TNGG: Gen Y waiting for our defining moment

Originally posted on TNGG.

All the videos on YouTube are the same. There is no countdown, or fan fair, just late night TV that cuts to static at 11:59 p.m. A widely known, but ultimately little noticed, event last year was the switch from analogue TV to a purely digital system on June 12, 2009. The newly available frequencies will be used primarily for expanding wireless communication networks. Hooray for smartphones!

Flash back 24 years. Growing up in a thrifty New England household meant I never had cable TV. Instead, while nearly all my friends enjoyed cable, I became an expert at fiddling with bunny ears to catch those now non-existent signals for my Saturday morning cartoons. It was awful.

One unforeseen upside to this nine channel purgatory was an education in syndicated television. That is, the stories of older generations. The value of having seen nearly every episode of shows like M*A*S*H,Leave it to Beaver and All In The Family is an appreciation that the issues of the Boomers and Xers are no longer in Gen Y’s cultural lexicon, right along mimeographs

And thank god!

Further, most of us were too young to understand the real significance of even fairly recent shows like Murphy Brown and Will & Grace, which broke new ground with their portrayal of working women and the terribly controversial issue of gay-ness. To Gen Y these things are just the norm. Strong women and homosexuals on television have never been a “thing” for us the way it was for older generations.

Many important events from our early lives are not really part of our identity either. We never experienced the Cold War, the AIDS pandemic in its full swing here in the U.S., or the economic recession of the late 80s and early 90s. For many of us, 9/11 was our first defining moment. But, at that time the oldest among us were in high school or just graduating from college — and so I ask: how long did we truly live in a pre-9/11 world? I’d argue few Millennials ever really did.

We Millennials understand the world from the 2000s forward. And many of us don’t see the threads that connect us to the twentieth century. I blame the schools. When the Berlin wall came down, when the “third wave of democracy” was setting Africa on the right track, when globalization was the zeitgeist, we were playing with snap bracelets and Pogs.

Generations are united and defined by their collective experiences, and for Gen Y there isn’t a lot to point at, yet. If anything, we’re still constantly forced to deal with the cultural baggage of our predecessors. Though, what generation doesn’t?

The issues of racism and homosexuality that past generations dealt with have never been a cutting issue for us. Yes, immigration and gay rights are still heated topics here in the U.S., but you look a the numbers and Gen Y isn’t very split on these issues. According to Pew Research: “In their political outlook, they are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality.”

This isn’t to say that we don’t have our problems, we do. However, we are a group, with experiences, values and issues unique to our time. Gen Y begins in 1978 at the moment when the birth rate begins to increase again, indicating that we are the children of the Baby Boomers. A lot of people dismiss generation theory as silly, but I don’t think so.

We began how the world shaped us. That is, we owe much of our identity and values to the work and struggle of past generations. On the other hand, I think that we are something quite different because we have shed much of their baggage, and now look back on it with some amount of confusion. Our concerns are shaped by the subjects of “now” and “new”.

So go ahead and ask anyone in my generation: “Did you watch the TV go to static?” I bet I can tell you the answer.

Photo by melisdramatic


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