Technology & the Vertical Caveat in Generational Theory


When I turned 16 I had a choice: A Sweet Sixteen Party or a trip to London. Unlike the rest of my peers I chose the latter. Not for the Spice Girls, but for the Beatles. I had spent the past year and a half papering my walls with photocopies my Dad would make on his lunch hour from books I’d checked out of the library. While most of my fellow classmates were crying along with Jewel, I was blasting the likes of The Supremes, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and the Mamas and the Papas. Backstreet Boys versus NSYNC lunchroom arguments baffled me as I tried to explain to my friends how Yoko Ono busted up my favorite boy band of all time.

Thanks to Brad Pitt I was beginning to think I had some kind of mental Benjamin Button syndrome until the other week when I came across the Pew Center’s “How Millennial Are You?” quiz (h/t Becky Graebner). Technically I fall into David Swindle’s Millennial-X’er Blend generation, but according to the  Pew Center, I’m a Baby Boomer verging on Generation X.

No wonder I tend to gravitate towards my elders, especially when it comes to entertainment. Of course, being Jewish, I blame it all on my Mother. At 7 our first video rental was the Amy Irving film Crossing Delancey. Years later I married a good Jewish boy with curly hair and New York roots, and I still have a thing for Peter Riegert. Unlike fellow high schoolers obsessed with Ross and Rachel, my teen years were defined by Rupert Holmes‘s much under noticed classic Remember WENN, a dramedy set at a Pittsburgh radio station in the days before World War II. I scoffed at fellow film students in college who balked at the idea of watching anything in black and white.  The other day, when I found out that Jason Alexander would be performing live in my neck of the woods, I scrambled online to get tickets. I am a middle-aged woman stuck in a Gen X/Millennial body.  How did this happen?


I took the quiz twice, on two different days, and received the same exact score both times.

What most generational theories don’t appear to take into account are the vertical influences on a generation. Horizontally speaking, we influence one another and grow together accordingly. Vertically speaking our experiences are more hetero than homogeneous. As the unplanned child of older parents, I became the benefactor of wisdom and experience far beyond the years of my peers. Moreover, while most of my contemporaries defined the term “latch key child” I had a pair of incredibly involved parents who had the unique ability to treat me as both a child and a friend – even a contemporary at times. (Never snub your nose at the blessings of being or having an older parent.) Simply put: I have an older soul because I was surrounded by older people.

My experience flew in the face of the “Damn the Man” ethos of the 1960s that erected a permanent barrier of mistrust between those below and above the age of 30. In The Closing of the American Mind Allan Bloom observed that before the Baby Boomers came of age, teenagers would listen to the music of their parents. The generational disconnect for Bloom was a result of rock and roll. I’d build upon the observation by noting that Baby Boomers may have had rock and roll, but still watched the television of their parents. Generation X’ers, however, had music and television all to themselves, but still relied on their parents for accessibility. Now, equipped with the Internet accessible through smartphones, Millennials and their media are completely on their own.

Not only is their pop culture dialect a sketchy second language for their parents, their technology use is alien to a generation more familiar with Tetris than Twitter. Forget the Walkman, the television, even the family computer; today’s kids have it all and are considered know-it-alls when it comes to how to operate these newfangled personal portals to the world. The age of sharing has given way to an era where the kids are in charge.

Generational theory is as fascinating for the order it attempts as it is offensive for its inherent pigeonholing. There is a certain amount of validity to the concept of homogeneity among generational groups, but there will always be anachronistic stand-outs in the crowd. With a communication barrier the size of the Berlin Wall dividing today’s youth and their parents’ generation, the real question is: Are the days of the stand-outs numbered?