The generation myth

Originally I intended to call this post “The Generation Y myth”, based on the article in the German Wikipedia and the links it refers to. But as it happens, I stopped for a second and looked it up in the English Wikipedia, and this article creates a different image. Which is quite amazing, isn’t it? One would think “we call tomatoes tomatoes because they’re tomatoes”, right? But that’s obviously not the case. But why is that?

All this generation think is pretty much made up. Yes, there are sociological and socio-economical trends or shifts, but it’s unlikely to find them represented in groups specified by their age only. (The characteristics are to a much greater extent influenced by factors as social status, educational background, location, peer influence, etc.) It is rather the desperate attempt to coin a catchy term for something that is hard to explain otherwise. Had Robert Capa in his photographic works and Douglas Coupland in his novel not created and established the term “Generation X”, we probably wouldn’t be talking about it.

My problem with this is not that the term itself exists, but that it’s being exploited to spread rubbish ideas, and because it’s a catchy term, the idea is highly sneezable, hence the spread goes through the roof. And as in many cases I’ve encountered, the rubbishness stems from the desire to create (counter-)icons, (anti-)heroes and poster children. The big mistake people easily fall for is that not one single generation has been exactly the way its icons, heroes, poster children or opposites thereof were. There are always ideas, schools of thinking, and, as a consequence, altered behaviour changing over time, and yes, these are more easily adopted or rather quicker surfacing in the younger generation. But it doesn’t turn them into stereotypes.

What I have experienced though is that, not surprisingly, media coverage tends to present the facts in a way the majority of their audience prefers. A magazine with mainly upper middle class subscribers will present “the facts” in a fashion the audience will be pleased with, as if to say “well done” or “you need to keep up with the Joneses” (which is even likelier, because it’s helping to boost the economy when you send your kids to private schools, pay for their piano lessons, have them join the Scouts and so forth).

It’s the satisfaction of the needs of one group of society. What worries me is those who get left behind because they don’t fit in there, and that judgement is made quite likely by decision makers who just happen to be in that very group highly influenced by these specific media or people knowing that this group is receptive to a certain kind of “facts”.

(And ironically, this is the hour when media catering to a different audience are ready to cry foul, because that’s also a need from waiting to be satisfied.)

So, what is there to do? Well, the only solution which is equally fair to everyone is to treat everyone as the individual they are in the first place, with strengths and weaknesses, and to judge and develop them accordingly because of their individual performance and merit, not by a fad that has been attributed to them by someone who never knew them in the first place.


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