Recently, a number of opinion articles have appeared, written by members of the Millennial Generation, or those born roughly between 1980 and 1995 (the beginning and ending years of this generation have various interpretations). For example, read here and here.
One common theme in these articles is a proclamation that Millennials are entirely different from preceding generations and need to be treated differently — in the workplace and more broadly, in society. This generation is now uniquely positioned to change fundamental conceptions of our nation and its place in the world. They are large and clamoring to be in charge.
I appreciate Millennials’ fervor over the uniqueness of their generation. When I was in my twenties, I heartily agreed with media-inspired myths about Boomer uniqueness. Because of intense media scrutiny from birth onward, many of us believed our generation was unprecedented as a youth cohort, a dramatic departure from all preceding generations — a demographic and psychographic anomaly in the plodding march of American history.
While it’s true that every generation has distinctive characteristics, a byproduct of a generation’s unique place in history, generational personalities tend to appear in cycles, as has been provocatively posited by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their seminal books, Generations and The Fourth Turning.
To make my point, I’d like Millennial Generation readers to think about an older generation.
This generation was raised by parents who believed children should be given every opportunity to succeed, with much pampering and coddling… similar to when you were a Baby on Board.
Nevertheless, in young adulthood they became disaffected and radical. They were strident about redressing social inequalities, yearning for a more perfect union. They confronted human rights injustices, sometimes filling city streets with angry protest marches.
In their anomy, many became travelers, anointing Europe as the ultimate destination for reinvention. Tattoos gained popularity as “travel markers.”
They inspired a rebellion in office fashion by adopting flashy, form-fitting attire. Insisting that showing skin is more congruent with modern times, they ushered sexuality out of the bedroom and into media.
Because they were a mass-media generation, they fostered collective awareness of their stylistic differences in sharp juxtaposition to older, more conservative generations. They opposed zealous censorship, claiming that contemporary media should present the full range of human experience.
They were the first generation to create health & fitness fads, with thought leaders even advocating vegetarian diets to assure well-being and longevity. They created mass markets for fitness facilities, natural foods, self-directed healthcare and alternative medicine.
In a vein similar to Millennials’ preferred approach to written communications — text messaging — literary superstars of this generation adopted terse minimalism and understatement. They invented a transformational form of musical expression, similar in originality to hip-hop. Then personal electronic media became the preferred method for entertainment delivery.
They pressed mainstream society for individualism over conformity, equal rights for all workers, multiculturalism, racial fairness, gender equality and environmental awareness.
Analogous to Millennials today, they were challenged in youth by ecological degradation, unpopular foreign wars and looming economic hardships.
Do you believe I’m writing about your parents, the Baby Boomers? No, this is a brief historical account of the Lost Generation, your great-grandparents, born between 1883 and 1900.
They put the roar in the Roaring Twenties and included iconoclastic notables such as Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, T. S. Elliot, Louis Armstrong, Mae West, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner.
Do you see any generational parallels here?