Exercise: Creating a new generational timeline

The Millennial outrage continues, but this time it’s about semantics.

Writer Patrick Hipp, on Medium, decided once and for all that he’s not a Millennial – despite being born in 1981 and so considered a member of Generation-X – in a humorous (or scathing, depending on how you look at it) piece about generational timelines.

Here’s his thesis:

The abbreviated Millennial generation slept and snotted their way through the Clinton era, woke up during 9/11, and struck out into the world of Obama’s America. They posted videos from Occupy Wall Street on YouTube, made their mixtapes on Spotify, and saw their first skin flick on PornHub without the squiggly lines of scrambled cable. They don’t remember a time when comic book movies meant Dolph Lundgren and David fucking Hasselhoff. Scott Pilgrimis a movie they watched; Scott Pilgrim is a series of books Generation Y lived.

It took fifteen minutes of looking at Millennials of New York before I could tell if it was a joke or not—it is, right?—so how could webe Millennials? As long as the children of the 80s are considered part of that generation, it’s as useless a designation as “Baby Boomer,” a marketing trick, a way for other people to define us, not for the first time but the second time. Sure, I can slide by as a Gen Xer, but at 1,600 words, I’m not disaffected enough to really qualify. So Generation Y it is, a transgenerational codicil to the era of X, the pre-cursor precursor to the Millennials, and the probable parents of the Latest Generation.

Hipp has a point. The Millennial Generation as it’s recorded looks too damn big. It starts in 1982 and ends in 2000, which means 19 birth ages all rolled up into one segment. That’s a vast space, allowing for plenty of technological turnover, cultural change and moments that mark the passage of time.

He then alters the generational timeline, ending the Baby Boomers at 1960, ending Generation X at 1975, creating Generation Y and ending it in 1989, and ending the Millennials in 2004. (He also puts the “Greatest Generation” in 1930-45, which is wrong, as “Greatest Generation” was always used to describe the GI Generation, folks who began working during the Great Depression; moreover, the 1930s and early 40s are the period used to describe the Silent Generation. He basically forgets the Silent Generation existed [purposefully?]).

Anyway there’s no need to argue the semantics of Hipp’s timeline. Why? Because you can argue every semantic of every timeline.

The generational timeline as we know it is often arbitrary:

GI Generation: 1910-1925
Silent Generation: 1926-1944
Baby Boomer Generation: 1945-1964
Generation X: 1965-1981
Millennial Generation: 1982-2000
(Unnamed Generation): 2001-2015
(Unnamed Generation): 2016-

[I’m starting the newest generation this year as it’s a presidential election, plus we’re seeing major sea change across the globe in a number of places (economy, terrorism and war, gender).]

Within those boundaries, though, are plenty of gray areas. Folks born in 1982, ’83 and ’84, especially, may not feel attached to the things that regularly define Millennials, while folks born in 1981, ’80 and ’79 may not be all that in tune to Gen-X.

Plus I’ve spoken at length about the divide in the Millennial Generation: those born between 1982 and ’89 are Early Millennials, while those born between 1990 and ’99 are Late Millennials. The internet is the big divide, but there are other indicators, too. They are substantially different cohorts, and at about 30-40 million people, each, they’re worth dividing.

Anyway, the point is these gray areas exist because nobody is a perfect epitome. Nobody defines any generation. We use the terms as ways to collect data and study the progress of society, not make people within each generation mad with worry about where they fit.

Which goes back to a point I make over and over: Stop worrying about what a Millennial is. Stop being angry about being called one. We now talk about these things so much because the internet allows us to scream our words to the masses, and the more words out there the more the noise. Backlash of the Millennial Generation is just that: noise.

But for a moment let’s indulge these timelines. Let’s say I wanted to make a timeline that cuts into more detail, that allows Early Millennials to feel like Early Millennials, or what have you. So try this:

Depression Generation: 1910-1917
GI Generation: 1918-1926
Silent Generation: 1927-1936
Nuclear Generation: 1937-1945
Baby Boomer Generation: 1946-1957
New Age Generation: 1958-1966
Generation X: 1967-1975
Plastic Generation: 1976-1983
Millennial Generation: 1984-1994
Sharing Generation: 1995-2004
(Unnamed Generation): 2005-2015
(Unnamed Generation): 2016-

This divides all the known 15-year to 20-year generations into sub-generations of seven to 11 years or so.

  • The Nuclear Generation grew up in the new perfect nuclear home of the 1950s, post World War II. Too young to fight in the war (or remember it much) but can definitely remember the “good old days.”
  • The Baby Boomers are now ending at 1957. These are the kids who grew up with the Beatles, remember life before radical social change, were the folks who went to Woodstock and gave us the hippie/commune/activist moment.
  • I’ve created the New Age Generation to describe people who came of age in the 1970s, a bit more jaded than the Boomers and likely more affected by the rapid social change of the era. These are the folks that made plenty of buck in the 1980s and voted Reagan.
  • Generation X now basically tells the story of just the kids who grew up in the 1980s. MTV started when the oldest of these was 14, and when the youngest was 5. That’s about right.
  • Now I’m combining some of Gen-X with a bit of Millennial to create the Plastic Generation, a group of people raised during the economic boom of the 1990s, and who just came of age during Sept. 11 and the terror era. Why plastic? Everything is made of plastics in this age. This is also the “I remember life before the internet” generation.
  • The Millennials are still a little larger but now span 11 ages, 1984-94. This is the “I remember early internet” generation, before social media and smartphones. This is also the “terror is everywhere” generation. And this is the generation people typically discuss when discussing what we know of as Millennials.
  • Now coining the Sharing Generation of 1995-2004. These are your current teens who have grown up with smartphones and social media. They do everything in small groups but have huge influence on the internet.
  • Unnamed A starts in 2005 and would be the kids of the Plastic Generation. Not enough known yet to make any determinations.
  • Again, capping a generation at 2015 and starting Unanmed B in 2016. These are the kids of the Millennials.