What Comes Next After Generation X?

Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 7, 2008 12:00 PM

Washington Post Staff Writer, Ian Shapira was online Monday, July 7 at 12 p.m. ET to talk about his most recent article, What comes Next After Generation X?, which explores how cultural changes have impacted the identity of the post-X generation.

The transcript follows.


Ian Shapira: Hello everyone, Welcome to a chat on generations, about a story published in Sunday's paper about how people in the post-Generation X generation are confused by all the media and academic labels that are used in our modern vernacular.

Let's get going.


Boston: Sheltered is a good term in so far as what they've experienced. OTOH, I think the millennials have experienced way more than we (I was born in '73) have via media. So again, they're worldly in a virtual way.

Honestly I think the biggest difference between Gen X and Gen Y is the person's attachment to the Internet and how big a part it plays in their life. I'd like to think it's not that big a deal, but it is.

I think that we need to be cautions about labeling Gen Y because for those who are lucky enough to be connected, there's a divide between kids who engage in the culture of the Internet, and those who just use the tools of the Internet. It will probably be another 20 or so years before we see what the lasting, political effect is.

Ian Shapira: Dear Boston, You make a great distinction about those who use the Internet and those who are embedded into its culture. I think that is perhaps the difference between the Generation X-ers and the succeeding generation.


washingtonpost.com: We're having some technical difficulties, but will continue to answer your questions. Sorry for the delay.


Washington, D.C.: I'm doing some work with Army recruiting, and one of the issues we're dealing with is how to market to the Millennials. We're finding that this generation is very responsive to the desires/opinions of their "influencers" - mainly, their parents. Do you find this to be the case - more so than say, Gen X or the Boomers? (As an aside, we've found that the parents of Millennials are not encouraging their childrens' interest in joining the military)

Ian Shapira: Dear Washington,

Yea, Millennials tend to be closer to their parents, according to research done by the supreme expert on generations, Neil Howe, who, along with his late business and writing partner William Strauss, coined the term Millennials. In fact, Howe consults with the military and other business on how different generations interact with each other in the workplace. You can read more about Howe at www.fourthturning.com. Howe, by far, has done the most research on these matters and you may want to reach out to him.

Actually, could you email me offline, at shapirai@washpost.com? I am interested in talking with you further. Thanks.


16th and M::"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")."

I'm used to sloppy characterizations of Gen X in the media, but really... Alex Keaton? C'mon, you're not even trying. 'Family Ties' and Coupland's excellent book couldn't be farther apart.

Ian Shapira: Dear 16th and M:

Actually, Keaton is considered a major influence on GenX because of his love for capitalism, Reagan and the seemingly cool (although somewhat cocky) way he asserted himself in his otherwise, hippie-esque family. His parents sorta considered him goofy, while his younger siblings seemed wayward and thought he was full of himself. It gave the show, in hindsight, a great tension and a subtle lesson in politics. Here's something I dug up on the web that will give you a nice snapshot:



Generation Z: Zzzzzzzzzzzzz (Don't wake me up)

Ian Shapira: Dear Generation Z,

WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!


Arlington, Va.: I was very interested while reading your article. I was born in 1982 and have never felt tied to Gen X or the "Millennials." I work with some new employees and interns, most of whom are born in 1985 and later, and they tend to fit the Millennial stereotype a little more, I think. It's an interesting topic, and I think splitting Gen X into two probably does it. Generation Nintendo seems to fit me and many of my contemporaries pretty well. Thanks!

Ian Shapira: Dear Arlington: Yes, I too identify with "Generation Nintendo" very much, especially because I had one at a very early age (thanks Mom, thanks Dad). People may think that's a flip way to sum up a generation, but, in its own way, the video game system was a huge definer. I always liked how Nintendo tried fusing the two-player system (perhaps an ancient pre-cursor to Facebook) and how, at least with Zelda, you often had to work collaboratively with your peers to solve a problem -- to solve the labyrinthian maps to solve the game. Millennials, experts have noted, are much more into consensus-building and tend to work better in teams. I always felt that Nintendo helped speed us along, in that manner. (For the record, I was born in September, 1978, making me a "cusper," as experts call it. Someone who is on the cusp or border between generations.


Arlington, Va.: I think the generation label is fairly useless. At 27, I don't feel I fit as a Gen Xer, and I also do not want to be labeled a Millennial. I feel like I share similar experiences with those about 2-3 years younger and older than myself, but anymore on either end, and the common experience really starts to dwindle.

With the article though, I did kind of like Generation Nintendo -- that probably is about the closest fit!

Ian Shapira: Dear Arlington,

Another member of Generation Nintendo! We all should meet up or something. I totally agree with what you say, in terms of how you don't feel like you fit into either category. You feel stuck, or perhaps, liberated, depending.


Out West: I work with college students, mainly Millennials, and I am very concerned about all the chatter calling them the next Greatest Generation. These are kids who have heard from birth that they are special, different, etc. However, many of them don't have a clue of what it takes to get things done. My brother manages a team of Millennials and he says the same, that they are kids who got gold stars for just showing up. They get frustrated when they don't get promoted, because they think they are special, different, etc. Howe writes a good deal about this aspect of Millennials. What I'm trying to say is, I don't know if we've done this generation any favors by proclaiming them to be the new messiahs.

I'm a late Gen X-er, if that matters.

Ian Shapira: Dear Out-West,

Your complaint is common among older types who look at Millennials and think they are entitled and pampered. Some think that perception has been applied to nearly every generation that is up-and-coming. But in this case, you hear it often and I think what rubs people the wrong way is how this generation has so many more options than the previous generations -- they are getting more worldly experiences at younger ages, and thus, they feel like they deserve to have bigger roles at earlier stages in life than their elders. They may come off as arrogant to you, but don't confuse that necessarily with their frustration to do more, and do better, earlier.


Cotati, Calif. : In his rush to label or mislabel a new generation to follow the Gen-Exers, Ian Shapira simply overlooks an earlier generation. His lead graph states, "Everyone knows the GI generation of World War II and the baby boomers who followed. And everyone knows the late-20th-century demographic labeled with the non-label generation X." In so doing, Shapira simply ignores the Silent Generation. America's Silent Generation is the uknkind label gven those of us born between 1925 and 1942. Some historians refer to us as the Silents. Historian William Manchester described us as "withdrawn, cautious, unimaginative, indifferent, unadventurous and silent." But then, who made him god? From the start, we should have known our destiny was obscurity. We followed on the heels of the heroic GI Generation (1901-1924), better known as the Greatest Generation. Then we were followed by the self-righteous Boomer Generation (1943-1960), also known as the Me Generation, one of the largest and loudest generations in history. Despite our failure to measure up to the Greatest Generation, we excelled when it came to meeting our challenges. We survived two of the most horrific events in world history -- the Great Depression and World War II. And we didn't merely survive them. We learned at least three lessons from them -- the rewards of hard work, the importance of making a personal sacrifice for the common good, and the value of accepting personal responsibility. Taken together, these attributes made us a very self-sufficient generation, one that grew up knowing how to make lemonade out of lemons.

Ian Shapira: Dear Cotati,

I didn't mean to overlook the Silent Generation. In fact, it should be noted that if John McCain loses the general election in the fall, the Silent Generation will be the only one without its own President, according to the experts.


Washington, D.C.: This article was great. I went to St Mary's with Doan. Go Veggie Coop! I kind of think that there's this great fluidity in what you can choose to identify with from my generation - you can set up a traditional family, raise kids, have a degree, any sort of thing. It's hard to label because there are so many choices.

Ian Shapira: Dear Washington,

Glad you enjoyed the story. And I'm glad the story's theme resonated with you -- that culture has been so fragmented now, that it's hard to have one over-arching label for everyone. I haven't seen a survey like that, but it does seem to jibe well with the generalizations of X-ers who are individualistic. At the same time, I'm hesitant to subscribe too heavily to stereotypes without seeing numbers.


McLean, Va.: I'm 26 and in the "undefined" generation or whatever you want to call it. I think people tend to underestimate the role that the media and TV plays in shaping this generation. First, it's caused us to be much more materialistic and superficial. Thanks MTV for Super Sweet 16, Cribs, and the now irrelevant Real World. Second, I think part of the reason our generation doesn't stand for anything because there is such a wide variety of TV shows that allow us to escape banding together on common issues. It's pretty depressing in my opinion.

Ian Shapira: Dear McLean:

I think it's fascinating that you say it's "depressing" that that with so many media options, it's hard to feel a bond. I relate to what you say, actually. I think it's one of the sad things, say, about the decline of print newspaper subscribers. I've always felt that the print newspaper allows people to page through various stories NOT about them or their interests and that they would somehow read random stories about random communities, because, the printed newspaper was saying you should. With the Internet, now people can customize what they want to read tailored to their own curiosities, political beliefs, thanks to RSS feeds and the like. I think one of the joys of the printed paper -- and now, let me join legions of newspaper reporters who have said this exact same thing -- is that you stumble on stories not about you, not about your interests and that you read those stories because you felt some obligation to feel part of something bigger. The Internet does so many great things, but I think, in a way, it's undoing that mass community feeling. And that may not necessarily be a bad thing, either. But I do get nostalgic for that sense of togetherness.


Framingham, Mass.: I completely related to the subjects of this article. As someone born in 1981, I haven't the foggiest clue what generation I'm a part of. I don't relate to the "Gen X" label, because what describes a "Gen-Xer" doesn't describe me. On the other hand, I certainly don't belong to the current millenial generation. I was in college during the 2000 election and Sept. 11. I didn't have a cell phone until sophomore year in college. Kids who are 10 years younger than me, the so-called "millenials," have a completely different high school experience than I had. While I am a child of the '80s, I also relate to the technology, and the need to be able to instantly reach friends and family.

My parents are firmly in the Baby Boomer generation. This past weekend at a family reunion, my parents, aunts and uncles were confounded by our desire to be able to reach anyone, and be reachable by anyone at all times. When my uncle needs to reach his wife, he calls the cell phone belonging to whichever child is with her. That constant technological connection truly is an Orwellian nightmare to our parents. Whereas we just wish our parents would answer their cell phones. They don't understand texting. We don't understand how they live without it.

I think my generation is the instant gratification generation. We can listen to any song at the touch of a button. We can go shopping without getting out of our pajamas. We can get in touch with someone anytime, anywhere. "Community" is a word that has new meaning to us. But as to what generation that makes me? I'm still trying to figure that one out.

Ian Shapira: Dear Framingham,

Glad you could relate. And I think your description of us being tethered to instant gratification is spot-on. Some have noted this with catchy terms like the PC Generation or the iGeneration (a nod to the iPod), etc. That's so funny about your uncle. I was recently spending time with a friend and her mother. And the mother uses this cellphone called the Jitterbug, which has a dial-tone -- to make the user feel more comfortable and like he or she is using an old-fashion phone. I found it hysterical but at the same time, I couldn't help but admire the marketing strategy.


Washington, D.C.: I have no idea what to call us (I was born in 1983) but I think my generation, no matter liberal or conservative, looked back at the Boomers (our parents) generation of long hair, rampant drug use and dancing in fields while burning the flag and said "no thanks." I think we work hard and want the benefits of doing so. You won't see many of us working for the same company for 25 years.

Ian Shapira: Dear Washington,

I love how you state that you won't be working for the same company for 25 years as if that is some badge of honor. This sentiment has fast become one of the facts of life (great show, by the way, not as good as Family Ties, though) for younger people who are pushing off family and children, amassing academic credentials, and dabbling in various jobs and professions before they settle into one -- for five or so years before they move on. I think that's great. But I also think if this becomes axiomatic to your life, you could end up doing the very thing you'd hate: abiding by some formula...


Washington, D.C.: Count me in as another Generation Nintendo. Born in 1980 and yeah don't seem to fit in with either of the surrounding generation labels.

All we did growing up was play Nintendo and ride bikes. Ha.

Ian Shapira: Dear D.C.

I hereby call a meeting of all Generation Nintendo members...actually, I take it that back. That could be weird. Really weird.


RE Silent Generation: "I didn't mean to overlook the Silent Generation."

You were, yes, silent on the Silent Generation. How fabulous!

Ian Shapira: Dear RE Silent Generation,

You caught me. Your humor dates you.


Baltimore: I'm a Baby Boomer, and both my 20-something kids still live with me. Don't the Millennials ever want to leave home? Is it because housing is so expensive?

Ian Shapira: Dear Baltimore: Watch the movie "Failure to Launch." I think you'll get some good ideas there. You're part of a statistical trend about young people and how they can't afford to break out on their own quite yet, or at least, aren't willing to.

So, you're not the only one. Take some solace in that.


Ian Shapira: Alright folks,

I have to leave and return to work. But if you have any ideas for future stories on Millennials, please email me at shapirai@washpost.com. I'd love to hear from people in their 20s about what they think are interesting stories that they could relate to. And, feel free to check out other stories as part of this project at www.washingtonpost.com/youngandambitious



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