The Futility of Classifying Generations

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The Futility of Classifying Generations

Robinson Lee, Staff Writer

It seems that American society has had an obsession with classifying people into categories and emphasizing the differences between these categories to cause even deeper separation. Historically, this has occurred with sexual orientation as gay people had their sexuality emphasized as a negative factor which caused them to be excluded from society until recently. Religion has also been a source of division via classification as the theological and traditional differences between Christianity and Islam have been emphasized to the point where some people see each other’s religion as a threat. 

But in this realm of exaggerated differences and discord, generations are fair play. Of course, generational differences are common as a person born in 1940 would have a very different life than someone born in 2010. But the differences between a Baby Boomer and a Millennial, for example, have become so exaggerated to the point where not only are stereotypes for each group common, but ill feelings against other generational counterparts have developed as well. Stereotypes such as the bigoted, selfish, “I want to speak with your manager”, Boomer and the entitled, narcissistic, phone-addicted Millennial are common to make the other generation look bad. How did these classifications come to be?

A large player in classifying generations is the good old advertising industry. It is much easier to classify groups of people with similar interests, backgrounds, and motives to sell products. That method in itself is reasonable for the advertising industry, but it is problematic when regular people begin to apply these classifications. The advertising industry focuses on generalizations because the nature of the work requires research on how to appeal to a certain category. Individuals can find out how another generation thinks and feels by asking a person of that generation about their experiences. But the inherent laziness of people leads individuals to rely on vast generalizations to make decisions which is also not helped when the media uses that terminology and stereotypes as well. Time Magazine is a responsible party as they had a notorious cover of a young adult on their phone taking a selfie along with a scathing article on how Millennials are more narcissistic and how they are always on their phone. Young people can be narcissistic, and they can be on their phone for a prolonged period of time, but so can other age groups. I for one, have seen my parents browse for quite a long time on their phones. And I certainly know of quite a few infamous narcissists who are older and younger than the millennial age group. 

The point is that the stereotypes developed for each generation are a combination of skewed facts, information meant for companies, and oversimplifications. The categorization of generations is so futile because all it does is cause differences rather than helping anyone. In my opinion, if you really wanted to understand more about a person born in a specific era, focus on the challenges of that time period such as the Cold War for Boomers and the 2008 recession for Millennials and young people. In the end, though, we are all human, and we all have positives and negatives no matter what race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or generation we belong to.

 

Graphic courtesy of PSYCHOLOGYTODAY.COM