Generational Differences

Something has been bugging me, so I thought I would write about it to get my thoughts in order. My profession is “Design Researcher”, so I study people a lot… specifically consumer behavior and how demographics, generations, psychology or social trends factor into how one’s lifestyle may differ from another.

When it comes to generations, I’ve been categorized as a member of Generation Y (or Millennial or Echo Boomer or the many other names for us).  I typically agree with analysis and data that have been published about Gen Y, but of course there are exceptions.  In my role as a researcher, it is important for me to remain unbiased and to provide subjective information to my colleagues, so I try to be fair and open-minded when in discussions.  That said, a lot of what I personally think goes unsaid when I’m at work.

I have to give some background first.  Gen Y has typically been seen to possess these traits: optimistic, tech-savvy, collaborative, multi-taskers.  On the flip side, some would say that Gen Yers are narcissistic, self-entitled, aimless kids with ADHD.  Here’s where I take off my scientific hat and just rant.

In my social circle, I come across many Gen Xers.  This is a generation whose members were labeled as “slackers” (which Gen Y has now inherited, as well) and who were latch-key children of disenfranchised Silent Gen parents.  I generalize, of course.  There have been numerous articles published about how they feel squeezed by the Baby Boom and Gen Y cohort, and I’ve witnessed plenty of Xers voicing their disdain for other generations.  Here’s some Gen X vitriol:

"I don’t really understand the tyranny of the boomer moment," Gordinier says. "Great, you had a party in Haight-Ashbury in 1967, I’m thrilled for you. Can we hear about the flappers in the 1920s instead? How about the Great Depression? There’s other times in history that are interesting."

Gordinier is no more entranced with today’s teens and twenty-somethings: "They just love stuff. They love celebrities. They love technology. They love brand names. . . . They’re happy to do whatever advertising tells them to do. So what if they can’t manage to read anything longer than an instant message?"

Wow, talk about bitter.  I know some Gen Xers who pit themselves against the other generations and consistently try to tear them down, shitting on thoughts or ideas they didn’t invent themselves.  Because I know they must just be exhibiting their cynical DNA, I can’t help but get frustrated at unfounded antagonism.  Perhaps in these instances, my optimistic core thinks, “hey! that’s cool… how can we make it better?” instead of my sometimes cynical dark-side that could say “that’s crappy, you suck”.  It’s so much easier to be negative than positive, but is it really productive?

As more Gen Yers come into the workforce, it’s interesting to me to see how Gen X and Gen Y can work together.  I feel like I’m a minority where I work now, but I was once in the majority.  At that time, it was clear to the Gen X minority that sometimes crapping on ideas without offering any good alternatives up was a hindrance to the creative process.  Over time, those Gen Xers had to play nice to survive (many of them didn’t make the recent cuts) and they learned “if you can’t beat them, join them”.  If only their willingness to work with Gen Y was genuine, and not just to save their own skin, I think it could result in a lot more positive action.  But hey, what do I know?  I’m just part of the dumbest generation.

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