"Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it,
and wiser than the one that comes after it."
- George Orwell.
A few weeks back, I was having coffee and working away in one of my regular cafes downtown. Near me sat three people in their 60s, reminiscing about the good old days of the 70s, 80s, and 90s before the advent of 9/11, financial crises, mass lockdowns, and concerns over climate change. They all unanimously agreed their generation had grown up in better times compared to any of the later generations.
Eventually, a couple of them got up and left the cafe, but one man stayed behind to read the paper a bit longer. Finally, as he arose to don his coat, he paused, turned, and walked over to my table.
He simply stated, "I apologize for the actions of my generation, and the mess yours has to clean up."
To which I replied, "It's ok, anything done can be undone."
He smiled in thanks, and then left the cafe.
The Differences Across Generations....
In essence, a generation refers to all the people born and living in the western world at around the same time, regarded collectively (1). A single generation is 15 to 30 years in duration. The exact start and stop dates for each generation are somewhat arbitrary, but we'll describe them as follows.
My grandfather on my mother's side was a member of The Lost Generation, also known as "Generation 1914" (people born 1883 to 1900). These people fought in World War I. The collective spirit of this generation was disoriented and directionless following the war, hence the word "lost." My grandfather fought in that war, and died in 1996. The last member of The Lost Generation, Japanese supercentenarian Nabi Tajima, died in 2018.
My grandmother on my father's side was of The Greatest Generation (people born 1901 to 1927). This generation lived through The Great Depression and fought in World War II, not for fame or recognition, but for the reason that it was "the right thing to do" (2), hence the word "greatest." The Greatest Generation suffered from the 1918 influenza pandemic, or Spanish flu, which killed 20-50 million people (compared to Covid which has killed 3-4 million people). The Spanish flu was no more severe than previous flu strains (3), it simply had a free ticket as a result of post-war malnourishment and overcrowded medical facilities.
Generations over time.
My father hails from The Silent Generation, also known as "The Lucky Few" (people born 1928 to 1945). Some people in this generation fought in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. This generation was characterized by their silence with regards to public issues, and they also kept their heads down and did their work, hence the word "silent." People in The Silent Generation were children during The Great Depression and faced great economic hardship, so they worked very, very hard to prevent this from happening to them again. The people of this generation leaned towards not being risk-takers, preferring to play it safe.
My mother is of The Baby Boomer Generation, sometimes referred to as "The Me Generation" (people born 1946 to 1964). Historian Landon Jones remarked that almost exactly 9 months after World War II ended, "the cry of the baby was heard across the land" (4). This generation grew up in a time of increasing wealth and prosperity, and were optimistic that the world would improve in time. They also worked very hard. During the time of the Baby Boomers, the traditional family unit started to fall apart, rock and roll music became popular, and the Cold War with the Soviet Union dragged on.
I am from Generation X (people born 1965 to 1980). Due to an increase in divorce rates and female participation in the workforce, this generation experienced reduced adult supervision compared to previous generations. As adolescents, many people in this generation were considered slackers and disaffected, preferring to watch MTV or play video games rather than work hard. The reality is they saw the obsession with work displayed by their parents and decided to prioritize other things in life. Several genres of music became popular, including heavy metal, grunge, and punk. Gen Xers are now described as entrepreneurial and productive in the workplace, having achieved a good work-life balance.
Generation X, Billy Idol's starting point in his career.