Clive Thompson, 45, marvels at the sudden attacks on Millennials -- roughly speaking, people born since the late 1970s. As a Gen Xer, he remembers how things were exactly the same for his lot, until, just as suddenly, the ranting op-eds dried up. Only one thing had changed:
Generation X stopped being young.By the turn of the millennium, Gen Xers were rounding the corner into their thirties and forties. They started buying houses, getting into government, and running businesses, and the emptiness of the libels thrown at them soon became screamingly obvious. Think about it: Barack Obama, born in 1961, is a Gen Xer—which kind of makes the whole “slacker” label bankrupt. The real pattern here isn’t any big cultural shift. It’s a much more venerable algorithm: How middle-aged folks freak out over niggling cultural differences between themselves and twentysomethings. In the ’50s, senators fretted that comic books would “offer courses in murder, mayhem, [and] robbery” for youth. In the ’80s, parents worried that Dungeons and Dragons would “pollute and destroy our children’s minds”—and that the Walkman would turn them into antisocial drones. This pattern is as old as the hills. As Chaucer noted in The Canterbury Tales, “Youth and elde are often at debaat.”
One weird trick about the Millennial "generation," though, it that the next one has yet to coalesce. It's all a lot of marketing hogwash. No-one will ever say "My generation was the Digital Natives!" except ironic Millennials. No-one will remember where they were when the term "Generation Z" won a USA Today poll to determine the name of the next great youth monoculture.
Everyone who hit puberty since the end of the Cold War is, more or less, a Millennial. If anything, it's the most salient complaint about it: it's the generation that just won't grow up. The flip side of that coin is that it's the generation that just won't end.
Which brings us to the obvious, boring, eminently booable point! Which is that it's time to stop seeing things through the ultrasquare filter of "generations", a vestigial remnant of midcentury pop sociology that survived only because it was at the resonant marketing frequency of MTV.