Tuesday, December 05, 2017

On Beyond Zebra

So now, NPR* tells me, there is a "Generation Z".

The students entering college are not millennials. The next generation, Generation Z, has arrived. The oldest in the group are in their early 20s.

Not only have they never known a world without the Internet, some have had smartphones since middle school.

My daughter is 25, so I presume she misses the cut off of "early 20's."  She has never known a world without the internet, either, although it didn't enter our home until she was 5, if memory serves.  Who remembers the first four years anyway, right?  She hasn't had a smart phone since middle school because they weren't available then (or maybe they were, I'm getting too old to remember), so I guess she misses that mark.  Still, a new "generation" already?

Am I the only one who thinks this is nuts?

Wikipedia tells me millennial start sometime in the '80's, and end sometime around the turn of the century.

Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates for when this cohort starts or ends; demographers and researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years.

Which makes "Generation Z" no older than 17, at best.  Or, I suppose, no older than 22.  Somebody's fudging the numbers here.  And that's the point:  this "generation" thing is bullshit.  It started with Boomers, who started as the "Baby Boom Generation" and only became "Boomers" instead after we named my father's generation "The Greatest Generation" although "Builders" was the demographic term of art for a short while.  Having started this nonsense with the post-war baby boom, we turned it into a modern form of astrology, and everyone born within the imprecise dates for when each "generation" begins and ends, are suddenly all Pieces or Virgos or Sagitarii/usses.

What do we gain from this, except another layer on the Age of Anxiety?

And for this group, memes, animated GIFs and emojis are second nature, says Geoff Nunberg, a linguist who does features on language on NPR's Fresh Air.

"When you're young and you're talking to people with whom you share a lot of experience, a lot of your communication, whether you're talking or texting or sending emojis or whatever, really isn't so much about communication. It's just about connecting with people," says Nunberg, who teaches at the U.C. Berkeley School of Information.

Yeah, yeah, and we said everything was "cool" and "groovy" and moved on to advising people not to be "uptight" and ending every utterance with "man," which was sexist, but what did we know?  Although I have to say the distinction between "communicating" and "connecting with people" is so subtle it's lost on me.

And what do we call the next "generation"?  Will they complain that we ran out of letters?  Or will they be "Generation AA," and treated like batteries?

*yes, there are other sources, but I'm old and not as hip to this "web" thing the youngsters all use.


  1. I blame sociology for this kind of stuff, the expectation that you can pigeonhole people and nail down what you have a right to expect they'll be like, it's a kind of pseudo-scientific stereotyping that is encouraged by all of this polling and surveying and soci-psy guys having to write a book so they can get on Terry Gross or excerpted in Salon or on Alternet.

    I have very little in common with many, maybe most of the people in my age cohort and find I have less in common with them as time goes on. And we were supposed to be the ones who were so big on individualism (which I think is a pathology, not a virtue) and non-conformism. It took the internet for me to realize how many of my age cohort were rabidly conformist, none so much so as the individualists and non-conformists. That last one is something I remember my grade 8 English teacher making snarky comments about, how there were no greater conformists than the non-conformists. Now SHE, in her incredibly unstylish clothes, cat's eye glasses and frumpy appearance, she was her own person.

  2. Well, the "baby boom" began as an explanation for the huge birth rate and consequently large number of children added to the population just after WWII, which increased the need for schools, diapers, shoes, etc. and generally shaped the post-war era where everyone came home, settled down, and raised 2.5 kids in Levittown.

    And then, because of TV and Sputnik ("New Math!"), the "generation" suddenly mattered as being "shaped" by technology and common experience (Vietnam, Civil Rights, etc.) and we were off to the races with this nonsense. Which, as you say, we've turned into "science" (NPR's resident sociology reporter is the very worst of this. I could go the rest of my days without stumbling across another one of his observations that wheels are round and water is wet because sociology has studied it and found it to be so.)

    I'm still, as Nanci Griffith sang, "a child of the '60's," but my brother in law, 9 years older than me, is a "Boomer," too, and our experiences in life are really quite different (he went to Vietnam, I was too young). I'm a lot more "Woodstock" than he is, and I'm too young for that, too.

    We are who we are because of who we are, not because of when we were born.

    And yeah, we're all individualists, so long as we wear the right clothes and the right hair style and the right style of glasses and drink the right drinks and eat the right foods and have the right opinions and....