Sunday, June 27, 2010


I was always under the impression that the typical generation ran twenty-five to thirty years. That was attributed to the basic breeding cycle of the human animal. A couple would have their first child around that age, and said child would do the same the same number of years later.

Grandparents, parents, children. Thirty years at a pop. The math worked well until teenage parenting became all the rage, and then it seemed that the generations sped up. Really, though, such early procreation has never been more than a small amount of the population. Most folks were able to restrain themselves until they had a high school diploma, or at least a job that paid more than minimum wage.

What I couldn't account for was the seeming onslaught of generations since I have become an adult. I was born at the tail end of the Baby Boomers, but no sooner did I reach the legal drinking age (while simultaneously commencing my third year of drinking) that a bunch of names were flying around. Names that sounded like people really weren’t trying very hard.

Generation X, Generation Y, and eventually the Millennial Generation just because the world didn’t come to a crashing end on December 31, 1999. Otherwise they might have been Generation Last. Regardless, children having children has not lowered the number of years in a generation. It turns out that there is a difference between familial generations and cultural generations.

Who knew!

Baby Boomers were so named because of a cultural event, that being a baby boom following World War II. It’s nice that our valiant warriors were willing to come home and set about immediately fomenting a population explosion. Baby Boomers have been a force for good, but first they were just a bunch of babies. It took until about 1980 for the term to be coined.

A little research shows this has been the case for as long as we the people have been preoccupied with labeling everything within reach. The Lost Generation, known as the Generation of 1914 in Europe, included those who fought in World War I. They became known as such sometime in the 1920s or 30s. In other words, when time and perspective gave credence to the moniker.

The G.I. Generation is better known as the Greatest Generation. They might as well be known as the Patient Generation. They waited nearly seventy years for Tom Brokaw to dub them the greatest.

Every twenty years or so we westerners group all babies born in a certain time period and identify them by something they have in common. Or at least most of them. Certainly there have to be some members of the Greatest Generation who are real losers. But most of them are great! And the name sticks. The losers just have to deal with the shame that they aren’t really living up to expectations.

The lazy naming I have identified seems to begin with Generation X. It might mean the unknown generation, because no one knew how disco, Iran-Contra, and videogames would affect them. But at least the name wasn’t coined until 1991, a full ten years after their ’61-’81 run. I can deal with that.

Now it is all going just nuts. Following Generation X is the cleverly named Generation Y, because apparently the officials in charge of nomenclature could do nothing but go along the alphabet. How ridiculous! If Generation Y doesn’t sound familiar, don’t worry, because they are also called the Millennial Generation, Generation Next and the Net Generation. Depends who you ask. Actually, it depends who you ask if you ask someone who has too much free time on his hands.

The fact is that the birth years for Generation Y are approximately from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. We are just now getting to the point that wise folks can look back and do a little analysis to come up with a name that makes sense. We didn’t have to start calling them Generation Y while they were still in kindergarten. We could have waited a bit, at least until they had formed personalities.

Even worse, the group that would supposedly follow Generation Y. In other words, the group of people born beginning in the early 2000s. Hello? We are still in the early 2000s! The end of this generation hasn’t even arrived and it has been named already: Generation Z. Again with the alphabet. Wonderful.

A little online research finds this claim about Generation Z: “Relatively little is firmly established about its composition, character, and even name.”

Oh really, relatively little is firmly established? Perhaps it is because THEY ARE STILL BEING BORN! Why are we so concerned about the cultural generation in the midst of which we currently find ourselves? They are babies, for goodness sake. They drool and they wear diapers and they do what they’re told (at least for a few more years). What’s with the preoccupation with who and what they are?

Ahh, unless it is strictly for the purposes of marketing. That bastion of twentieth century American capitalism. We need the label to properly create false consumer need in products and services. To make money, especially for those members of previous generations still alive and running the marketing machine. The more labels the better, which is why they are also known as Generation I, the Internet Generation, and the New Silent Generation.

This is who we are and how we do things, I suppose, but the names being set in stone are stupidly vague because no one wants to wait five minutes and discern one that makes sense. The rush for market share doesn’t allow for perspective or judicious consideration.

If the Greatest Generation could wait a handful of decades to be identified as such, perhaps we can slow this all down a bit and be patient for our youngest citizens. I’m sure a better name than Generation Z or its alternatives will come up if we just wait.

Can we wait?

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