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What Comes Next After Generation X?

26-year-old Doan Nguyen hosts friends for dinner and interviews them about the 2008 presidential election for a documentary about how those in their early 20s and 30s view politics. Doan says she is unsure which generational label applies to her age group. Video by Ian Shapira/The Washington Post Edited by Francine Uenuma/

"Millennials will be the next powerhouse political generation," he said, adding that their use of technology often startles previous generations. "Millennials are turning information technology toward community-building, like you are always plugged into your friends. Frankly, for many boomers, this is an Orwellian nightmare."

Here's how the generational constellation breaks down:

Baby boomers, experts say, were born from 1943 up to 1960 (although the U.S. Census extends the range to 1964) and are characterized as idealists and moralists who fought over war, gender inequality and race. Generation X, born between the early 1960s and the early '80s, is described as economically conservative and disaffected, influenced by Ronald Reagan's presidency (and Michael J. Fox's preppy Alex P. Keaton character in the television sitcom "Family Ties"). Millennials, who experts say were born either in the late 1970s or '80s to the early 2000s, are said to have grown up sheltered and are risk-averse.

Complicating matters, millennials are sometimes known as generation Y. Then there's the Facebook or YouTube generations. Echo boomers is also bandied about. The presidential campaign has spawned the Obama generation, a nod to Sen. Barack Obama's reliance on young Democratic voters. (The Illinois senator, born in 1961, regards himself as a "post-boomer." The presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, born in 1936, belongs to what social theorists describe as the "silent generation.")

Some recycle Brokaw's terminology, noting the new generation's interest in public service. Last month on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) said that armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan deserve a 21st century G.I. Bill for education. "We keep saying this is the next 'greatest generation,' and we have seen everything they have done since 9/11," Webb said. "We ought to give them the same opportunity."

Another take is coming to television this month: "Generation Kill," an HBO miniseries, based on an Evan Wright book, about Marines at the start of the Iraq war. Still, many young people don't see the war as their defining experience. Some suggest it is the amassing of academic degrees and student loan or credit card debt.

In a three-week period of generational kibitzing, Nguyen interviewed several young people for her sister Thuc's documentary on the presidential election. One night, they met at a friend's Dupont Circle apartment. Seated on futons and surrounded by books and Trader Joe's wine bottles, the interviewer and her subjects wondered, off-camera and after taping, if they belong to generation X or the millennials/generation Y.

"My sister is 32. We believe them to be generation X, but it's not that many years apart," said Giacomo Abrusci, 26, an American Chemical Society project coordinator. "But they managed to get through their education without technology."

Nguyen said that Thuc, 32, says she's in the previous generation but identifies more with the younger one. "My sister thinks she's in gen X, but she's also super into Facebook and MySpace."

Nguyen and her friends sifted through various labels without knowing their origins: generation X (the name of a Douglas Coupland 1990s novel on post-boomer angst), generation Y (an alphabetical sequel) and millennials.

"I don't pay attention to labels," said Kate Gersh, 28, a nonprofit grant writer and former White House intern. "I've never heard of millennials."

"What about generation Y?" asked John Williams, 28, a part-time waiter and international development company recruiter.

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