never know. But I think the reason I wrote these 1,000+ words was to reach out and tell you: we’re still here, guys. We’re not as ancient and classy as the boomers and we’re not as hip as the millennials but we’re pretty cool and you can maybe learn stuff from us, even if it’s what not to do. We’re not going anywhere, d’you hear? Not gentle and not into that good night. 😀

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