It seems like there’s been a lot of talk about generations lately (or maybe it’s just me) so I’m gonna take a break from my normally scheduled film kid thing and talk about my own perception of iGen, Generation Y, or simply put, my own. First off, nobody can even decide about my generation. It’s true, there’s usually some overlap in the whole “this generation starts here, and that one starts there” mapping out process, but for argument’s sake, I’ll go with the most common numbers and that’s roughly from about 1977 – 1994.
Now, already something’s up if you ask me because I’d argue that the 80s were an important time (culturally, socially, economically) to live through on your own. Those years (the fall of the Berlin Wall, Reaganomics) seem impossible to not have some serious clout in defining one’s values. Even if we go with the more conservative number of 1982 to early 2000s, it ignores some key events both in our nation’s history but more importantly, in our pop culture history.
You ask most people and we’re defined as the pop culture generation or the technology generation. This is no exaggeration when I say that although we may technically be separate from someone born as “late” as 1993 (mind you, I was born in 1987 and a 1993 baby is still on the end cusp of “my generation”) I share very little to nothing with them. We didn’t grow up watching the same shows so our references to popular culture aren’t even the same a lot of the time. You also have to factor in that most people generally believe that we don’t start manufacturing memories until around the age of 3. That being said, someone born in 1993 doesn’t even become culturally literate until 1996 at the earliest. By this time, I’d already left behind Barney and Power Rangers (while they were making time for Arthur and Teletubbies) and settled into things like Goosebumps and Animorphs. We may both be the product of the same previous generation, but we are not products of the same pop culture, which is a crucial element in defining Gen Y. This is my first issue with this talk of generations, this lumping together. Generation Y, unlike some other generations, hasn’t yet received a category of sub-generations. We are by and large grouped together as one, when I couldn’t possibly feel more separate than people born even 5 years before or after me.
Furthermore, when looking at the characteristics used to define Gen Y. (tech-savvy, family-centric, goal-oriented, team-oriented, and attention-craving) I couldn’t disagree more. Unfortunately, the largely negative ones such as attention-craving are very true, but not much else. Yes, we are certainly the most tech-savvy generation but there’s an obvious reason for that. The issue I take with these characterizations are largely the personality types such as “tolerant”. Yes, it’s true that we are a largely tolerant generation, but it’s that kind of blanket characterization of our entire generation that’s just not realistic. Many sources say we were brought together by the tragic events of September 11th, but that completely ignores the melting pot/salad bowl metaphor for America. Sure, 9/11 brought some Americans together. Predominantly the white and black ones though, while completely ignoring the fact that there are Middle-Eastern Americans that make up Gen Y. Once again it’s this lumping together of cultural ideas that don’t necessarily represent many or even most of us.
Most of all though, I consider myself to be a different Gen Y (which is in itself, a characteristic of the Gen X “individuality” complex) than the one I’ve been reading about. Sure, I agree with most cultural critics that Gen Y hasn’t produced much of anything (anything new at least) and yes, I agree that 9/11 is an important aspect of defining our generation. Still, I’m Gen Y and I’m a recent college grad. I haven’t had much of an opportunity to create outside of school which explains part of why Gen Y hasn’t brought anything new to the table. Still, I think that people are quick to judge without affording us any complexity. Considering Gen Y only technically recently ended, it seems like people are in a little too much of a hurry to get us pegged, which seems like part of the problem to me.