This is absolutely not a topic I would have chosen for myself, but it is one that has been swimming around in my brain since last night. Last night my good friend Liore posted an article called “F*ck You, I’m Not Millennial” from Huffington Post. I initially braced myself for yet another “Millennial Bash” article, but what I found was something that articulated the general sense of confusion I have felt my entire life. Generations are an odd construct, and it could be argued that they don’t exist. However there are significant differences between mindsets and outlooks every so often. I think vastly different than my parents or boss who are firmly planted in the Baby Boom era. My parents thought vastly different than my grand parents who were the children of the Great Depression. I was born in 1976 which lets me claim the late 70s, entire 80s, and early 90s… as my formative years. So I have various traits of folks who grew up in all of those… and not an entire matched set of any specific generational stripe.
In part I blame the internet and computers for shifting my focus on what I found important in life. In High School I remember having to make an appointment at a big library an hour away to use the internet for a research paper… which then largely involved WAIS and Gopher searches to find information to then download and print out. Years later I met my wife over IRC and while we grew up 30 mins apart… were introduced by a mutual friend living in Belgium. So I largely grew up just accepting the fact that I was yet another Generation X member, even though I didn’t necessarily feel like I had all of the traits of Generation X. According to the “sanity” version of the timeline in the Article above… I am instead the first year of Generation Y, which is the generation that demographers largely forgot they spawned. That break out honestly makes a lot more sense to me for a lot of reasons. Firstly while my first console experience was Pong…. and we had an Atari that I remember fondly… my gaming formative years were absolutely on the battleground of the Nintendo Entertainment System that I got in late elementary/early middle school. So calling us the Nintendo generation seems fitting for a whole slew of reasons.
I still largely feel like I am out of sync with the generational construct. Growing up I consistently hung out with folks way older than I was, and now that I am an adult thanks to the magic of the internet I tend to skew the opposite direction. A large chunk of my friends are in their late 20s to mid 30s… so while I feel like I definitely do not always see eye to eye with them… I can at least understand their thought processes. As a result I think my generation more than anything is a translation layer between what came before me, and what comes after me. There are so many times at work I get pulled into discussions to do just this… and somehow explain to the Baby Boomer management what exactly the Millennial generation is saying or meaning. Generations are this sort of social shorthand for trying to identify significant differences in the way groups of people were raised. The problem with this is that I think the number of differences are accelerating, and before long there will really be no meaningful generational breaks.
Growing up when I did more or less in the 80s… most families were fairly similar. There were a lot of specific cultural touchstones brought on by the fact that we more or less had three channels of television to watch at a given time. However as I aged everything was a sense of constant change… we went from records to cassettes to the Walkman to the CD to mini disc and finally ending up with the MP3… and now streaming music services. Media and entertainment was a moving target, that kept changing…. so we just accepted this as normal. I remember I was a late adopter of the CD largely because I could purchase 2 cassette tapes for the price of 1 CD… and that allowed me to get more music into my life. There was also an element of scarcity in everything because I grew up in a town of 2500 people… deep in flyover country. To find any store not deeply constrained by limited stock, I had to travel roughly an hour to the south. As a result we did a lot of experimenting and enjoying whatever the hell was available… which lead to some extremely eclectic tastes pulled from the clearance bin at the mall.
Events felt larger and more homogeneous. Everyone watched the Oscars because there was nothing better to do… same goes for every awards show or movie of the week. You could go to school the next day and it was pretty certain that everyone would be talking about the same things… because there were a limited number of things actually happening on any given day. Now other than shared interests… I don’t have a clue one what is going on in most peoples lives unless I am intimately aware of the details. To give the example above… I’ve not watched an awards show or even really had one playing in the background as I did other things for at least a decade… probably pushing two. The internet gave me access to so many better ways to spend my times, and as I grew up… it grew up too. My first internet experiences were like many on AOL, but after racking up a $250 phone bill calling the next city over… that door slammed shut pretty fast. It wasn’t until 93 / 94 ish when I got proper unlimited internet… which involved a contorted system to actually get access. I had to pay $20 a month to the phone company to make the next town over a “local call”, and then $40 a month to Galaxy Star Systems… a budding regional ISP to get unlimited internet access at blazing 96000 baud dial up speeds. So a grand total of $60 a month… but it gave me doorways into completely different worlds.
I think in part this feeling of being an “Internet Pioneer” is what always drives me to keep trying new things. It almost seems as though it is my duty to be the beta tester for everything that comes down the pipe since I have seen and experienced so much of what came before. This feeling however I think is also what makes me feel out of phase with whatever generational boundaries I am supposed to be feeling. My world has been one of managing change and figuring out how to deal with it. I will claim that I do not like change at all… but when it happens I am generally the first to roll with the punches and sort out what the new normal is going to look like. Maybe this is bombastic of me… but I would like to think of myself as being part of some Cipher generation… that uses our weird irregular experiences to help bridge the gaps between these other more traditional generations. So while I might not understand the way a Baby Boomer thinks… I can at least translate what I am saying in a way that is going to land and resonate with them. I mean I do this as a job anyways… translating deeply technical terms into a sequence of metaphors and easy to digest chunks that the business can understand. Maybe I just always did this… and maybe the properties of whatever generation I happen to be really part of is a chameleon like sense of adaptability. The only real normal we have ever experienced for any length of time… is change.