Generation X & Y

I originally posted this at another blog platform I used to use. I’m re-posting it here because I’m really glad I wrote this a little over a year ago. Originally published April 21, 2007.

As I sat in my car earlier today listening to Placebo’s “Once More With Feeling,” I got to thinking about the differences between my parents’ generation, Generation X, and the ever originally named Generation Y, of which I am a part of.

As a 23 year old male living in southwestern Ontario, the child of migrant parents and whose grandparents barely speak any English, I don’t believe I’m in a terribly unique position in my life. Many of the members of my generation who also grew up in Strathroy have a very similar background, the only real differentiation that their parents might be from a different part of Portugal or that their parents are actually of Dutch descent.

Yes, there are that many Dutch and Portuguese immigrants in Strathroy. No, I don’t know why. I can speculate, but that’s not the point of this.

This is more about the differences between the last 2 generations who are actually old enough to have an impact on what is going on in the world today. For these purposes, anyone born between 1950 and 1974 I am placing in Generation X and, clearly, anyone born between 1975 and 1999 I am placing in Generation Y. I’m fairly confident that those are the general guidelines used in historical terms. I could be wrong, but I’m confident that I’m not.

If you think in your head, right this moment, about a lot of the people who are making the news these days, many of them either preceded Generation X or are a part of Generation X. Certainly many of the “big movers” in the tech industry like Michael Dell, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are part of Generation X. Many a great athlete came from Generation X like Wayne Gretzky, Dan Marino, Mario Lemieux and Greg Maddux.

However, upon thinking about what’s going on in the world today, I came to the realization that while there are indeed many “do-ers” in Generation X, right now it seems like the majority of them are “thinkers.” There are also those born on the cusp of the generational transition that might fall into one generation but were able to keep up with the next or act more like their predecessors in the previous. I’m not going to be so bold as to claim this is actually true or that I have any research to back it up. Again, these are my own thoughts and revelations.

The baby boomers clearly did their best to raise children after a major world war, and I can’t say they’ve done a bad job. Obviously not every nation was even affected by World War II, however the USA and Canada certainly were. Personally I believe you have to do the best with what’s given to you, and that is I believe something the baby boomers attempted to do. The problem is that they didn’t afford X’ers much freedom, and therefore X’ers rebelled.

We’ve all ready the history books, so I’m not going to regurgitate much here. We’ve seen the videos of Woodstock, the demonstrations at universities, etc. But what about Generation Y?

The most immediate example I can think of, since I’m a complete geek, comes in the way technology. Baby boomers created the first computers; Generation X’ers created better programming languages for them and then used them to create Windows, Mac OS, Linux, the original protocols used for communication across the Internet, and many of the popular applications you use on any of those platforms today. But whereas there were a few do-ers who got things moving back in the 80s and 90s in order to bring computers to the mainstream, and X’ers continue to create a lot of great ideas on how to use technology for bigger and greater things, it’s Y’ers that are actually building the applications that will do these things.

Then again, that may always be the case. Perhaps that’s what the next generation is for? To take the ideas that the previous generation has come up with and expand on them and then actually implement them.

But here we come to the glaring discrepancy. It seems to me that Generation Y is full of individuals who are not only happy to come up with brilliant ideas, but also capable of bringing them to fruition on their own. If I recall correctly, the majority of entrepreneurs who were responsible for creating the websites/companies involved in the first dot-com boom were, for the most part, born after 1975. And while the people coming up with Yahoo! and AltaVista and other such sites were part of Generation Y, all of executives at the venture capital firms backing these organizations are members of Generation X (or potentially the baby boomers).

Again, do-ers versus thinkers.

And now that the increasingly obvious climate crisis is coming to its peak, X’ers are finally putting things in motion in order to help us fix the problem. Why? Because they run the companies who can effectively fix it. However the people on the ground actually getting things done, I would be so bold to say, are likely mostly members of Generation Y. Not only that, but we’ve also been pushing for people to recognize it. We’re the ones who have been using the Internet ever since we had access to it at a young age (I first got an Internet connection at home when I was about 15 years old) and could see the evidence in the news stories and in the photos. The journalists writing about the problems are X’ers; the people first demanding a response to the problems are Y’ers.

Yes, I know that Y’ers (pronounced ‘why-ers’) sounds incredibly awkward, but I think it’s actually a fairly appropriate term.

“Y’ers” is appropriate because we, like X’ers, are constantly questioning the world we live in today. I think the difference is that we’re doing it more fervently and certainly through different mediums. We are more liberal than our parents when it comes to expressing oneself in simple ways like colouring our hair and more elaborate ways like getting tattoos and piercings. We are more liberal when it comes to experiencing things that come from different cultures whether it be foods, cultural traditions, ways of life, etc. My parents would like to see traditional vacation places like Spain, France and Italy. I’m eager to visit nations like Egypt, Japan and Sweden. Why? Because they’re different.

Even today was rather amusing. My dad first of all couldn’t believe that I have retained some of the French I learned in elementary school, and then tried to make me look like an idiot by asking me how old I was (en français). I countered with “J’ai 23 ans.” For some reason he was surprised. A small bit of easy French coming from me, who speaks fluent English and Portuguese and is attempting to learn Japanese.

Insert eye roll here.

My problem with my parents’ generation is that they played everything safe. Yes, clearly moving to a foreign nation requires a bit of courage, but as soon as they got here they played everything very safe. Learn the language, go to school, starting working somewhere and just stay there. My mother’s been working in the same place for over 30 years now; my dad’s been at the same job for over 23. They found a job they can bear with and that pays well. Simple as that. Why leave?

Myself and the majority of my friends, on the other hand, are far more content to find careers we actually enjoy, whether or not they fall into the neat little box that was our post-secondary education or not. I didn’t go to school for sales, and yet that’s the main source of my income at the moment. Why? I thought it would be fun, so I applied for a sales job and was lucky enough to get it. I moved to a different city with almost no money, a city where I knew a grand total of 3 people, and I’m not done. I own one company, I’ve co-founded another (we’re incorporating in a few months), and should be co-founding a third soon. Why? Because…

Our world rewards the risk takers. I’m not sure how it works on other worlds, if there are any other populated worlds, but that’s how it is here on Earth. Welcome to it people. I don’t know about you, but I’m not one of those people who are content to watch life pass me by. All my life I’ve been striving for independence, looking for new things to do, new ways to amuse myself, new things that interest me and to learn about. That’s me. I think one of the problems with Generation X is that many of them were content to be wallflowers at the time. Too many of them were far too willing to just come in, get a job, get married, have kids, and at the end of their life they’ve got nothing to show for it.

As an aside, I myself am not looking for fame or glory. Not at all. What I do want to do is make a difference. It can be a small difference or a big difference. What kind of impact I make is left to be seen, but I definitely want to make an impact and have my voice heard. And it’s not for the sake of being heard, but because I think I am an intelligent individual who actually has something to offer.

The only issue with just getting by when they were younger is that so many X’ers felt like they were left out, so now they’ve brought up their children to believe that they are the centre of the universe and therefore deserve to be heard.

Fergie’s parents, I’m looking at you.

It’s a gift to be able to give your child a high self-esteem, but most of those people don’t really have anything interesting to say, which is really a shame. They have spent so much time making themselves physically strong or pretty that they don’t really have an opinion on anything of substance, and therefore the majority of their “rants” have to do with how much they hate their BFF for stealing their b/f or how they can’t believe that Coach Johnson is gay.


This last point will be brief. I think one more difference between X’ers and Y’ers is that Y’ers, on a whole, feel much more strongly about people being accountable for themselves. Far too often we see our politicians really bung something up, whether it be a financial scandal, sex scandal or a bogus war, and then try to squirm their way out of it. I don’t stand up for that type of behaviour and I don’t know anyone who does. Personally I think it would be much more admirable to witness a politician screw up and then actually come out and admit to it.

And a huge kudos to Barack Obama for displaying this type of behaviour when he admitted to doing some drugs in college. How many of you can say you didn’t try drugs in high school or college? Not many, I’m sure. So why not own up to it? If you’re really that ashamed of it, then maybe you shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place.

In conclusion, I believe Generation Y is poised to make a huge impact on this planet and how we go about our business. As the tail end of our generation comes of an age where their voice finally begins to matter and the things they do can actually be noticed, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of changes we make. I’m certainly looking forward to a day when my generation, likely your generation too, begins to take power of the world’s largest corporations and the over 200 national governments on planet Earth.