A Baby Boomer in a Millennial World

Turning Point

For most of our lives, we baby boomers have been a demographic tour de force. Suburbs were created, schools built by the thousands, roads were extended to former farm land, and tons of other so-called societal shifts occurred to accommodate our largess and to keep us happy. However, I read recently that the millennial generation has knocked us boomers from our number one position. 

Very little of the world I envisioned for my senior years exists today. In many ways, especially the instant access to everything via the internet, the world I currently inhabit is much better than my youth, but there are other aspects of it that drive me crazy. For example, I’m barred from using the word “crazy.” Color me sometimes contemporary challenged.

I won’t get into the silliness of a lot of, but not all, political correctness, but let’s turn our attention to the other PC (computer) that is endemic in today’s world. I can and do use a computer, in its many forms, for my work, and it is a marvelous tool. And although it seems wasteful that only a tiny percentage of its capability is useful for what I do, or for that matter, is even known to me, it’s comforting to know the additional capability is there. Using a PC sure beats opening envelopes and pounding a typewriter.

I think though that a difference between we boomers and our millennial offspring is that we tend to view these devices as tools, while they seem to view them as a lifestyle. One expression I heard from a colleague describes them as the “heads down” generation. 

It’s ironic that boomers could be said to have invented much of the technology or at least the core concepts at the heart of the devices that millennials deem essential to life. The internet, for example, came into being on the boomer’s watch, as did much of its continual refinement and eventual proliferation.

We boomers are not really different than millennials. Although I find it disturbing watching my grandson trot around his house while both of his parents have their faces glued to iPhones, I realize it’s all relative. We boomers inherited telephones, radio and TV from our ancestors and probably could be accused of being as obsessed with those mediums as the millennials are with their suped-up versions. On the other hand, my attention was drawn to TV during my parenting days, so I too probably could be painted by the distracted brush—same distraction, but a different brush. My children survived, and I’m sure my grandson will, too.

I recently attended a “summit” (meeting) with editorial staffs of Gardner’s various media brands, and it is clear that there is importance in incorporating social and digital channels into our traditional methods of communication. As a boomer, I see this as a good thing, although the learning curve is much steeper for me and my contemporaries. But we do see some value in it.

One thing I noted as the millennial/boomers line was drawn is that while we boomers still possess the skill sets for face-to-face conversation, our millennial brethren often have vestiges of that skill, which has been supplanted by social media. It’s not that they don’t communicate—it’s a universal human need to interact with one another. But the methods of doing so have changed.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making a judgment call on whether one method of social interaction is better than the other; rather, I’m observing that they are different, in general. The fact is that while the technology or medium changes, people’s needs to communicate with one another do not.

I remember a tag line from the early days of television that stated the fear that the medium (TV) might become the message. I think that means watching TV might replace what is being communicated to the viewer. For the viewer, it was a one-way street with that technology. The broadcast was certainly not interactive. Perhaps that’s why we boomers hung onto our conversational skills.

The millennials have grown up with the luxury of two-way communication using the technology devices available to them. Though I think that such social interaction may prove to be insulating. 

My biggest take-away from our editorial meeting is that there are many things we boomers can teach the millennials, and likewise, there are many things they can teach us. Perhaps the methods are different, but at the end of the day, it’s about communication and that remains trans-generational.