I'm a baby boomer-- I was born in 1957, the apex of the postwar procreation surge. But I grew up in a very different time than my brother, who was born in 1946, the first year of the boom.
Early boomers tended to morph from from teens with crew cuts and bouffants with those strange little flips into shaggy-haired twenty-somethings in levis and tie-dyed shirts who pondered the poetic symbolism of Bob Dylan, dug the incomprehensible existential far-outness that was Easy Rider and rebelled against The Establishment. They created a minimalist design trend with cinder block book shelves, director chairs and Grateful Dead concert posters.
I and my contemporaries, in contrast, started adolescence as miniature ersatz hippies, bemoaning the fact that Woodstock happened when we were in sixth grade. The biggest authority figure we had to rebel against was Sister Mary Faith and her oppressive insistence on our learning long division. Our cultural frame of reference isn't the turbulent counterculture and earnest, self-righteous idealism of the 60s, but the gas station lines, inflation, bad sitcoms and polyester fashion excesses of the 70s, all of which honed our deft sense of ironic humor. Gradually, we evolved in another direction from our older siblings, shedding their taste in music, movies and clothing for black stovepipe jeans and leather jackets, the frantic, abrasive nihilist punk of the Ramones,the sarcastic wordplay of Elvis Costello. Our Dennis Hopper was Jim Jarmusch, the director of 1980s minimalist deadpan comedy classics such as Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law. Design-wise; we went for exposed brick, faux-industrial metal furniture and potted ficus trees.
I realize that to the generations that followed--first, the Generation Xers, and then the Millenials--we all look like one big mass of aging, comfort-fit jeans clad homogeneity. But we're not, any more than Madonna and Lady Gaga were twins separated at birth. And it's time that we started recognizing the diversity of my generation--or rather, our generation.
Cultural historian and marketing consultant Jonathan Pontell has coined a term to describe me and my contemporaries: Generation Jones, a group that he envisions as consisting of people born between 1954 and 1965, the tail end of the boom. We Jonesers actually amount to 26 percent of the U.S. population, making us more numerous than the early boomers (15 percent) or the Xers (21 percent) or Milennials (20 percent). As Pontell wrote in a USA Today op-ed piece :
I like the Generation Jones label because, for me, it also evokes the Counting Crows' 1993 song "Mr. Jones," whose eponymous character defines coolness a little differently than the older boomer set:
As Pontell points out, some of the most influential figures of our present culture, from President Obama and Sarah Palin to Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell, are actually Jonesers. Not only are our tastes in music and clothing different from our older brothers and sisters, but we're different attitudinally and culturally from our older brothers and sisters, even as we all navigate through midlife.
One major difference that I see between older boomers (Or "Ikes," as some call them) and Generation Jones is our relationship with technology. Older boomers came of age in the era of gigantic mainframe computers and personal data stored on punchcards labeled "Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate," a mantra that came to symbolize government and corporate dehumanization and oppression. We Jonesers grew up in the infancy of the personal desktop computer, which provided autonomy and facilitated self-expression. It was a member of Generation Jones-- Tim Berners-Lee, born in 1955--who invented the browser and the graphical web that made computing and the internet truly accessible to the masses. No wonder it was easier for us to become early adopters, and enthusiastic ones.
Results from a recent study by the research firm Continuum Crew, published in the FastForward blog, highlight another interesting difference. Jonesers are getting into Web 3.0 in a big way, social networking on Facebook, Twitter and other online communities to nearly the same degree as Generation Xers. Ikes are getting into the act too, but they're lagging a bit behind. For example, 15 percent of Jonesers, use Twitter, compared to 14 percent of Xers and just 5 percent of early boomers. Additionally, Continuum Crew reports that a subset of Jonesers is evolving into what the researchers term "Social Media Mavens" who are heavy users of social networking and continually seeking to expand their networks.
I'll delve more into the distinctive identity of Generation Jones in future posts. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think about the subject. What differences do you see between older and younger boomers, and how significant are they?