Natalie K. Munn
December 8, 1993
Instructor: Howard Besser
Are perceptions of twentysomethings mediated by the generation's relationship to technology? There are an awful lot of opinions about my generation being published, but most don't consider the technology equation. What is the technology equation? Let's assume that Generation x + Technology = y . For those of you who don't remember algebra, what I'm referring to is a PROBLEM.
My grandmother once told me that she'd seen the world change. She mentioned cars, the radio, telephone, the TV, the microwave, and pantyhose. She wasn't talking about the invention of these things. She was talking about how they had become part of her daily life. She was telling about how her y changed as she went from life on a farm without any of these things, to life in a small house, in a small city, where these things were part of most people's lives. I'm interested in my generation's y .
A Generation's y starts out as an unknown (that's why it's part of a problem). In algebra we learn that equations can have multiple solutions depending on what the variables in a problem represent. We also learn that some problems have no solution. In Generation x + Technology = y , we really assume three variables. The first is: What is taken as a generation?. The second is: What is the technology taken as the generation's relation. The third, commonly referred to as the solution, becomes a generation's history or the way in which the generation is remembered. A generation's history is always being written, and a generation is always being remembered or ReMembered. Its group is always being taken apart, and put back together again. This happens to all generations to a greater or lesser degree, but for twentysomethings lately it's like having two toes one day and thirty toes the next. This makes it difficult to walk and almost impossible to run.
The first variable, or What is taken for a generation, is the most pedantic part of the equation, but possibly the most politicized. For this reason, I will devote considerable attention to how generations come to claim individuals. The determination of what makes up a generation is always subjective -a matter of opinion at best, and like the other parts of the equation, constantly in flux. You can plug anything you like in for the first variable, but no matter what you plug in, it changes the nature of the problem, and the solution. At first I wasn't too concerned about what was taken for the first variable. Arguments about who was part of my generation seemed like a matter of splitting hairs. My ambivalence became interest as I began to understand that who is included in a generation determines to a large degree what technologies the generation encounters. Who is included in a generation is a question of time, a question of what time-slice claims the generation as its own.
OK, so I'm a twentysomething. For right now, that means that I'm part of a group that was twenty or older, but not thirty, in 1993. So what?
The what part of the so-what is that I could be a buster or a boomer, or any number of things that might change how easy it is for me to get a job, get a loan, or play nintendo. Now that IS interesting!
William Strauss and Neil Howe tell us that " IF you are a BOOMER, you know yours is, beyond doubt, an authentic generation"(Generations, 10). An Authentic Generation, who ever heard of such a thing? Even if you'd never heard about it 'til Strauss and Howe told you about it, you'd probably get the idea that you'd rather not be part of an inauthentic generation. Who wants to be identified with a bunch of frauds and cheats?
Bill Strauss and Neil Howe map 18 generations through four centuries of American history. Their aim in Generations : is to present a "history of the future by narrating a recurring dynamic of generational behavior that seems to determine how and when we participate as individuals in social change --or social upheaval"(G, 8). Among the 18 generations, Strauss and Howe "find important recurring personality patterns - specifically, four types of 'peer personalities' . . . that follow each other in a fixed order" which the authors call the "generational cycle"(G, 8).
Strauss and Howe argue that their way of presenting history through cross-generational relationships "--between parents and children, between mid-life leaders and youths coming of age, between elders and their heirs--depict[s] history as people actually live it, from growing up in their teens to growing old in their seventies"(G, 8). Because Strauss and Howe's mapping of the generations is central to their theory of American history, they describe thoroughly how they choose the interval years(time-slice) that they assign to various generational groups. For this reason, we'll take Strauss and Howe's generational map into account first, and then examine the time-slices that others have chosen to work with when they talk about today's twentysomethings. The goal is to determine what to assume for x in the Generation x + Technology = y problem.
This excerpt from Strauss and Howe's mapping of the generations shows how in their model, generations' time-slices do not have the same length. Please also take into account the way time-slice length relates to the total number of persons who occupy a generation.
Strauss and Howe offer their study as an "antidote" to the "today fixation" which they identify as a symptom of Americans' "disconnection with history"(G, 7). The authors cite many examples of today fixation:
Our Presidents and Congresses have expressed a broad-based preference for consumption over savings, debt over taxes, the needs of elders over the needs of children. In our private lives, we have seen the same attitude reflected in parents-come-first family choices, adults-only condos, leveraged Wall Street buy-outs, and the live-fast, die-young world of inner city drug dealers(G, 7).
The authors begin their work with a reference to the "show-me pragmatism of today's rising generation," which they cite as one more example of today fixation(G, 7). Strauss and Howe's aim is to solve the problem of today fixation by anchoring people in history, to help them show them how they fit into "the ongoing story of American civilization--a long and twisting human drama that offers each generation a special role"(G, 8).
How a generation's time-slice is determined has a lot to do with how that generation is perceived. In Strauss and Howe's work the time-slice a generation occupies contributes to the group's collective personality as well as to its collective burdens and achievements. As the authors state: "Each generational type specializes in its own unique brand of positive and negative endowments"(G, 39).
How are time slices assigned? Strauss and Howe define a generation as "a cohort-group whose length approximates the span of a phase of life and whose boundaries are fixed by peer personality"(G, 60). Cohorts are sets of persons born in the same year. Cohort-groups are wider sets of persons born in a limited span of consecutive years. Cohort groups retain "a common age location in history throughout their lives"(G, 48). Strauss and Howe emphasize that their definition of a generation depends on "two important elements: first the length of a generational cohort-group, and second, its peer personality"(G, 60).
The length of a generation is determined by examining how long people occupy phases of life. Assume that people occupy serial social roles as they age, and that each occupation is a phase of life: dependence, activity, leadership, and stewardship. Strauss and Howe claim that historical trends of the last two centuries make 22 years a reasonable estimation for the length of a phase of life in America.
Ages 21-22 have approximated the age of legal majority, the end of apprenticeship, the first year after college, the release of non college men from the armed forces, and (from around 1820 until 1971) first suffrage; ages 43-44, the youngest age of any successful Presidential candidate; and ages 65-66, a typical age (and since the 1940's, often the official age) for retirement) (G, 61).
Generations can come of age early (through soldiering) or late (through economic dependence on their parents). Business and political conditions may favor early retirement, or fast promotion of active people into positions of leadership. Generational lengths also hinge on the age distribution of childbearing within a particular generation. Because the phase of life varies for each generation according to social conditions, generational lengths often vary from the 22 year estimate.
In Strauss and Howe's work my generation has a length of 21 years and the birth years stretch from 1961 to 1981. Les Krantz uses the same range in America by the Numbers. Douglas Coupland's Generation X attempts to describe the those "born in the late 1950's and 1960's -a camera shy, suspiciously hushed generation known vaguely up to now as twentysomething "(front flap). He's the one who digs deepest into the time-slice conventionally appropriated by the baby boom. Michael Lee Cohen interviewed people in their twenties for his one-of-a-kind travelogue: The Twentysomething American Dream (5). His twentysomethings were born no earlier than October 1962. According to all these authors, today's twentysomethings are not boomers, but this opinion is held by only a rising minority of writers. In 13th Gen Strauss and Howe explain that "over the past quarter-century, demographers have persisted in defining the birth years of the "baby boomers" as reaching from 1946 through 1964, and the "baby busters" as starting with the 1965 birth year"(13th, 12).
Who's got it right? Campbell Gibson's claim that the baby boom birth years were 1946-1966 places me at the tail end of the boom and places him among the group of demographers Strauss and Howe oppose. His main point is that "It's wrong to treat America's 77 million baby boomers as if they were one consumer market"(36).
Gibson's premise is that "the oldest boomers, who were born following a small group, will behave differently than those born late in the baby boom, following a large group"(37-38).
Gibson examines educational attainment and various elements of the activity phase of life: marriage, childbearing, jobs, individual income, and home ownership. In each case he finds that those born from 1961-1966 differ significantly from older boomers. He finds they are less likely to be married and more likely to never marry, have a lower lifetime fertility expectation, and face more competition in the labor force and housing markets. He finds that "men born from 1961 to 1966 earned much less at age 25 to 29" than their predecessors and predicts that today's twentysomethings are much less likely than older boomers to be homeowners as young adults(39-40). Gibson's study finds that today's twentysomethings experience the phases of life differently than their predecessors and that their dependence and activity phases will be much longer than those of the older boomers.
Gibson's message to marketers is that you're talking apples and oranges when you compare today's twentysomethings to their boom predecessors. Although Gibson accepts the 1946-1966 time slice as the generational length for the baby boom, he paradoxically declares that there is a generation gap within the boom.
First-wave boomers were too old for "The Brady Bunch," and some of the youngest can't even tell you which English city is the home of the Beatles. Talk about a generation gap(40).
Gibson's generation gap is the very thing that has led other writers to reconsider the time-slice of the boom. As Gibson has shown, the life phases of people from the 1961 birth year and subsequent years are significantly different from those who came before them. This is good evidence that they don't belong in the boom generation. The generation gap Gibson describes is another piece of evidence that supports removal of the 1961-66 cohort group from the boom. Strauss and Howe argue that the demographers' traditional approach "crams people into a generation based on the fertility traits of their parents, not on the behavior of the people themselves"(13th, 12).
This is where the second element of Strauss and Howe's generational definition comes in: What about peer personality? People who are twentysomething today KNOW they are not baby boomers. It's almost as simple as that. But, if you want more details, the peer personality scheme helps to organize this group awareness into something more believable than the unembellished opinion of a genuine twentysomething.
A PEER PERSONALITY is a generational persona recognized and determined by (1) a common age location; (2) common beliefs and behavior; and (3) perceived membership in a common generation. (G, 64).
If you're in your twenties right now you share a common age location with others who fall into the twentysomething category. [That's not so hard to accept.] Common beliefs and behavior? [That's a bit more difficult, especially if your generation has a reputation for not believing in anything.] What about perceived membership in a common generation?
We know that we're members of a generation that's been inundated with music baby boomers don't ever seem to get tired of. We know this isn't OUR music, but we also know the words to these old songs as well as we know the lyrics for any more contemporary tunes. We can sing right along to the California Raisins heard it on the grapevine TV advertisement without feeling guilty for plagiarizing a classic. It's not OUR song. To illuminate the irony of the twentysomething generation's relationship to boomer music and the boomer past, Douglas Coupland defines "Legislated Nostalgia":
To force a body of people to have memories they do not actually possess: How can I be a part of the 1960's generation when I don't even remember any of it? "(41).
The California Raisins are not singing our our song, and we know it. We also know we're not boomers.
We can go to a rock group's twenty year reunion concert and we'll know all those songs too, but we won't share a common age location with the entire audience. We know we're sharing the stands with people who are from another generation. We know that when we go back to work on Monday, the guy who was wearing a tie dye at Simon and Garfunkle will be wearing a tie-tie and be making twice as much as we do. We know we're not boomers, and for better or worse, that's where our perceived membership in a common generation begins.
The first wave of people from generation x "hit age 30 exactly when ABC pulled the plug on thirtysomething "(13th, 13). The feeling of "coming after" forms one of our strongest generational bonds. I'm not sure what the last birth year of my generation's time-slice should be, but based on phase of life and peer personality it makes sense to place the beginning of my generation's time-slice at 1961 and to move my contemporaries out of the boom years once and for all.
Our common beliefs are typified by negation. We are who we are because we're not boomers. We believe the boomer in the concert audience has a bigger salary than we do, and that our chances of achieving the American dream pale in comparison to his. Boomers know we believe this, but they don't identify us with this belief even if they agree with its basic assumptions. What they question is why we complain and they identify us as whiners. When I asked in a lecture hall with a mixed audience whether today's electronic communications services were based in part on boomers' desire to communicate with each other, and whether the distribution of these services supported my idea, a boomer wasted no time telling me that my generation is a group of spoiled complainers. Boomers are quick to judge us and they emphasize how much we complain about our jobs.
I created a new topic called "twentysomethings at work" and posted a message to its folder on the America Online Baby Boomers forum. my message and a few select responses follow.
Subj: computing 93-11-22 18:17:01 EST From: Nkmunn How are perceptions of twentysomethings mediated by the generation's relationship to technology and computing? I am especially interested in how twentysomethings are perceived by boomer co-workers and superiors. Are they more likely(than boomers) to be hired for, or assigned to jobs working with technology or computers? Does this change the circumstances of their employment? Are they less likely to be promoted to management positions? Are they more likely to be contract, part-time or temporary workers? Subj: 20somethings at Work 93-11-30 19:59:26 EST From: BATate My experience has been that 20 somethings are highly likely to be working in technical fields. However, they often do not have the same work ethic that older workers have. (I realize this may step on some toes! Nothing personal meant.) 20 somethings seem to have a more of a tendency to think that they just deserve the plum jobs, rather than having to work hard for the job they get. This does not apply to ALL 20 somethings, just a large enough number of the ones I have seen to find myself making this generalization. Some of my colleagues have observed the same phenomenon. Subj: 20s at work 93-11-30 21:08:55 EST From: MikeE80143 They whine about how tough they have it. (Which means they don't have a VCR for the bedroom yet)! [Mike's online profile lists his birth date as 10/19/51] Subj: 20's at work 93-12-01 13:37:36 EST From: MAJOR H30 i couldn't agree more!! The 20's whine about everything, think they should run the company after 2-3 months out of school, have no real idea what it takes to succeed in business, and have total disrespect for their superiors. I'm only 41, but am disgusted with their attitudes. The educators have totally failed this group, and they in turn will totally fail themselves.
Whatever boomers may think, most people in their twenties are aware that it's fairly common for older employees to make more than younger employees who are on the same career path. We don't usually feel injustice over this sort of pay gap. Experience should be worth something. What we fail to accept without complaint are statistics that show how much harder it's getting to make it, and how many of us are not.
"In 1967, male wage earners in their early twenties made 74 percent as much as older males; by 1988 that ratio had fallen to 54%"(G, 327). We feel this crunch. We're the ones trying to make it on 20% less. We cringe when we read about how the "poverty rate has more than doubled among households headed by persons under 30 years old"(Krantz, 18). We know these people, they are our old schoolmates, friends, and neighbors. One of Coupland's twentysomething characters complains to his boomer boss:
Do you really think we enjoy hearing about your brand new million dollar homewhen we can barely afford to eat Kraft Dinner sandwiches in our grimy little shoe boxes and we're pushing thirty?(21).
Coupland's fictional account of twentysomething rage is expressive of many twentysomethings' attitude toward the marketplace.
"A third of today's recent college graduates hold jobs that don't require college degrees,"(Krantz, 231). This is the twentysomething reality. We are no longer surprised to hear that while the "1990 average salary for all college graduates was about $45,000 versus $25,000 for those without a degree", that those just graduating are "setting their sights lower, taking jobs that pay $6 to $7 per hour and often less"(Krantz, 51). Douglas Coupland describes these jobs better than anyone: "McJob: A low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low-benefit, no-future job in the service sector"(Coupland, 5). These jobs, and the fact that we are taking them in order to pay student loans, are partially responsible for the boomerang phenomenon that's landed many college grads land back in the family nest. Mcjobs don't pay enough to make the rent.
We face a lot of competition in the job market, and it's getting harder to demand more than the lowest wages or to argue for a full time position when employers would rather hire two recent graduates part time and skip paying either benefits. Hiring managers are beginning to rely on getting a big bang for the buck out of recent graduates who can't afford not to work. Impossibly low wages are advertised right next to long lists of required qualifications and young people continue to go in debt getting the degrees to compete for the jobs. Predictions about the future don't offer much hope. "There will be fewer average annual openings in jobs requiring a degree during the1990-2005 period than during 1984-1990, according to the U.S. Department of Labor"(Futurist Mar/Apr '93, p. 58). Times like these make it hard for those in their twenties to disbelieve that the American dream is slipping from their grasp.
Michael Lee Cohen asked two really good questions before he took some fellowship money from Harvard and what was left of his bar mitzvah money and set out across the country to interview twentysomethings. Cohen knew that "there is more to this generation of young adults than the image depicted in the media" so he asked "Who are these people talking about?"(4-5). Cohen noticed that "much of the recent discussion about people in their twenties insists that they will not be able to fulfill 'the American Dream," so he asked "Why the American dream?"(5-6). Cohen began a search for the answers to these questions because he wanted to know "precisely what will these people be unable to achieve" and he wanted to learn what his peers imagined the American Dream to be(6).
Cohen found that most people in their twenties want "the same basic things --a family and a 'comfortable' life"(290). :"Although many people mentioned 'freedom' and 'opportunity' and a handful discussed concepts of social justice, these were not the dominant themes"(290).
Most of the people who spoke with me described the textbook American Dream as a husband, wife, and a decimaled number of kids living in a nice house with a picket fence and two cars and maybe a couple of dogs. (The American Dream must be for dog-lovers because no one mentioned cats.)(295)
The American Dream," used to epitomize the United States at its best, all of the ideals to which we did, and still do, aspire--freedom, opportunity, and however imperfectly, social justice. For most of the people I met, "the American Dream" no longer has such magnificent resonance. . . . Like a sea that has dried up, the water that allowed life to survive has evaporated, and all that is left is the gritty tangibility of things. It is sad that, for most people in their twenties, "the American Dream" conjures up nothing grander. (295)
Cohen laments the twentysomething attitude toward the American Dream, but he also found what he was looking for. He writes that "many of the earlier attempts to define today's twentysomething generation seemed to dismiss us, as if the absence of a sequel to Woodstock proves that we are beyond salvation"(307). He admits that "one of the reasons I set out on this journey was to see whether we really are that bad"(307). Cohen concludes "after spending thousands of hours with hundreds of people in their twenties," that he is "quite hopeful about this twentysomething generation"(307).
Cohen's is not the only hopeful voice. Boomers Strauss and Howe are hopeful too, even though their look at twentysomethings turns up numerous obstacles for the generation to overcome. I mentioned earlier that they assign one of four peer personalities to each American generation and that they read history as the cycling of these personalities over time. In their work the boomer personality is idealist and my group, "the thirteenth generation," is reactive. Strauss and Howe believe that reactive types "travel a picaresque lifecycle"(G, 359). This would certainly help explain the episodic nature of the names that have been given to our generation.
Why the thirteenth generation? In the early 70's we were called "computer babies," and were supposed to become the "high tech generation"(13th Gen, 15). Strauss and Howe comment that "such names had a soothingly modern and affluent ring to them--and just a hint of the technophilia that was beginning to distinguish" the 13th generation "from back-to-nature Boomers"(13th, 15). Other names followed but most, like the technoid monikers of the 70's, didn't catch on: Upbeat, Lost, MTV, Boomerang, Posties, New Lost . . . Obviously we can't be all these things or can we?
Douglas Coupland's rebuttal to nostalgia for the lost generation was "Generation X," but literary allusions aren't too popular in the age of television and the name itself came from the British rock scene, so his description never really made it into the mainstream. Most of us recognize ourselves instead as baby busters. Strauss and Howe prefer not to call us busters because they think the term "baby bust" says far more about adult attitudes toward children during the 70's, than it does about the personality of the children themselves(13th ,16). They also comment that it's misleading.
Take a look at the generations table displayed previously. Strauss and Howe's 13th generation time-slice of 21 years is generous compared to their decision to chop off the boomers after 18 years, but in relation to the 22 year norm that they establish for the country over time, both generations come in under the norm. Even if you don't agree with their time-slicing, you'll have to agree that we're not lacking in numbers no matter where you make the cuts, like the boomers before us, we're one of the largest generational groups to ever populate the country. Strauss and Howe elected to call us the 13th Generation because they thought we needed a name that wouldn't mislead anyone into thinking there weren't very many of us(good-bye busters). They also thought we deserved a name that had nothing to do with the boomers(so far, so good), so they decided to "take a number"(13th Gen, 16). (That's imaginative thinking). They decided on 13 "because it's the floor where the elevators don't stop" and because in "medieval Euro-fable, the thirteenth generation is the last to suffer from a curse on the living"(13th Gen, 16-17). Oh Great!
What have we been up to? Many of today's twentysomethings have been running photocopiers. In copyshops, non-profits, Fortune 500 companies and just about every other situation you can think of twentysomethings are feeding the Xerox machine. Strauss and Howe remark that "twenty years ago, Silent 40-year-olds in the media, advertising, and public relations listened respectfully, often approvingly, to the creative ideas of kids in their twenties"(13th Gen, 47).
Today Boomer 40-year-olds can't imagine hearing recent grads telling them anything they haven't already thought of. (Uh, why don't you go over there and work the phones--or, even better, what about the copy machine? I bet you know how to run that baby real well!)(13th Gen, 48)
This attitude is well documented by Leslie, a female twentysomething engineer. She describes how a manager would keep dropping off menial things for her to do, like copying. Being a twentysomething, and a new employee she just assumed that as "staff, I need to do this type of work"(Cohen, 41). When the manager never dropped off anything for a male colleague who had started about the same time she did, Leslie confronted the manager. She remembers how he looked at her and "he was like, 'you mean you're not a secretary?"(Cohen, 41).
In Leslie's photocopier experience, she was put in the copying position because she was female and twentysomething, but the copier isn't usually such a discerning predator of youthful careers. It victimizes twentysomething men and women alike.
We are being ReMembered by the photocopier and American business practices as a generation of haves and have nots. A certain percentage of twentysomethings are being sacrificed, written off as unpromotable before they even walk in the door, regardless of their education or their talents, because someone has to run the copiers.. The solution to the Generation x + PHOTOCOPIERS = y problem is for managers to look beyond the next quarter, and for twentysomethings to BEWARE OF ALL COPIERS (and any other repetitive task) until American businesses start doing some long range planning that takes job training into serious consideration.
Job skills alone won't solve all Generation x + Technology = y problems. American secretaries and administrative assistants have doubled the size of their resumes by adding word processing, spreadsheet, and database management experience to their list of job skills. The problem? Secretaries who use business software have found themselves doing work that was usually someone else's responsibility without significant increases in pay or prospects for promotion. "The title 'secretary' is preferred by only 12 percent of people who perform the job" and "three out of four wouldn't want their kids to follow in their career path"(Speer, 23). My guess is that this ill feeling is caused by knowledge and resentment. Secretaries don't want to be called "secretaries" anymore because they are performing more tasks than the traditional secretarial worker and they want better pay and more opportunities for advancement. They have increased their range of skills only to find out that just about any other title offers a white collar employee a better chance for advancement, regardless of the greater responsibilities and skills developed over time by secretaries.
Are these the only problems? The additional jobs today's secretaries are doing with the help of business software were once the territory of young employees who expected eventual promotion to positions of greater responsibility and larger pay. As secretaries assume additional tasks in American businesses, there are fewer entry level positions that offer opportunity for advancement. Plug secretaries from any generation into the equation, then take business software as the technology and you get a problem with no easy solution.
One answer to the problem is for secretaries to be paid according to how they benefit their organization or employer, and some secretaries are beginning to command very high salaries, but this still doesn't solve the bigger problem: A secretary is more valuable according to how many other workers s/he replaces, even if the secretary is compensated accordingly, this makes the individual secretary valuable and less likely to be promoted to another position. The more good secretaries there are, the smaller the incentive to make the position of secretary a jumping off point for other corporate roles. Fewer jobs, declining wages for young men, and less chance for advancement all around are just a few of the side effects. This equation is no good for anyone, but it is especially harmful to the secretary who becomes a modern day Sisyphus. Twentysomethings who will always be the age group most effected by policies and practices that decrease entry-level jobs that offer an opportunity for advancement suffer as well.
Is anybody happy about this? Unlike their male twentysomething contemporaries, who have seen their wages shrink in comparison to their predecessors', young women have not suffered so drastically. As we see from Gibson's chart that follows, today's twentysomething young women are not being hit as hard as today's young men. Many young women with computing skills can command higher wages as a secretary than young men who seek entry level positions with an opportunity for advancement.
The gap is shrinking between the salaries of young men and young women, but for older workers the gap is much wider. The gap between the salaries of young men and women ages 20-24 born between '61-'66 is $2,500, down from $4,300 for the previous generation during the same phase of life. However, the gap increases within the generational cohort as men are promoted and receive higher salaries over the passage of time. The same cohort group with the $4,300 gap at age 20-24 had a gap of 6,400 when they reached the age of 30-34. Women aren't necessarily getting equal opportunity in the workplace, just greater opportunity to work relatively low paying jobs that offer little chance of advancement.
For young women, the benefits in the above statistics are the spoils of a double edged sword. Women are still making less than men their own age, and men their own age are making less than their predecessors. This translates into less household income for young people and young couples. Later marriages, and postponed childbearing are becoming the norm.
The number of Americans over the age of 18 who have never taken a stroll down the aisle is 41 million, almost double the number in 1970, 21 million(Krantz, 130).
It is said that the median age for marrying is also rising. Today it is 24, up from 21 in 1970. For men, the median age is 26 years, up from 23 in 1970. For women, the median age is 24 years, up from 21 in 1970.
Young women's household incomes stay lower for longer today, and there is an increasing expectation of full-time work after having children.
Many boomers may find the American Dream of today's twentysomethings to be shallow: A house, a spouse, two cars, a dog, two kids. But this dream is born of fear: the possibility of no house, no spouse, no dog, no kids. The dog is a dream because twentysomethings are used to renting and "no-pets" policies which are usually more strict for dogs than cats. Twentysomethings can't have the dog until they get the house. The cars are for getting to work and twentysomethings expect that husband and wife will both be working. The spouse is a dream because so many of today's twentysomethings are from broken families.
"In 1962 , half of all women believed that parents in bad marriages should stay together for the sake of the children; by 1980, only one in five thought so"(G, 324). Some of the twentysomethings Cohen interviewed, most often males, emphasized that having kids was a more integral and achievable part of the dream than having a spouse. Of these, some were divorced already, and others had grown up in broken homes. This should be no surprise: "A 13er child in the 1980's faced twice the risk of parental divorce as a Boomer child in the mid-1960's--and three times the risk a Silent child faced back in 1950(G, 324).
The twentysomething American Dream, like the immigrant's American Dream, is about something you value, that you'd like to have someday. Unlike their predecessors whose American Dream included a college education for their children, today's twenty somethings mention the kids as part of the dream because having children is no longer a certainty. People used to expect to have children, but today's twentysomethings have come of age sexually with easy access to very effective birth control devices. Young couples today, more than any other generation, think of having children as a choice, and they plan to decide when to have them. They include children in the American Dream because they want to be parents and they aren't certain they will ever be ready to make the decision with a clear conscience. They are putting it off because they are afraid they can't afford it and because they are afraid of divorce. The twentysomething dream doesn't sound so silly now does it?
Young women have plenty to fear. "The increase in one-parent families, most headed by women, has nearly tripled since 1970"(Krantz, 189). Women do 86% of the single-parenting in America, and "almost half of those receiving child-support payments receive less than their due: 24.8% of the women receive none, and 23.8% receive only partial payments"(Krantz, 290 & 45).
As the computer generation we are supposed to man the data entry work force, and the programmers among us are supposed to find new and ingenious ways to cut corporate waste and increase profit margins. None of the people Cohen interviewed suggested that doing either of these things was their idea of living the American dream. The reality of such jobs is carpal tunnel syndrome or discovering that your employers want you to find new and ingenious ways to monitor the performance of your peers keystroke by keystroke. One of the most insidious solutions to the Generation x + Technology = y problem is surveillance in the workplace. Our bosses know how many times we go to the bathroom and how long it takes us to pee. No wonder the twentysomething American Dream doesn't include a computer.
Today "as many as 26 million people labor under the all knowing eye of an electronic boss.(Kadaba, 3C). All these people are not twentysomethings. However, today's twentysomethings are perhaps the most comprehensively monitored generation of workers in American history. The use of surveillance technologies has become more universal during the time when their age group tends to occupy entry level service positions (the most monitored) subjecting a greater body of today's twentysomethings to workplace surveillance than any generation preceding.
In February 1986 Processed World attended a "VDT Speakout" in San Francisco's financial district. They chronicled the testimony of Pacific Southwest Airline(PSA) flight reservation clerk Toni Watson. PSA's "computerized work/potty monitoring system" tracked Toni's minutes of labor performed over her 8 1/2 hour workday and her "infractions of PSA's 106 second per call rule"(177). Toni's "EXCESSIVE UNPLUG TIME for trips to the bathroom was met with an "ultimatum -job loss or 'special potty training' to reduce unproductive minutes spent urinating"(177). Processed World reported that because of this ultimatum, "Toni suffered a nervous breakdown from which it took eight months to recover"(177). Processed World's headline for the story was "We're Talking, You're Listening, Nothing's Happening"(177).
In October 1993, San Jose Mercury News published the chronicle of a Philadelphia bill collector.
Marie, who asked that her last name not be used, says that at any time her supervisor can tap into her telephone line -unannounced-and listen to her conversations. Because of the monitoring, she says, she suffered a breakdown and sought help from a therapist (Kadaba, 1C).
Marie's story, much like Toni's, is lamentable. The headline for Marie's story, and its venue(Knight-Ridder NewsService) show that what was once the concern of an unaffiliated group of political dissidents from the Bay Area(where people are weird anyway) has become in six short years a fact of life for people everywhere in America. Marie's story was headlined: "Big Boss is Watching You" and Knight-Ridder's audience stretches from one end of the country to another, reaching hundreds of thousands of Americans daily. When they say "you" they mean everybody. Knight-Ridder's headline, unlike Processed World's, implies that surveillance in the workplace is here to stay and that there's little or nothing people can or should do about it.
Strauss and Howe comment that "boomers are stirring to defend values(monogamy, thrift, abstention from drugs) that other generations do not associate with them(315). The employment of workplace surveillance devices by ex-hippies is just one more thing to add to the list of boomer hypocrisies from the twentysomething point of view. Before any boomers get all bothered, let me explain. About the tie-dye/tie-tie thing, we understand, really! We have costumes for all occasions, and we realize that you do to.
What we don't understand is stuff like "I didn't inhale" and "Just say no." Another thing we don't understand is AIDS. Another is the poverty of families with single female head-of-households. Another is that we've got all these degrees but there aren't enough jobs in the fields we were educated to pursue. Some of your favorite songs sound like drug advocacy commercials to me. And, weren't you the ones who got the pill and decided that unprotected extramarital sex was OK? What about when you told us that you just didn't get along anymore, and that you still loved your kids? And one more thing, aren't you the ones who taught most of our high school and many of our college classes, signing those "intent to major in" forms one after another?
Coupland's fictional twentysomething tells his hypocritical boss: "I have to endure pinheads like you rusting above me for the rest of my life, always grabbing the best piece of cake first, and then putting up a barbed wire fence around the rest"(21). Similarly, "the 'Society for the Acceleration of Time' calls upon Boomers to hurry up, get old, and get out of the way"(G, 408). Strauss and Howe defend their generation by stating that "one commonly heard charge, that of 'hypocrite,' ill fits a generation that came of age resacralizing and has kept at it"(G, 315).
Strauss and Howe tell us that the 13th generation was "nurtured on zoom-a-zoom-a-zoom-a-zoom, 78-channel cable, and 24-hour a day TV sports"(51). This is probably an overstatement. A large number of us grew up in suburbs and rural areas that still have no cable access. The twentysomething generation came to the city late,without our parents. We entered the cities as young adults either for college or right after college when we took our first jobs after graduation. More of us live in different metropolitan areas from our parents than any other American generation, except for maybe the first settlers of this country, who left all their relatives on another continent. Plenty of us are considering the same thing. Like the youth of Europe who were crowded out by an economy that could no longer support the dreams of anyone but the first born sons of wealthy men, we are looking for somewhere to make our fortune. Strauss and Howe predict that "the leading 13er frontier will be overseas, where this generation can most fully apply its entrepreneurial instincts and take advantage of its linguistic, computer, and marketing skills"(219). They're probably right.
Much as transportation has changed our affinity to our birth communities, TV has changed the way we look at the world. We grew up in a time that saw TV broadcast rating services and ADI(area of dominant influence) based advertising irrevocably alter the commercial and political landscape of America.
For many large package goods companies, whose advertising and promotion represent a major cost of business, it has been increasingly common to assemble sales data on an ADI basis in order to measure television advertising performance. From this it is only a small step to align sales territories to conform to ADI lines, thus making this the standard unit of sales planning, as well as sales analysis(Bogart, 43).
Ben Badikan writes that TV's "stunning ability to sell goods and its inexpensive transmission over thousands of square miles led to a competition between printed and electronic media to reach ever-wider groups of potential customers"(182). This competition is partially responsible for the reduced the number of daily newspapers available today. By 1980 there were 8,765 urban places and only 1,745 dailies"(Badikan, 177). Les Krantz sums the demise of the daily up by noting that of papers around at the close of World War II "about half survive and a few new ones have appeared, most notably USA Today; it has the highest circulation of all"(150).
News distribution is no longer designed for individual towns and cities. American politics is organized on the basis of the 20,000 urban and rural places in the country, which is the way citizens vote. But the media have organized on the basis of 210 television "markets," which is the way merchandisers and media corporations sell ads. As a result, the fit between the country's information needs has become seriously disjointed(Badikan 188).
Badikan concludes that "the inappropriate fit between the country's major media and the country's political system has starved voters of relevant information, leaving them at the mercy of paid political propaganda that is close to meaningless and often worse . . .It has eroded the central requirement of a democracy that those who are governed give not only their consent, but their informed consent" (192).
Today's twentysomethings have the dubious distinction of being raised in an increasingly community-less era and an increasingly scandalous political climate. We don't even think it' s that peculiar that our ex-president's sons are variously responsible for the savings and loan scandal in one state, and current bids for public office in two others. Who cares, we didn't really think they had real homes anyway, the president included. We do remain, however, curious about the president's dog. We remember her name, and we know just what she looks like. Lucky us. We have a vague recollection that dogs only live about nine years, but Milieu wont be dead until we see it on TV, or maybe she already died but we weren't;t watching when it was on. We'll never know. There's no such thing as a comprehensive public TV library yet.
Most of the shows we watched while we were growing up are probably irretrievable. Maybe we'll get to watch them in syndication some day on Turner Network TV. Thank god for the VCR, at least we can capture things on our own if we want to now. We're probably the first generation whose childhood toys (& memories) are stored in no-one's attic. One of our favorite things to do is talk about weird TV we watched when we were young, but only if we can talk to someone who watched the same shows. You can't just hand someone a book of all your TV memories and have them say "oh yes, I see!"
The twentysomething relationship to TV is too complicated to express with my simple equation. TV has shattered our communities and reduced our newspapers to layouts of wire service stories. TV has given us a skewed vision of American politics as a succession of scandals, press-conferences, inaugural parades, and conventions. More of us know more about Tailhook and than know the names of our own city council members. We are more tuned into national and international political events than we are to local ones. Even though the media is capable of broadcasting local and live events, most of us grew up watching canned ones related to far away places. We are used to hearing about political decisions after they are over and candidates after they win the primaries. By virtue of TV we are uncomfortably removed from the democratic process.
>discussion of our generation begins and ends with schoolhouse rock. conjunction junction. I'm just a bill. we the people. I was at the national archives last month an all the kids in line were singing the constitution. and then they wonder why we don't take the heavy stuff seriously.
>greetings from maine! I agree totally! I think a generation that relates to each other through a collective consciousness of schoolhouse rock segments, a generation that has a greater affection for snuffalupagus than their fathers, and a generation that can only count to twelve and recites the alphabet only in song--of course we're not going to be too keyed into reality. most of the responses I heard about the gulf war had something to do with the numb sense that someone was hurting and those cool video graphics of smart bombs.
Excerpt from 13th Gen, 130.
In conclusion I'd like to tell a short story. Many twentysomethings like Star Trek: The Next Generation. I've been watching the show ever since it came on the air. I just realized the other day that none of the main characters in Star Trek are twentysomethings. I was sitting on the train and it just came to me: "there's no one your age on Star Trek." I just hadn't noticed before, and I wonder if I ever would have noticed while I was watching the show ? I asked some other twentysomethings who watch it regularly if they'd ever noticed there were no people our age in central roles on Star Trek. They just looked at me kind of funny and then told me I was right. All the central characters are boomers except Wesley. We had a short debate about whether Data (the android) could possibly be a twentysomething but then we realized he'd been to Starfleet Academy and then risen all the way to Lieutenant Commander. There's no way. He's got to be older. It's our favorite show. I wish I hadn't noticed. I asked earlier if perceptions of twentysomethings are mediated by the generation's relationship to technology. I guess I have my answer.
Badikan, Ben H. The Media Monopoly . 4th ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992.
Bogart, Leo. Press and Public: Who Reads What, When, Where, and Why in American Newspapers . 2nd ed. Hillsdale, NJ: 1989.
Coupland, Douglas. Generation X. New York: St. Martin's, 1991.
Cohen, Michael Lee. The Twentysomething American Dream: A Cross Country Quest for a Generation. New York: Dutton, 1993.
Georges, Christopher. "Whine, Whine, Whine: Exploding the Myths of the 'Baby Busters" San Jose Mercury News. 24 Oct. 1993: 1P & 4P. (Georges wrotes this article for the Washington Post)
Gibson, Campbell. "The Four Baby Booms" American Demographics.. 15.11 (1993): 36-40.
Kadaba, Lini S. "Big Boss is Watching You." San Jose Mercury News. 25 Oct. 1993: 3C & 8C.
Krantz, Les. America by the Numbers: Facts and Figures from the Weighty to the Way-Out. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.
Processed World. Bad Attitude: The Processed World Anthology . Eds. Chris Carlsson and Mark Leger. New York: Verso, 1990.
Speer, Tibbett. "How to Keep Customers Loyal? Try a Magazine." American Demographics.. 15.11 (1993): 23-24.
Strauss, William and Howe, Neil. 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? New York: Random House, 1993.
Strauss, William and Howe, Neil. Generations: The History of America's Future, 1854-2069 .