Thursday, February 7, 2008

Talkin' About Their Generation — Endlessly

A few weeks ago, a colleague and I went to a roundtable discussion on generational issues in the workplace. The topic wasn't new to me, but the information was good. There was a nice representation of Baby Boomers (more on them in a bit), Gen Xers like me and Gen Yers. We talked mostly about how our workplaces were or weren't engaging our younger customers and employees.

What I heard was troubling. Several twentysomethings said their Boomer bosses act as if people younger than them are aliens. They don't understand their habits or ways of communicating, so they either dismiss them or waste precious time on data compilation instead of listening to their capable employees who are in that age group. I sensed quite a bit of frustration. It simply added more fuel to the fire of my annoyance with Boomers in general.

I don't hate Baby Boomers. What I hate is the arrogance and sense of entitlement that comes from being a huge, influential group with power. They did some good stuff. They did some bad stuff. Every generation does, and it leaves a blueprint for subsequent generations to reject or revise. But the Boomers just won't get off the stage. They don't seem willing to even share it. (They also won't stop writing books about the '60s. Please, Tom Brokaw. Stop.)

I get it: Because of their numbers, anything they do or think counts as significant. But there's something off-putting about the way Boomers come across sometimes. Younger people aren't appreciative enough of the doors that were opened for them. Younger people are wasting time online instead of changing the world, man. Younger people want everything handed to them instead of earning it. Their ideas are confusing and filled with strange jargon. Their music sucks and they want to listen to it on tiny headphones! At the office!

I'm stunned by how dismissive some Boomers can be of twentysomethings in particular. Look, Gen Y is a bit too optimistic and angst-free for my taste, but my brother and sister are in their 20s, and they are among the world's coolest people. They work hard (kinda). They're smart and curious about the world. They have good ideas. They've helped me make sense of things like this wacky music-downloading craze and Facebook. They're one of the main reasons I know that great music continued to be recorded after 1996. I even forgave my sister for referring to Sting as "an old white man." But to hear some Boomers tell it, all of Gen Y is slacking off to go to Zumba classes, download pirated music and build these silly things known as "Web sites."

The absolute worst is talking to black Boomers about race. They are almost hostile in their insistence that younger blacks are apathetic, shiftless types who have been co-opted by The Man. Yet, a chorus of Civil Rights-era giants called Barack Obama out for having the temerity to run for president. I guess he should have asked for permission first.

As Boomers should well know, young(er) people have a nasty habit of not doing things according to established playbooks. It doesn't matter that they don't understand kids and their crazy habits. What matters is that they are sharing a society with at least two generations of people who view the world differently than they do. And one of these generations is practically middle-aged — not exactly a bunch of half-baked whippersnappers.

This will probably come back to bite me the day one of my kids fires up a song that my ears interpret as "noise." But if it kills me, I will resist a tirade about walking 10 miles in the snow to buy a Tribe Called Quest CD.

1 comment:

Sghoul said...

My Big Boomer Beef (henceforth called BBB) is how, when they do discover some new craze, they hold it aloft like they are the discoverers of the Holy Grail.

Like Al Gore and the internet, or just boomers at work who come to a meeting and say "Hey, I just discovered this cool thing called You Tube" Sadly, since so few X or Y are in directors meetings, there aren't enough people in the room to say "Um, I have been going to youtube...DAILY...for like 4 years"

That is what sickens me. Boomers are realizing that they need to change to court the youth...or their businesses will die. But, rather than figure out what they need to change by, you know, ASKING the youth, they have meetings with other no clue having boomers.

All the while, they have a bunch of X and Y's outside of those meetings wondering why the fuck they can't figure out anything.