Last November I celebrated my first 29th birthday. About a month later I graduated from California State University, Fresno, after having been in and out of college for a little over a decade.
While 10 years is maybe a bit excessive (OK, maybe a lot excessive), I'm not a total aberration. There are plenty of people around my age who are taking a long time to get on with their lives. It's just that until recently, nobody noticed. You see, I belong to the blank generation: the generation that has quietly followed the Baby Boomers.
We haven't really been quiet, just ignored for the more glamorous and numerous Boomers. So we've kept things to ourselves, and developed our own subculture. We've had to, since not only are we outnumbered by the Boomers, we also don't have a generational handle that's nearly as media-friendly. "Baby Busters?" "X Generation?" "Nowhere Generation?" "Post Boomers?"
(I'd like to propose "Beatle Babies," since the age group I'm thinking of was mostly born from 1960-1970, when the Beatles were a group. You know, people young enough to know Woodstock as Snoopy's friend before they learned about the concert, and still old enough to call CD's "albums.")
Since the Boomers have dominated the mainstream for the last 30 years, people are just now beginning to realize that there is an entire generation of young adults who seem to have no direction.
Deferring the big decisions
We aren't any less intelligent than any other generation, just less focused. I know I am. It used to be that people picked a vocation, apprenticed in it, mastered it, and kept at it for a lifetime. Yuk. I can't imagine spending a lifetime doing anything. Well, except for writing, but it seems almost too much to hope that in this society I could actually make a living at something I enjoy this much. Other than that, there are too many things I might enjoy doing for awhile and nothing that overwhelmingly appeals.
Until recently, I never realized that what I thought was my own personal choice -- to delay becoming an old-school responsible adult -- was actually a generational choice. I suddenly looked up and realized that many people my age had done the same thing. So why has my generation taken such a time to grow up?
One reason is divorce. My generation was growing up as the divorce rate skyrocketed. We watched our parents' marriages implode, ofttimes because they got married too young and for too many of the wrong reasons. Not wanting to go through the same pain -- and having more options -- we've become maritally gun-shy. Even worse, we are now living through the first round of divorces from some of those who took the leap. Delaying the marriage decision has led to delaying most other major life-settling decisions.
Another reason is the cultural reaction to the social upheaval spearheaded by the Boomers. In the late 60s and early 70s, they seemed to go so far over the top that it was inevitable that there would be a powerful backlash.
They got Woodstock, the Beatles, marijuana and free love; we got MTV, Ronald Reagan, crack, and AIDS. We've spent our entire lives hearing about what a time they had before they mutated into Yuppies. Whereupon they turned around, gasped, and collectively said "We can't believe we lived through all of that fun. No way anybody else could, so we'd better deny them. Just say no."
Of course, the 60s sounded like a rockin' good time and being young and indestructible we wanted a piece of the action. Being young and rebellious we couldn't say no just because somebody told us to. And being young and ignored, it wasn't that difficult to take our lives underground. As a result, we've acted in many of the same ways as the Boomers -- premarital sex, experimentation with drugs, immersion in pop culture -- without really being noticed.
But where was the fun?
We knew the dangers. I'm just not sure we cared, even as AIDS started stalking; cocaine started destroying; and rock n' roll went corporate. Our partying seemed more like bored, cynical gambling with our lives than the sociological explosions of the 60s. With the naivete that created Woodstock forever gone, our experiences with these things never seemed as wild and free and just plain fun as the stories we'd heard. Its as if in their trailblazing the Boomers sucked some of the fun out of sex, drug and rock n' roll. As a result, instead of sanctimoniously saying "no," we more often wearily say "why?"
We've also grown up during a massive home technology revolution: we've been photographed, audiotaped, super 8'ed and videotaped throughout our lives. Sometimes it seems that every major personal event has been frozen in time, or -- even worse -- replayed ad nauseam until each little detail has been magnified and studied to death. This makes us very self-conscious.
It all leads to a kind of generational schizophrenia -- the feeling that each major decision will be simultaneously ignored and picked to shreds. It's intrinsically impossible to make any rational decision without intense agonizing, even when the choice seems clear-cut.
Not that there are clear-cut choices anymore. The world is too complex. We are at the advent of the information age; global events fly by at dizzying speed and there are no simple answers. It's probably always been this way, but being electronically wired to the entire cosmos makes us hyper-aware of everything. Too much information, too many choices. Is it any wonder that maybe we think too much before we act?
And when we do make choices -- lovers, cars, apartments, TV shows -- we instantly wonder if we've made the right ones. I think that we often wish we could have a big remote control over our lives so that if we've screwed up, we could just change the channel.
As a generation we've watched the wild-eyed idealism of the 60s transform into the cold-hearted pragmatism of the 80s and we now know that neither extreme works. It's about time we forge our own ways, make our own solutions to the seemingly insoluble problems of the planet we are soon to control. In other words, I guess it's time to grow up. Damn.
While it might seem to our parents and the Boomers that we've taken an extended adolescence, we've also bee watching and waiting for our turn. We know that we will have not only less to work with, but also less time in which to do it. On the other hand, we will already be older and wiser before we even start. That might make all the difference.
-- Jim Connelly
This piece grew out of an essay assignment for my last English class at CSUF -- something about describing my future. Of course, the "what are going to do with our lives" joke was a long-running one with my circle of friends, and in 1992, many of them were just really starting theirs.
This was also before the "Generation X" hype exploded in 1993. I had seen "Slacker" and read Coupland's book by the time I wrote this essay, but I still hadn't read "Generations." or "13th Gen" or anything like that, but when I did, I was pleased that a lot of my observations jibed with theirs.
The major difference: an interpretation of what "growing up" means. I meant it in terms of taking on the same responsibilities as my parents, and had decided that we hadn't even come close. On the other hand, others pointed out that in terms of sophistication and knowledge of the real world, my generation has grown up awful fast. I think both takes are true -- I can never forget a beautiful 19-year-old girl telling me in 1986 how weary and old she already felt. Yet, as many of my friends hit their late 20s and early 30s, there is only one child among them.
I have later takes and essays on the whole "Generation X" (or whatever) phenomenon that were never published that I'll eventually put up here.
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This document last modified on 13 June 1995