Caught in the middle of two generations

Michelle Poje

Several weekends ago, I learned something very interesting about my generation: I don’t really have one.

I was doing some research for story ideas when I came across a book entitled Millennials Rising. The book, written by researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss, is a bestseller that compares and contrasts Generation X and Generation Y.

According to the authors, Generation X contains people born between 1961 and 1981. Generation Y follows beginning with my birth year, 1982, and ending with 2002. Intrigued, I decided to explore the topic further.

About an hour later, I had read through several articles about generation gaps and had come across something rather interesting. Half the articles followed Howe and Strauss’ generational time frames. The other half claimed Generation X ended in 1982 and Generation Y began in 1983. My birth year was sandwiched between both generations, leaving me with one pressing question: Am I an X or a Y?

Generation X is characterized as a freethinking generation of people who grew up with Atari, personal computers and “The Brady Bunch.” They are deemed to be overeducated and underemployed, a generation concerned with saving money and preserving relationships.

Generation Y is made up with technology-savvy “echoboomers” who are overachievers in all aspects of their life. While this generation is more accepting of racial and ethnic issues, they are cautious about sex and drugs. They are also considered to be less restricted with their money and more ambitious and goal-oriented than Generation X.

For those of us born at the very beginning of 1980, we fall into both generations. We grew up with VHS tapes and Atari and giant cell phones without cameras. But we also experienced the Internet boom and can work gadgets such as iPods and cell phones with ease.

Which leaves me wondering: Is it accurate to define a generation based merely on the year a person was born?

And it’s not just those of us who were born in the early ’80s. Who is to say that people born during the 1970s are doomed to be the underachievers of Generation X? Is it accurate to assume that because I was born in an age of emerging technology, I will be successful in every area of it?

For example, I have an iPod, but spent a good three months learning how to properly work it. I still watch VHS tapes. I can live without instant messenger and a slim cell phone the size of a business card.

But I also love to spend money. I have ambition to get through school and find a great job. I’m educated on issues like sex and drugs, and open-minded on topics like interracial dating and homosexuality.

Just because someone is born during a certain time or a certain craze, doesn’t mean he or she will adapt to it. It doesn’t mean that just because the divorce rate in the 1970s was high, people who grew up at that time are cautious in relationships, as Howe and Strauss claim.

Let’s stop trying to lump everyone into molds. Categorizing people based on the years they were born is not a way to define a generation. It’s the people who define it, not their birth years.

Michelle Poje is a senior newspaper journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].