“Millennials may know more about my iPhone than I do, but very few of them have been taught how to properly address an envelope.”
I’m a window clerk for the US Postal Service, and I’ve actually said the above sentence before. Out loud. Where people could hear me. I usually get a chorus of agreement from whomever I said it to. You don’t often hear the words Boomer or Millennial, unless they are used pejoratively.
When I went to college, I learned about the concept of demographic cohorts, a group of subjects having similar traits just because of the year—or group of years, more accurately—in which they were born. I also learned that I was near the tail of that “pig-in-the-python” known as the Baby Boomers. I accepted that definition and moved on to other things, blissfully unaware that these “generations” were a sliding scale and that their definitions were in a state of continual flux.
Even though I balked at being in the same generational category as my mother, I accepted it and moved on. I was a Baby Boomer. A late one, but still a Boomer.
Only, I’ve discovered that these days I’m not considered a Baby Boomer at all. The year of my birth lands me solidly in Generation X, the demographic cohort which immediately followed the pig-in-the-python. My baby brother, who was born fifteen years after I was, is also considered a Gen-Xer. I like being in the same cohort as my brother instead of my mom.
Here are some of the traits of people in Generation X, according to several infallible internet sources.
Gen-X is the generation of latchkey kids. I was certainly that. With two working parents, I had to be independent at a young age. Apparently, I was not alone, since this is one of our defining characteristics. As Gen-Xers, we reportedly value independence and work well with little supervision.
Gen-X is also known as the MTV Generation, because MTV was coming of age around the same time many of us were, and this is back when MTV played music videos. In spite of this, we’re considered to be very concentrated, mentally. Gen-Xers reportedly can focus on a single topic without risk of being distracted. Okay, I’m not certain that really applies to me. I have the ability to achieve a laser focus, when sufficiently caffeinated, but other times I’m easily distracted by shiny things and calliope music.
Gen-X is also said to be filled with skeptics. Our generation lived through Vietnam, Watergate, the energy crisis, AIDS, corporate downsizing, plenty of recreational drugs and an increasing divorce rate. Increasingly, our heroes were revealed to be flawed human beings. Politicians and business leaders lied to us on a daily basis. We found it increasingly difficult to trust anyone, really. Yeah, I would call myself a skeptic.
Generation X also suffers what is known as the “middle child” syndrome. While many of us may be valued as workers who require little supervision and thrive on responsibility, we are also frequently overlooked or ignored. We’re more tech-savvy than our parents, but not as tech-savvy as Millennials or Generation Z.
An excellent example of how Generation Xers are overlooked is found in the current discourse that always focuses on Baby Boomers versus Millennials. Generation X was sandwiched between the two and rarely gets mentioned. Or else, Gen X is lumped in with one or the other.
Websites don’t all agree on the cohort’s strengths and weaknesses. On one hand, Gen-Xers may be called industrious and hard working. But then, we’re given credit for popularizing the “slacker” caste. Video games and skater culture blossomed on our watch. So did a lot of the computer technology taken for granted these days. And, most of the best music ever created came out during our youth and young adulthood (yes, I realize this is just my opinion—so what?). As well as some of the best comic books, movies and television shows.
Because I am a skeptic (as predicted), I doubt the usefulness of separating people into these generational divisions. I think they are probably as useful as separating people by their zodiac signs. We’re going to remember the traits that confirm our personal bias and ignore the rest.
I don’t mind being labelled as a member of Generation X, however. It sounds cooler than being called a “Boomer” or a “Millennial.” It reminds me of the X-Men and that punk band Billy Idol was in before he went solo.
By the way, I’ve been guilty of using the term “Millennial,” that demographic cohort also known as Generation Y, in some misguided ways. At work, in the post office, we often talk about how millenials haven’t been taught cursive writing or simple everyday things such as addressing an envelope properly. The oldest Millennials are now forty years old. That’s a sobering truth. Forty-year-olds aren’t who I’m talking about usually when I use the word “Millennials.” I’m probably thinking about Gen Z, the one that followed the millennials. Like Generation X, they tend to get overlooked.
There’s no real point to this post. You’ve probably guessed that by now. This was just a brief digression about putting people in boxes written by a guy who doesn’t want to be put in a box himself. In the Boomer/Millennial War, I am Switzerland.
Peace, brothers and sisters. Whatever you are.
PS: I’m never using the word “Millennial” again after this post.