OK Boomer

Cultural, economic, and personal experiences continue to shape generational divisions.

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OK Boomer

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An unidentified older man posted a video online to convince his followers that the younger members of society, Gen Z and millennials, all suffer from the classic “Peter Pan syndrome of not wanting to grow up.” Essentially, he was doubting that the more recent generations wouldn’t be able to grow out of their youthful delusions and adjust to the adult world. In response came a rebuttal via TikTok that would instantly go viral, featuring a much younger man shouting “OK boomer!” over and over, as a simple and effective shut down of the other man’s opinion. Naturally, it became a meme and is now available on a wide variety T-Shirts, has been used by lawmakers (google “new zealand politician ok boomer”), and according to some, has only furthered the generational war. But how true is this, really?

Hickman is fortunate enough to have a wide variety of generational experiences under its roof– Which is to say, yes, there are boomers at HHS, but there are also Gen Xers, millennials, and of course, Gen Z, also known as every student who attends.

Before we get into it though, here’s a quick reminder of who’s who when it comes to generations: Those between the ages of 74-91 are known as the Silent Generation, boomers are from 55-73, and Gen X, where most of Hickman’s staff falls, is ages 39-54. Millennials are from ages 23-33, and last but not least is Gen Z, at ages 7-22.

 

Boomers

The boomers grew up in a time of economic recession. World War Two was ending, and their parents had come back from the war to move further into the suburbs and start lives of their own. The political shake-ups of the 60s and 70s were the formative movements of the boomers’ lives, with protests from events like the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Watergate Scandal making headlines when they were growing up, and these three things led to a lack of faith in the government, which in turn became a purposeful self-removal from public participation in governmental projects and a more politically conservative lean. 

Boomers were part of an era of opportunity, which led to the strong conviction, for many boomers, that success should be achieved through hard work. Boomers could’ve even been known as workaholics, trying to balance home and work life, while saving money for retirement and the ability to give their children the chance to attend college as well– And, stereotypically, had a much easier time of it all, in comparison to the young adults of today.

 

Gen X

Next in line after the boomers is the Gen Xers. This group made a brand for themselves based on building a proper work-life balance, flexibility, diversity, and increased skepticism of the government and the media. 

Guidance Counselor Susan Matthews was happy to call herself part of Gen X, “and super proud of it!” When asked to summarize what her generation is built on, she said, “[Gen Xers] are the latchkey generation…the forgotten ones…the nihilists and skeptics. We are adaptable, individualistic, and independent.  Our parents weren’t around a lot because they were working, so we try to figure out a balance of that even if it kills us.”

Matthews recalls, “Our mothers were the feminists of the 60s and 70s. Many of them fought VERY hard to make sure we had every single opportunity available to us. Many of my close women friends and I discuss how this has changed the way our lives look. It contributes to the ‘Mommy Wars,’ ‘Mommy Guilt,’ changes in relationship patterns, and sometimes a great sense of personal turmoil.” What she’s referencing here is the “war” between mothers who continued to work after having kids and those who choose to stay home, and the subsequent guilt of working moms who felt they weren’t doing enough to provide for their kids.

The time and effort that her feminist mother dedicated to her growing up left her with “this tape playing in my mind from our mothers, and fathers, saying, “‘You can be anything you want to be.  You can have it all.’ And we try. And we succeed. And we fail. And we are exhausted. And sometimes, we have a great friend who says, ‘yes you can,’ but it doesn’t have to be all at the same time and our mothers fought so we could choose which parts we wanted.” 

Despite the alienating societal pressure based around gender and socioeconomic status that rested heavily on her generation, Matthews stressed that keeping an open mind and listening to the experiences of others can boost the morale of the entire generations and close the divides caused by age gaps.

Gen X was shaped by the AIDS epidemic and the fall of the Berlin Wall, as well as the dot-com boom. “We had to transition from no computers to all computers,” Matthews said regarding the rapid advancements made by technology during her lifetime. “We aren’t digital natives and so that makes us bridges in some ways.”

But as easy as it is to generalize regarding generations, Matthews did want to emphasize that age can be one of the least reliable demographics to base an opinion off of.

“Folks have different experiences,” Matthews said. “But a Gen X person in the US is different from a person born in the same time in Japan or Egypt or any number of other countries. It is all about the intersectionality of sociopolitical events. I have more in common with white cisgender women of any age born in the United States than I do with a cisgender woman born the same day and year as me in another part of the world.”

It’s a statement that would probably ring true for other Gen Xers, for sure, but how does a perspective like that apply to her younger contemporaries? In response, Matthews held her ground, reasserting that age disparities can certainly shape the culture of a certain group of people, but it’s still far too broad a category to base individual judgements on.

“I’m fascinated by the ways cultural experiences shape people and I think things like the ‘Ok boomer’ memes are funny, but my use of [that] information is to gather baseline information and not to make a judgement about a person based on when they were born,” Matthews said.

“Each of you has something to teach me if we just take the time to figure it out. It depends on how long one gives to get to know or learn about a person.”

 

Millennials

“Self-absorbed” and “pampered” are two words that US history teacher and millenial John Scott thinks would be used to describe his generation– From an outside, older perspective, that is. Growing up in the generation that was shaped by Columbine, 9/11, and the internet, English teacher Sam Hayes feels millenials are “stereotyped for needing to be constantly praised (Hello, participation ribbons! EVERYONE gets an award.), always searching for a purpose, don’t-label-me-attitude, avocado toast crazy, and obviously good with technology.”

Dean Frazier, math teacher, thinks the societal pressure that millennials face is about fixing problems they didn’t necessarily have a hand in causing, like the “economic inequality, gender pay gap, prison system, pollution/deforestation/warming oceans, [and the] education system.”

Given full access to technology, it can feel like they are supposed to be capable of making the most of their lives like no other generation before them had the ability to do. But the flipside, as Jeff Devero, US history teacher, puts it is that the tech-savvy millennial population is supposedly “on our phones all the time and technology has consumed us.”

Scott would base the differences in generations on the basis that “knowledge/information brings about changes in behaviors, and tech facilitating better communication of ideas accelerates these changes. I don’t know if people are different from one generation to the next, but I know that behaviors tend to change from one generation to the next based on what is acceptable.” According to Hayes, generational divisions “exist because our society has constructed the labelling of them. I do believe that there are differences due to the events that each [group] has had to live through, which includes the stereotypes placed on them by society.” 

Devero reminds those that regardless of your stereotypical view of various generations, “no stereotype is completely accurate. You will always find examples to fit the mold, and those that break it.”

To his point, Devero describes his personal relations with other generations as having him feeling “slightly disconnected and confused with what’s taking place within younger generations, but intrigued at the same time [and] frustrated with older generations about outdated modes of thought on some issues.”

However, just as the one thing you can always count on is change, maybe the one thing that can unite the generations could simply be the experience of being pigeon-holed into generational boxes in the first place.

“We’ve all experienced cultural changes that have been met with skepticism by older generations,” Devero says. “We’ve all been unfamiliar with new slang or trends being embraced by younger generations. There’s a lot of time left to determine the impact of our generation upon our society and the world. I think every generation leaves its mark once it comes into power and wields control over society and government.”   

 

Gen Z 

“We hold the future in our hands,” Nick Kanne, senior, declared. In an age of school shootings, political polarization, and rampant technology, a generation of determined teenagers is gearing up to become the world’s next lawmakers, parents, and leaders. And that can be a hard thing to do, especially when it can feel like Gen Z is seen as “lazy, reliant on technology, selfish, and careless,” as Sohyeon Yun, senior, put it. Similarly, Spell said he believes “the biggest stereotype of Generation Z is the reliance on technology and specifically a necessity for constant entertainment.”

Even so, Gen Z’s willingness to take action is impossible to ignore, with pioneers like Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai taking charge and making worldwide headlines for their activism. It’s not rare for teens today to hear something to the effect of  “we’re counting on you,” and “your generation are going to be the ones who have to get this all fixed before the world ends,” from parents and teachers alike. In particular, it certainly can look like all eyes are on the Gen Z’ers to change the fate of the climate crisis.

“I believe that other generations have had a different focus in general that has led to certain things like a neglect for climate control. This lack of responsibility comes more from a lack of global awareness of these problems that come out in the news today.” stated Spell.

With political issues as urgent and severe as that on the table, it can be understandable that extra pressure and ridicule from older generations– in this case, that’s practically every generation –can make today’s teens cagey, and even spiteful. Hence, “ok boomer.” But does that mean all hope of bridging the generational gap is lost?

“I don’t hate any other generations,” Spell said on the subject. “I think that it takes stepping in their shoes, or ‘looking from their angle’ to understand where they come from. I think it is important for other generations to be knowledgeable about the different cultures in different generations.”

Kanne broadly approached the generational divide by basing it on the way each generation problem solves. “I can see some differences as different generations were raised in different times,” Kanne said, “so we have different ways of approaching things.”

 

Interpersonal Communication and Relationships

“When I was younger, communication was not via technology – it was paper and pencil and snail mail, or you picked up a landline telephone and made a call, but had to pay for long distance, so many times the long distance calls were short,” Seth Willenberg, Gen X physics teacher reminisced.

Further back, Julie Marsh, boomer, recalled that “we didn’t have cell-phones or computers. I remember we had a phone that was hooked to the wall on a long cord, and we would stand there and talk for hours. Anyone you wanted to talk to, you couldn’t bring it to your room of course, you just had to stand there and hold the phone.”

As far as tracking the changes in technology through the ages, looking at how hard it used to be just to use a phone is a pretty solid standard. “I know the agony of a rotary dial phone when you would call long distance (that was when you called someone outside of your town and it cost extra money and you had to dial 11 numbers to get them) and mess up the last digit,” Matthews said. “You had to hang up as fast as you could so you wouldn’t get charged AND then had to dial all the numbers again.”

Later on, Matthews received her first cell phone. “I distinctly remember my first cell phone.  It was a bag phone that was for emergencies only when I was driving back and forth to college. It didn’t get reception for a 40 mile stretch of that road.”

And while some Gen Zers may remember relying exclusively on landlines during elementary school, millenials were completely dependent on home phones like that while growing up. “I still remember all my friends’ parents’ phone numbers [from calling them as a kid],” recalls Frazier, millennial.

To complicate the communication issue, gender roles were more concrete and conservative while boomers were growing up, as Greg Gunn remembers.

“Dating and gender roles were pretty much male-female,” Marsh agreed, “and if you were interested in the same sex it was pretty quiet. It was kept really quiet and no one really demonstrated it in public. We called it being in the closet. And you pretty much stayed in the closet or you weren’t accepted.”

The Gen X dating experience, however, was a little looser in terms of protocol, even if attitudes towards gender roles didn’t see much evolution. According to Matthews, “[in the] early years it was very much the herd mentality. We went out as groups of friends when someone ‘liked’ someone else. As we got older it transitioned to couple dating. Gender roles were pretty set.  Even more so if the parents were more conservative.”  

“It has slowly changed – and I think for the better in many ways,” she added.

Speaking of changes, the millenial dating scene has seen one of the biggest shake-ups yet, with the introduction of online dating apps and private messaging on new social media platforms. Devero spoke to this, saying that “dating has changed drastically since [he’s] been married. Men mostly asked women out and paid for dates. Once a relationship was established, paying for dinners or outings was then shared. But internet dating or DMing girls was becoming popular while I was in the later years of college.”

“Dating was more public than ever due to social media starting when I was in high school,” said fellow millennial Hayes. She went on to say that “the constant communication has exponentially increased due to social media but the quality of that communication and true connection has exponentially decreased, as it is easier to just like a picture or status as opposed to talking to someone.”

Many Gen Zers, though, have only known dating via social media and technology. “Dating has definitely gone more online, with texting and apps like snapchat. My parents talk about how bad it is that people frequently break up over texts, however I believe that this is one of the ways that this generation is changing social relationships.”

Spell is also aware that the age of technology will only grow. “Most of my communication between friends and family when I was growing up was done in person, with friends was mostly done at school. This is quickly changing with the spread of smartphones given to kids at a younger age every year.”

Kanne acknowledges how open his generation is regarding who’s ‘allowed’ to date who. “Dating in “my day” is when anyone can be with anyone,” he said.

 

Technology

Technology, as most can agree, is a double edged sword. It has the unique potential to enhance your life or waste a solid chunk of your time, and it’s evolved and developed so much over the past half-century that the generational views on it have separated neatly into two categories: Those who’ve had to adjust to it, and those who grew up with it. For instance, as a Gen Xer, Willenberg says technology and social media helps and hurts in equal measure.

“I have mixed feelings about social media,” he says. “I see the pros: [It’s a] quick way to stay in touch with family and friends and be in the loop with what is happening in their lives. Cons: [You] don’t need to be on it all the time, [it’s] created a whole new avenue for people to bully, it’s filled with lots of worthless drivel– Do I really care what your meal looks like… No, not really.”

Matthews agrees, and also says she sees social media being a sort of pressure for young people. “It is a blessing and a curse. I am able to stay close with my friends who live far away, which I love. However, I see the ways that it sucks up time and energy from me and I don’t like that.  I also see how the nuances of online communication (it is always so hard to know tone in written form) sometimes start problems for younger folk. And,” she adds, “I am so glad there isn’t social media evidence of my high school and college years. That pressure would be pretty great.”

Devero, a millenial, thinks technology’s cons outweigh the pros. 

“The intense immediate gratification with social media (and new phones generally) is kind of dangerous,” he said. “How people manipulate themselves to meet some nonsense ‘standard’ on social media or use it to promote a false portrayal of self is ridiculous. People are willing to say things that they’d never do in person and instigate more bullying. Social media is mostly a cesspool.”

Conversely, there’s the Gen Z outlook, as told by Yun: “I have only known a world with technology. I do not think that is a bad thing, it allows us to access more information.” Spell, on the other hand, clarified that he personally thinks “in general social media is used too much, however this is an important aspect of our generation in keeping informed about current events and social trends.”

 

Work and the Economy 

When you get down to it, one of the biggest motivators behind ‘ok boomer’ was people raised in a different time telling their younger counterparts how lazy they are. Take that with as much of a grain of salt as you will, but how do work ethics and expectations really match up across the generations? 

Before you read, make sure to take a moment and think about the specific plan you have/had about getting a job, and then about how your personal goals match up with other people your age. What seems most typical regarding when to start working and how you’re supposed to behave once you do? Keep reading to see how your answer matches up!

Greg Gunn, boomer, says that the right time to join the workforce is “immediately out of high school,” and that correct work conduct is “showing up on time and [giving] a day’s work for a day’s pay,” and that this should be a standard still followed today. 

Gen X views on the matter followed along similar lines. 

One of the things I was taught, that I think is sometimes a stereotypical generational difference is that you have to put in your dues before you can be in leadership,” Matthews, a Gen Xer, said. “That means that just because you have the best idea, if it is your first day on the job, you need to have a sense of humility and put in the grunt work before you’re taken seriously.” 

An expectation that she says has changed, though, is that “you get a job and stay in that place and retire from there. The workforce is more flexible now and it is about skill sets sometimes rather than job titles.” 

On that note, Willenberg– also Gen X –said he didn’t feel that workplace expectations themselves have changed much, only that they’re not “always as aggressive as they used to be. You were expected to show up on time, to do your job, to be dressed appropriately, slacking off wasn’t tolerated, and people were let go if they didn’t do their job.”

The millennial experience seems to more or less follow the same pattern, in terms of job expectations, but there are a few key differences that millennial teachers say they’ve noticed: Scott recalled that “‘working from home’ was not a possibility in most fields” when he was searching for his first job, and Hayes added that he feels “the work place intertwines more on personal life now that we have the technology to access work at all times,” despite general workplace decorum remaining unchanged.

Gen Zers, or at least the ones we were able to interview, haven’t had as much experience in the current job market, but the jobs that are available for young people right now are usually pretty basic, all things considered. Spell attested, saying that “when [he] worked at my minimum wage job, the expectations were quite low, some memorization and ability to learn.” And when that’s where the bar is, it’s understandable that all one’s expected to do isshow up a little early and ready to work, and never miss a shift without prior notice,” as Kanne put it.

 

Politics and Civic Engagement

The current “biggest failure and opportunity facing mankind” is the climate crisis, according to Scott. 

On behalf of Gen Z, Yun described herself as feeling “very overwhelmed. We are living with the consequences of older generations. But because of that, I think my generation is more passionate about finding a solution. While we already see the impacts of climate change, the older generation will not have to live through what is about to come without major reform.” 

A universal opinion for the interviewees was that attention must be paid to the climate crisis. “It is a real deal, and I’m worried we are getting close to the tipping point.  The science is real, the data is irrefutable, the politicians need to pull their craniums out behinds and get on board with solutions instead of saying this is just a bunch of bull,” Willenberg, Gen X, declared.

In regards to politics, Matthews remembers growing up in a country fueled by fear about the Soviet Union.

“I can remember being scared of the Soviet Union and convinced that there were missiles pointed at Missouri because we have missile silos here pointed at them. Lots of movies in the ’80s confirmed these fears as well-founded.” The fear continues as Millennials faced issues regarding more stress surrounding international affairs and government scandals.

“When I was in grade school and high school, the big issues were Clinton’s impeachment, 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror, torture, government surveillance, etc.”

Scott simplified the ways he is able to have news reach him. 

“Then, I found it. Now, it finds me.”

Hayes says, “I watch local and national news on my phone using NBC app. I read news articles online, mostly through my phone (I have them sent to me via email), and listen to podcasts (mostly The Daily). I try to balance my news sources so I hear all angles of the story.”

Similarly, Yun of Gen Z often listens to news. “Podcasts; Up First by NPR, The Daily by NYT!”

In coherence with the millennial’s absorption of the news, the millennial generation led the political movements of “The election of Barack Obama” said Scott, and  “marriage equality” added Frazier.

“More broadly, the political mood of the country seems to have affected all generations to some degree, particularly over the past decade. All generations shifted in a slightly more  liberal direction in the later years of George W. Bush’s presidency, when his approval rating slumped, and to a more conservative direction in the first years of Barack Obama’s presidency.”, stated the research from Gallup. This suggests a very fluid and ever-changing political scope, as they also stated that it is more likely for boomers to identify as conservative than any other generation. This could also be a root of controversy for other generations as millennial Frazier gave us an example of this feud by saying that, “boomers and Silent put Trump in office.”

Hayes states stress over the topic of our political state, “Everything is politicized. The political division is extremely real and concerning.”

   

 

Diversity, Inclusion, and Culture

“There is far greater acceptance of all types of diversity now than when I was younger.” as boomer, Greg Gunn, has stated earlier that he grew up that bussing and desegregation were hot button issues.

“In my lifetime acceptance of diversity has improved, well was improving until the most recent President.  The last three years I have seen a large increase in intolerance, which is very disheartening. We’re all the same, inside and out.  Just accept who people are, change is up to them, not you.”, profoundly said Willenberg, Gen Z.

“The common usage of homophobic slurs was one of the worst things.” noted Frazier, Millennial.

“It was totally socially acceptable to belittle other people based on the way they looked, acted, dressed, etc.  The dominant culture I grew up in was male, cisgender, conservative Christian, straight. If you weren’t those things you adapted.  Have you heard folks say, “why does everyone have to take things so personally nowadays?” It is because we stopped allowing the “fag” jokes and the “chick” jokes and the “jew” jokes to happen out in the open.” said Matthews.

Matthews noted how she feels inclusion has changed. 

“I think awareness has increased so that has helped with acceptance.  20 years ago, dear friends who were gay couldn’t be out at work for fear of being fired.  They are now out and safe.”

“The biggest change is more allies”, remarked Scott.

When asked how he has seen change in diversity inclusion as a millennial, Frazier states, “It is possibly my favorite thing about my generation. Gen Z does this even better. I would also add that acceptance of individuals with physical or mental impairments has increased greatly.”

Gen Z, Spell, expanded on the level of acceptance he has witnessed. “The acceptance of diversity has changed greatly in my lifetime, specifically with racial and sexual orientation diversity.”

“I’ve seen a tremendous amount of acceptance take place during my lifetime, but I’ve also witnessed a continuation of racism, anti-gay statements, etc. by family and others that I know.” added Devero. “I certainly think progress is being made, but it’s slow.”

“There are places where it isn’t necessarily safe for people to live who they authentically are and that grieves me.  When we have privilege in situations we need to use that to help marginalized voices be heard and supported,” lovingly said Matthews, “We still have a long way to go.”