Generational Monikers

I’ve never understood the silly urge to coin names for “generations” — which basically seems to exist because, once you name a “generation,” you can make grossly overbroad generalizations about the people who are members.

It started with the “Baby Boomers,” which in my view shows just how stupid the generational naming is. “Baby Boomers” include anyone born between the end of World War II and 1964. That’s my generation, although my personal experience as someone born in the late ’50s is a lot different from someone born in the late ’40s. I wasn’t at risk of serving in Vietnam, for example, I didn’t go to any Beatles concerts, and I didn’t participate in any anti-war protests. Nevertheless, I’m designated as in that “generation” that is supposed to be hopelessly narcissistic and self-absorbed and now has become the source of the “OK, Boomer” putdown that younger generations like to use.

I think the Boomers were the first example of a named “generation.” And because sociologists thought that was a good idea, they gave names to other generations–including the “Silent Generation” that came before the Boomers, with members who had somehow been able to live their lives without a generational name until somebody decided, post-Boom, to give them one. Then came “Generation X,” immediately after the Baby Boomers, followed by “Millennials” (also apparently known as “Generation Y”), then “Generation Z.”

Now CNN is suggesting that the little kids of today–as part of the as-yet unnamed generation coming after “Generation Z”–should be called “Generation C,” because their outlook on life has been permanently transformed (and scarred) by the COVID pandemic. You can make the same arguments about how stupid it is to generalize about an entire generation, some of whom may well have been traumatized by COVID while others have simply accepted the changes and gone on with their kid lives without much concern. But the core point is how unfair it is to give a generation a name based on a disease. The coronavirus period has been tough, but it shouldn’t define a generation of little kids who will now be expected, going forward, to all be brittle and hyper safety conscious.

Can we please stop giving “generations” stupid names and generalizing about their members and their experiences?

Last Line Of Defense

When death visits your family, it inevitably causes you to think more soberly about your own mortality.  It’s morbid, sure — but it’s also human nature.

For young people, of course, death seems very remote and abstract.  It’s something that happens to extremely old people — ancient, really — and seems to come on a generation-by-generation basis.  Typically, that is exactly what happens.  If you are surrounded by parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and even in my case a great-grandparent, it is as if there are multiple generational shields protecting you from the inevitable.

But as the world turns and those older generations are winnowed down, you become uncomfortably aware that your turn at the wheel is drawing nearer.  When your last surviving grandparent dies, you know the scythe will be swinging one generation closer.  Then, as parents pass, you become much more sensitive to the health of those uncles and aunts who represent the tattered remains of that final generational ring of fortification.  In the Webner family, unfortunately, we’re now down to exactly one uncle and one aunt.

So live long and prosper, Uncle Mack and Aunt Corrine!  You’re my last line of defense.

Technology, Timekeeping, And The King’s English

Big Ben

Big Ben

The standard clock — with its hour hand and minute hand, its twelve Arabic or Roman numerals, and its soothing metronomic ticking — is quickly becoming an endangered species. Think for a moment about how often you see a standard clock face any more. To the extent that commercial establishments have any kind of timekeeping device (and many of them don’t any longer) it is as likely to be a digital device as a clock. Many younger people don’t wear wristwatches; they use their cell phone, or I Phone, or Blackberry to tell the time. No doubt digital clocks are more precise than old-fashioned clocks.  They don’t need to be wound and there is no doubt what the exact time is. With a digital clock the time is not “about 7:30,” it is 7:28, or 7:32.

This is one of those small cultural intersections where technological changes are altering society in subtle and unexpected ways. We are quickly becoming a country in which different generations talk about time in different ways. Every person above, say, 25 years of age learned to tell time by the hands of clock and describes the time through that frame of reference; many younger people didn’t learn those same lessons and don’t give the time in that way. Tell a teenager that you will meet them at a quarter till 8 and you may well get a puzzled expression and a follow up question asking you to explain what the heck you are talking about. If you meant 7:45, why didn’t you just say so?

We may be seeing he passage of the standard clock into the mists of time, but we can salute it for having left our language a bit richer. “Clockwise” and “counterclockwise” are very useful concepts if you want to tighten or loosen a bolt. Who hasn’t said some hyperactive person was “wound up,” or that they wished they could “turn back the clock”? We wonder what “makes something tick,” and we marvel at a well-built car that “runs like clockwork.” Would Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon be as memorable without the ticking clock or the rich, resonant gong of Big Ben?