Generation to Generation

The Christian Century, November 8, 2000 | Go to article overview

Generation to Generation


SINCE ERNEST HEMINGWAY famously quoted Gertrude Stein in the 1920s, "You are a lost generation," Americans have been fascinated by the idea of generational difference. Characterizing an entire generation involves a mammoth generalization, of course, and the generalizations are as likely to be resented as embraced by members of the cohort in question. "Generation X was created by some over-40 writer," grumbles Bryant Adkins, expressing a frequent complaint of Gen Xers. Actually, the term Generation X was created by an under-30 writer named Douglas Coupland (see p. 1150), though he was himself suspicious of such labels. With an acute awareness of his elders' commercial designs (a characteristic of his generation?), he headed one chapter of his book Generation X with the words "I am not a target market."

Marketing does have a lot to do with generational consciousness. Tastes in clothes and music are obvious markers of difference, and marketing firms are quick to pounce on opportunities for new products and for new ways to sell the old products. Advertisers have already trained their eyes on Generation Y, those born between 1979 and 1994, whose tastes have begun to shape the marketplace. (The politics of Generation Y may be glimpsed for the first time in the November 7 elections.) Estimated at 60 million, Generation Y, also dubbed the "millennium generation" or the "echo generation," is three times the size of Generation X (whose members were born between `64 and `78) and nearly the size of the massive Baby Boom generation ('48 to `64). …

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