Generations

I remembered a conversation I had with a younger coworker a few years ago. At some point, the opportunity to use the well-tread phrase “ancient Chinese secret” reared its ugly head. Naturally I jumped on it.

He didn’t know what I was talking about.

With a silent thunderclap, I suddenly felt… old. I figure, if you have to explain a tagline to someone, and you think you shouldn’t have to, then you are old. That’s precisely what had just happened to me.

That led me to thinking about generations. I don’t necessarily mean the rigid, unbreakable definitions of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. What I picture is more organic, like rolling generations.

What people claim as their own, culturally speaking, seem to center around the ages of 18-25. That’s when people are arguably coming of age. That’s the period of time they are going to look back on most fondly(in most cases.)

Because of that, it’s possible that people born in 1949 see Woodstock as the pinnacle of music history, while other born in say 1964 may see the eighties as a major, transformative time in music. The point? Both sets of people are considered Baby Boomers. One generation.

These things seemed to come in waves for many decades. We seemed to have clearly defined pop-culture and musical periods of time from the fifties through the nineties. Each decade had its own set of defenders who just happened to largely fit into that 18-25 demographic during that period of time.

What’s interesting, but not all that surprising, is that as these people grow older, the love for those years grows. Eventually that period of time becomes a golden era of cultural progress. Anyone who doesn’t agree just doesn’t get it.

The other stereotype is, of course, that “kids these days” don’t know what good music sounds like. The music today is uninspired. Movies today are just ghostly echoes of the great movies of the past. Television is a mess.

I don’t necessarily see this as a sign of stubbornness. These are people feeling the pressure of time. They are worried that the small window of history that was “theirs” is quickly being forgotten.

So I don’t think old people are being curmudgeonly, I think they are scared of being left behind.

Recent developments in history are only serving to muddy the waters. As I’ve shown, delineating specific periods of time as being one generation doesn’t work very well. Using decades as a marker has also been pretty-well blown out of the water.

The 2000’s, while an amazing milestone, was also a major game-changer. Now, I know I’m getting old, but I find I can’t look back to the 2000’s and say “Oh, yeah! These songs and movies made the 2000’s!” In fact, there’s a good chance at least one or two of the songs or movies I came up with would turn out to be from the 2010’s.

There seems to be some weird “millennium effect” that’s muddied the waters somehow. We had the orderly progression of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Now the 2000’s has somehow broken the system, and the second decade of this millennium seems to just be blurring into the first. At least to me, it is.

Another game changer came into its own in the late nineties, just in time to enhance the millennium effect:  the internet.

Granted, the world wide web as we know it had been around since the early nineties. It wasn’t until the end of that decade that it began to truly revolutionize how we consume media. The idea of music-sharing was born in Napster all the way back in 1999.

For the first time, people were able to easily share individual songs. A simple thing, but a revolutionary one. Instead of investing in whole albums, people could cherry pick singles that they enjoyed. That meant they could have songs from multiple decades all together in one playlist.

The birth of social platforms like Myspace and Facebook further promoted this concept and grew it to include movies and television shows. Those people coming of age could now simultaneously have an affection for Eminem and The Golden Girls. The very concept of generations is getting washed out in today’s wired world.

Nobody can even decide what this generation, or generations, should be called. Millennials are supposed to cover everyone born from 1982 to present, though I’ve heard the cut-off pushed earlier than 1982. That makes me a Millennial to some, a Gen Xer to others(I think Gen Xer sounds way cooler, personally.)

Also in the mix is Generation Y, sandwiched between X and Millennial, and believed to be derogatory by some. There are those that consider Generation Y and Millennials to be one in the same. Still others say there’s a Generation Z in there somewhere after the Y people. Or something.

Despite the muddling confusion, there is a surprising bright spot in all of this. Parents and children are connecting more than ever. Even Grandparents and their grandchildren are finding common ground.

A teenager enters a “phase” of digging music from the sixties. Well, guess who was around to appreciate that period in person? Yup, Grandpa.  Who better to help develop your 60’s playlist then the man that heard it blasting out of his stereo speakers for the first time so many years ago?

At the same time, parents can easily reminisce about the music and movies they grew up with thanks to Netflix, YouTube, and music services like Amazon Prime and Apple Music. It also makes it easier to share those things with their children. In turn, those children create memes that unwittingly bring two generations into one.

I think we are quickly coming to a period in human history where generations will be a thing of the past. I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. If variety is the spice of life, then we are living in savory times.

Togetherness is increasingly important in a world that appears to grow darker and more pessimistic with each passing year. The internet, for all of its quirks and pitfalls, is helping people connect; people that would have never had anything to say to each other. People that used to think their generation was best.

You know what? Come to think of it, I think I know what this generation should be called.

Generation Us.