[This article was first published in 2017]
Don’t you know there’s a war on? It’s being fought right now, all around us, between the baby boomers and the millennials.
Opinions differ as to the exact parameters that define each group of combatants, but the boomers are generally thought to have been born between 1946 (the results of the post-war baby boom, when people were so happy to be alive after six years of conflict that they jumped, en masse, into the sack) and the early 1960s. The millennials, on the other hand, take their name from the fact they came of age at the turn of the new century, so are usually defined as being born in 1982 or later.
The boomers don’t like the millennials because they think the younger generation are feckless, whiny snowflakes who are scared of hard graft and obsessed by status, more interested in posting a selfie to social media than doing anything useful.
The millennials, on the other hand, see the boomers as a rapacious generation that’s pretty much ruined everything for them. They’re living too long, taxpayers’ money is gushing into looking after them. They’ve kept house prices high, meaning young people can’t afford to buy. Workplace pensions are rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
Boomers are, by and large, Brexiteers and Trumpers. They remember when Britain was great, and think coming out of Europe will be a doddle. They want to make America great all over again.
If you fall into either of those camps, you’ll doubtless have strong opinions. If you don’t, then come and join me on the sidelines as the two sides limber up for the mother of all battles. I’ve got popcorn, it’ll be fun. And who are we, if we’re not boomers or millennials? Why, we’re Generation X of course. And when the slapping and fighting is all done and dusted, we’re going to save the world.
Using the above, admittedly inexact, measure, Generation X-ers were born from roughly the mid-Sixties to the start of the Eighties. We didn’t even get a name until Douglas Coupland wrote a novel about us in 1991, and for a long time people thought Generation X meant we were nihilistic slackers who would never amount to much. But, oh, we’ve come of age now. We’re mainly in our forties and fifties, and this is our time.
Generation X has the benefit of possessing the best characteristics of both the boomers and the millennials, and none of the downsides. We know how to work hard and we know how to play hard. Generation X-ers are very industrious. Boomers don’t understand the internet and millennials were raised on it. Generation X created it. We stripped off and dove into the glittering waters of this brand new thing, and made it what it is today.
We had a dot com boom (and a couple of busts), we took those progressive late-boomers Bill Gates and Steve Jobs under our wing and showed them what we could do with their stuff. We walked around with phones the size of rucksacks and sent the first halting text-messages. We knuckled down and worked hard and now we write books and make TV and direct movies, we get up early to go to work, we come out in the middle of the night to fix your burst pipe.
Generation X was breast-fed punk and invented indie, and grunge, and techno, and any bloody musical genre of worth that you care to name. We transformed the Eighties and we owned the Nineties. We had alcopops and ecstasy and we were fearless and stupid and happy, but we still got up for work on Monday morning, no matter how bad we felt.
Boomers live in the past and have ransomed the future. Millennials fear the future and are ignorant of the past. Generation X acknowledges what has gone before, learns from it, and resolves to shape the future into something better. We don’t throw our hands in the air and say the job’s a bust, let’s give up. We know we can’t go back to mythical halcyon days and we know we can’t just rip it up and start again. We work with what we’ve got and try to make it better. We change things from the inside out.
Boomers’ lives were defined by a war they have no memory of. Millennials fear a war they can never survive. Generation X: we knew war. Some of us fought and died in the Falklands, in Bosnia, in Afghanistan, in Iraq. Some of us protested those wars. We lived through the mistakes and we can make sure they don’t happen again.
Yes, Generation X had some things easy. We were paid by the state to go to university. We’re the last generation to be able to afford home ownership and get a mortgage. We remember when it was easier to get a job. Then again, we remember Thatcher. We remember three million unemployed. We remember the systematic destruction of UK heavy industry. We remember when interest rates hit 17 per cent.
Generation X is unique because nobody has had lives like we’ve got. Boomers were old by the time they were 40; millennials have yet to hit that milestone. Generation X is pushing back the envelope of old age, through attitude and health, like never before. We can do the shopping and read comic books and pay the bills and play video games. We can “adult” all you like, but we’re still kids at heart.
The problem with you millennials and boomers, though you’d never admit it, is you’re too alike. You’re both insular, in different ways. You’re both selfish. You’re both so blinkered, you think you’re the only two factions in this petty little fight of yours.
You forgot about Generation X.
But don’t fret, we’re still here. Working hard, playing hard, innovating, learning from the past and planning the future. So have your little generational war, and when you’re done, don’t worry.
We’re Generation X, and we've got this.