As a millennial with a birthday approaching (on Saturday, for those of you keeping score at home), I am becoming increasingly, uncomfortably aware of the fact that younger people exist. Not only do they exist but they can talk. People born after 9/11 are capable of making conversation, on social media and in real life in the world.
This is, all in all, disturbing news.
I can deal with the existence of individual younger people (Lorde seems okay) but — an entire generation? With their own memories and preferences? A generation that doesn’t know the dulcet tones of dial-up? A generation as baffled by the Internet’s constant need to Recall The ’90s as we are by the boomers’ insistence that Everything That Happened To Us Is A National Milestone That Must Be Celebrated With Parades?
This SHALL NOT PASS. Oh wait, no — they were barely born when “The Lord of the Rings” came out! I have to update my cultural references! Um, “This shall not DIVERGE!” “May the odds be ever AGAINST this!” “The fault is DEFINITELY in these stars.”
Well, this deteriorated quickly.
“Want to feel old?” start a lot of rhetorical questions. “[Event or Song You Distinctly Remember] was [Alarming Number of] years ago!” Feeling old is a lot of fun when you aren’t actually old. Complaining about your Advanced Age can feel hip and dangerous when you are still at an age when it is not dangerous for you to fall on your hip.
I wonder when Actual Age starts. Not yet, surely. Something awful always happens to the culture right when you hit 35. The technology starts disliking you. You start attributing malice and agency to the recalcitrant machines around you. “The computer ate it,” you say. “My phone is ignoring my verbal commands, out of spite.” “I think my mouse ran away.”
Douglas Adams said that he had three rules for technology: “1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. 2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. 3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
Every year, we creep closer to that wall.
It’s annoying enough to be the Generation in Charge, the ones who get maligned on the covers of magazines for being a bunch of spoiled, fame-hungry narcissists who live their lives online. But the alternative is worse! Look at Gen X right now. Or rather, don’t. Look at us! We’re still here!
Yet the next generation is creeping up. They have certain advantages, but so do we. They don’t remember when it was considered the Height of Fashion to show up on the red carpet dressed entirely in denim. We were never Beliebers. They get to grow up alongside Miley Cyrus. Then again, we’ll die sooner.
And soon we’ll be facing the question of what to call them. Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center offered to take Jon Stewart out to lunch if he could figure out a good name, noting that “usually it’s magazine cover writers who figure that out.”
There are already some suggestions out there, hovering and flapping their wings ominously like demon Pegasuses. Let’s stop them while there is still time, before “Generation Conflict” rises triumphantly.
What do we call the next-comers? “DUH, WE DON’T CALL THEM, THEY NEVER PICK UP WHEN ANYONE CALLS. All they do is text!”
Pros: Has a certain ring to it.
Cons: Too hard to pronounce. And much too controversial when pronounced. I once got into an argument about this that degenerated, within seconds, into the other party insisting that “We know what side people who pronounce GIF with a soft G would have been on in Germany in 1938.”
Generation [made-up word that sounds like another normal word but is missing a lettr, usually a vowel]
Pros: This is the [Artist Formerly Known As Prince] approach to naming generations.
Cons: Too long. Don’t want to anger Prince.
Pros: From “smartphone app” to “college app” to those tasty things you can get to share with the table, this name has everything!
Cons: This name is terrible.
Pros: I don’t know where we are in the letter count (Gen X happened, so are we Gen Y? If not, who is Gen Y? Gen Z sounds horrifyingly apocalyptic, as though once the generation is over we are going to stop having generations and move into numbers or colors. A can fix this!
Cons: Sounds like “Generation Eh,” which could be confusing to Canadians and Canadian allies.
Also, if we’re naming the next demographic, does this mean that we’re actually going to be stuck with millennials for the rest of our slow but ineluctable progress from cultural dominance to the tomb? I am not sure I can take it.
Do we need to name them at all?