This is a response to a recent comment by Deane from my post, 20) Letter to Baby Boomers from Gen-X. Here is her original comment:
“At the risk of sounding blase about it all… I feel I must let you in on something quite disturbing. It took a while for me to decide if I truly wanted to step up to the microphone, after all , it is your house and I am obviously an intruder here. However, since it seems no one else has come along to stand up in our defense I figured “what the hell?”
I realize there are a butt load of things to be enraged about these days, not the least of which is how impersonal life has become since technology has advanced us to the point of instant communication on a grand scale with anyone around the world we choose, at any time we choose. I believe we have become jaded. It is too easy. Most of us were raised knowing we had to work for what we needed. Things were “earned”, not simply given. We didn’t misplace things on a regular basis. Telephones were attached to the wall by a cord that did not unplug in order to move to another room for privacy. We never showed up without calling first. There was a code of conduct we were expected to adhere to that made us have to consider what we said before we spoke in order not to offend others. If you screwed up you admitted to it. The way you behaved around others when your parents weren’t around was how you were remembered. And that mattered. I could go on complaining all day but I won’t because all of that was how we were SUPPOSED be, it wasn’t reality. We were not so different than you are now. We had our reasons as well. But there was one thing we didn’t have then… instant answers. No Google, no face book, no 24/7 access to knowledge. Everything had a closing time. The Seven Eleven stores were the beginning of the stay up late businesses. That was a huge deal for us. Our towns rolled up the sidewalks in the evenings and rolled them back out in the morning. Anything late night was age related and waiting to get to that age took forever. Our angst was punished and fighting back could get you “put away”. We fought back anyway. There were protests, riots, sit ins, etc. Many changes did come about from our efforts. Earth Day (originally known as Ecology Day)was our doing. Voting age changed from being 21 years old to 18 years old. Abortion became legal. Before then it was the “back alley abortions” or the “Mexican abortion” and both were horror stories no one wanted to have to experience. Free clinics offered free birth control pills that were actually free in the beginning. Parents had the last say in all things and children were not given access to legal representation when they were abused by adults. It was our word against theirs but the judges were always from their side of the argument. The things we did back then to cause the changes that finally occurred were hard fought and we never let up. They knocked us down repeatedly but we came back with new strategies to get them to listen. We had to convince them with logic and common sense because screaming only made them deaf to our words. But we kept at it.
Sometimes we need to be reminded of the work it took to get the changes we wanted back then. You bring those memories back to life and you will see how much faster the ice melts. Just make sure the cause you are working on has merit. Show us the benefits for the changes you want to make and try not to put the cost solely on the tax payers backs.”
This is my response:
I agree with you in many ways. I too, am a taxpayer. If I lived in your time, I would have been right beside you protesting in the throws of major social upheaval and many important changes did occur as a result of the protests, the activism and those achievements should never be taken for granted by any generation.
With that said, the beef I have is what happened after those pivotal years. It appears that many baby boomers turned their backs on the ideals they so passionately stood for and began shifting their efforts toward monetary pursuits in the late 1970s and 80s. It’s as if they threw in the towel. I can understand that things change; you start having a family and you have those demands as your focus. But, the thing that really bothers me is that these wonderful concepts like Earth Day didn’t become staples in the daily lives of many Boomers who so passionately wanted to change the world. Houses grew bigger, 1 car per household evolved to 2 or 3, more appliances sucking up energy and the consumption of cheap, exploited labor produced products; none of this being sustainable or in a good direction for a world facing serious environmental problems and overpopulation. As a nation, we didn’t get serious about the environment until 30 years after the energy crisis in the Carter years.
I completely agree that we have become impersonal in our daily lives. With so many gadgets and useless ways to suck up our time, we all forget the things that are most important: family, sharing, being in nature, living for the planet. With that said, there is a lot of sharing going on, just not in the conventional way that we grew up with and that may not necessarily be a bad thing.
When Generation X came along; like yours, we had none of the technologies of today’s world. Like you, I miss my phone that plugs in the wall and prefer going to the bank and talking face-to-face with a real person. I haven’t become jaded, I’ve always been. But, I am an optimistic realist as well. I believe that people can change and do. I also believe that we are in such a muddle of consumerism and entrenched in profit margins that it makes change difficult.
I adapted to the new technologies pioneered by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (both of the Baby Boomer generation). Gen-X put these technologies to use in the 1990s and fell on their face with everyone else when the bubble burst.
I tend to disagree with things being easy today; only that information is more accessible. If I lived in the 1960s, I likely would have had an easier time continuing my education beyond a bachelor’s degree and gone full swing for my PhD. Unfortunately, I am not willing to take on any more student loan debt as I am already $38,000 in the hole and have been on Income Based Repayment plan (IBR) since I graduated. I put myself through school while working and live a very minimalist lifestyle. I don’t plan on buying a house unless I can buy it outright. I have just enough education to be qualified for a manager at a retail job with high stress and little pay. Not only has the middle class disappeared, the variety and mid-range jobs are also becoming extinct. Since I am 40 and already late in the game, my only other option is more schooling, more debt and no guarantee that there will be any career available to me beyond the Financial, Legal and Medical fields. The only way for anyone to improve his or her situation is to start his or her own business or become a gypsy.
I agree wholeheartedly that there is an extreme lack of manners, emotional intelligence and personal responsibility in the world today. I think it’s due to a variety of factors relating to our modern lives, the demands we place on ourselves and the simple fact that there is more of us competing with one another. I do not wish to offend, only to inform, as I feel our generation has very few voices.
I want to thank you for responding with a wonderful piece of dialogue and appreciate your viewpoint.
Dear Baby Boomer,
We are Generation X or whatever you want to call us. We are the youth of the nation… or were. We don’t give a R.I.P. Our destiny is written on the wall, starting with civilization. We are nihilistic by nature because no one wanted us to be here…
Never mind. We seek Nirvana, a place in the world to shelve our Trapper Keepers, our tear-stained journals of rage, our misunderstood expression of anger toward a world with no future lodged in the throat of Sid Vicious, a casualty to the Boomer drug experimentation legacy. Thanks for the bump.
Oh, the 1970s… a putrefied pustule on the zit of history, like a Halloween pumpkin rotting in late December.
We don’t blame you, Boomers. You were just another generation among many, going way back. We can see far down the pike of human existence and we are uniformly disgusted with all human beings, including ourselves. So, don’t take it personally. You just happened to give us a lot of stupid, frivolous, narcissistic doo-doo that doesn’t matter a hill-of-beans to any human dead or alive… but we aren’t taking names or numbers, just sharpening our secondhand pencils for another round of philosophical debate.
Don’t worry. We have your best interest in mind, along with your children even though they were loved more than us. We slam danced in the backseat of our parent’s VW bugs, smacking our heads up against the windows and flying headfirst into the dashboard when our father hit the brakes. Honestly, we have no deep-seated anger that our own parents didn’t flash that cute little “Baby On Board” sign when they drove us around without seatbelts or car seats. We just laughed it off and stuck our stuffed Garfield plush dolls in the trunk with the butt sticking out to show we have a healthy sense of humor.
Okay, let me explain the whole “punk” thing. It’s not about talent, you silly Boomer. It’s about revolution. I know you know what that is. You don’t understand our music because it’s too painful to listen to and reflects the existential dark matter of human misery that we feel every day. Yes, that’s right. Our music feels bad and sounds bad to you because we feel worse than you could ever imagine. To us, your music sounds like the Intro to Loony Tunes.
We were left alone, watching MTV videos in the middle of the night sucking on Nerds candy, waiting for our parental units to come home, too tired to fix us dinner and so we make ourselves another crappy box of Mac & Cheese. We are born into a world of sustained horror, greed, AIDS, useless politics, and recessions that fall like dominoes every time we try to move up in the world from a cardboard box. We have never felt that anyone owes us anything and only want a better world for everyone. So, we deserve a break today.
Be nice. Give us a hug. That’s all we ask.
With love and adoration,
The following letter was sent to Neil Howe, author of several books on America’s generations including The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny. Mr. Howe was kind enough to suggest that I might want to start my own blog if I planned to write “on an ongoing basis.” I thought it would be appropriate to share my letter with you.
Dear Mr. Howe,
I am in the process of writing an important article on Generation X and my personal experiences with the job market as it is today. I was hoping you might be able to give me some advice on where I might place it. I thought it would be a great piece for Forbes Magazine because it is an important statement on the generations and Gen-X in particular.
As a writer studying Generation X, I feel my voice is a unique and important one. I am a single, un-married female turning 40 this year; the quintessential latchkey kid with no prospects of a career other than as a writer.
My hero is Mark Twain and three big brothers raised me: Depeche Mode. My parents were of the Silent Generation and I am a latter-day-Xer, an outlier of the X generation. The fact that Mark Twain shares my generational experience upon learning this from 13th Gen, it further deepened my love for him and the reason I gravitate to his ideas. I always wondered why I loved the works of Virginia Woolf and Hemingway; discovering through your book that they are kindred spirits in another “lost” generation.
At 40, I have no children, no family and two houseplants. I live with my aunt, who I am grateful to every day for loving me and providing a roof over my head. I had a retail job of 7 years, at which I quit a year ago when I had several panic attacks and hit a wall. I made $11.25/hour, which was comfortable for me. I didn’t care about the money, but the hours kept going down and I felt constantly abused by angry customers, too much product on the floor and worrying that I was alone at night at the cash registers in a gigantic store where anything could happen and did.
Nothing in college ever prepared me for this type of environment and I had to wipe my self-esteem off of the floor every time I left the building. Luckily, I found an online writing gig for 6 months. At first, there was plenty of work and I scraped by, cutting back on everything I did and savoring the small savings I had to get me through the year. Unfortunately, the work was sporadic and eventually dried up and I had to take my unemployment. Thank goodness for that!
I don’t mean to put all of this on you; however, I know that you understand our generation and what we are going through. I am extremely grateful to you for what you are doing in studying the generations and the importance of this information as we are in truly challenging times.
I thank you for your time and look forward to your reply.