This is the first of a three part series on generational trends and we’ll begin with orienting ourselves as to who are Generation Me. But first, I have a confession to make; I love my iPhone. I can easily check my e-mail 15 times a day. Recently, I was at the airport waiting in line to check my baggage when I realized there was an album I wanted to buy. With only a few clicks, I downloaded it and had it ready to listen to before I even got to the gate. Want to know where I am? Let me take a picture, edit it, and send it off through cyberspace into social media and instant messaging. I am connected in ways that even the creators of Star Trek didn’t envision almost 50 years ago. Idle time is easily taken away with this obsessive pastime of checking for new information and seeing what others are doing from moment to moment. I am part of a new generation, one that social psychologists have named ‘Generation Me’.
Generation Me is the umbrella term for those born between 1965-1995. Originally, the term ‘Generation Me’ was coined by Tom Wolfe during the 1970’s to describe my parents’ generation, the Baby Boomers. The Baby Boomers were born between 1945-1965 and broke away from the previous generation by focusing on self-realization and self-fulfillment rather than duty and social responsibility. Television, civil rights, women’s liberation movements, the hippies, rock n roll, jazz, and the birth of eastern religions in the west, all became the backdrop of this generation’s identity. While past generations relied on consensus, self-sacrifice, duty, and conformity, the Baby Boomers openly embraced a discovery of the self.
Many studies have shown that when you were born has more influence on who you are than who you were born to. Having said that, the open criticisms that recent articles have received when describing Generation Me forget to remember where we come from. We are the children of the baby boomers, therefore comparing ourselves to them is a bit like that old 80’s anti-drug commercial where the father walks into his son’s room with a box full of drug paraphilia and confronts him angrily by saying. “Who taught you how to do this stuff?” His son fights back by shouting. “From you alright! I learned by watching you!” The slogan of this anti-drug commercial reads. “Parents who do drugs, have children who do drugs.” This is how generational trends work, parents who focus on the self have children who do the same. So while the Baby Boomers were described as a generation in search of the self, Generation Me were born into it. The other misunderstanding that we have when we speak of generational trends is that people confuse these trends with who they are as individuals. Trends are like averages and norms, but an individual person is neither a norm nor an average. So even though we are influenced by these trends, we usually aren’t a caricature of them.
So what makes up Generation Me? Beyond observations made by retired Baby Boomers who look at the behavior of younger generations with a certain sense of nostalgia and disdain; we have social psychologists that devise very intelligent ways of studying generational trends. They do so by collecting data on studies that show how personality traits of North American college students have changed over the years. To do this, they tracked studies from the 1920’s until the present. So we now have good data on how boomers were like when they were young compared to Generation Me.
The results show a dramatic rise in narcissism and entitlement. In the next two articles, I will go into details about the results of these studies, as well as the social backdrop that Generation Me is confronted with. Why is it important to start our search for what it means to take the road less traveled through a generational lens? Because it will help us define our strengths and our blind spots. When I talk to people about generational trends, they usually agree with me but find a way to describe themselves as being above it somehow. Unfortunately, whether we are a poster child or simply influenced, it is part of the air we breath, and before making any changes, it is important to evaluate what it is that we are breathing and what we can do about it.
I began this article with my professed love of my iPhone. What does that mean from a generational perspective? Well, my iPhone provides me more ways to achieve instant gratification. What I use to have to wait for, I can now do instaneously. These technological advances may have a more profound effect on how I relate to the world and the way I perceive the choices I have. I am not arguing that we need to go back to the woods, but I do think there is value in understanding our generation with its strengths and weaknesses in order to make better choices.
I am hoping this blog serves as a way to reflect on your life as I am reflecting on mine. I think that together, we can articulate a new way of being. I highly value your feedback, so I encourage you to write your impressions, whether privately or publically through social network or this blog.