OK, boomlets. Stand down. The older folks aren’t all that bad.
Millennials and iGen kids who now gleefully deprecate and mock baby boomers these days need to face the reality that the very lifestyle that keeps them connected, in tune, entertained, online and hip to what’s happening is due to … wait for it … baby boomers.
Boomers grew up with corded phones, black-and-white televisions, three major networks, spark plugs and transistor radios. And they walked 20 miles in the snow to school. They had no cellphones. No Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, FedEx, Sirius XM, streaming media.
The babies born in the generational boom after World War II dreamed of a better world. They dropped out, only to drop in with grassroots activism for women’s liberation, civil rights, gay rights. But they also created the stuff that drives today’s society and makes day-to-day life much easier than they had growing up.
Baby boomers invented the internet (thanks, Tim Berners-Lee), which boomlets can’t be away from for more than a few hours. Heard of folks like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Ajay Bhat (USB port)? Or how about Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump? Or Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld, Scott Adams, Garry Trudeau, Oprah and Madonna. All boomers.
Then there are baby boomers who revolutionized their fields in ways that continue to rock our world today: Robert Jarvik (artificial heart), Dean Kamen (Segway, portable dialysis machine and implantable insulin pump), Gerd Binning (scanning tunneling microscope), Gill Samuels (Viagra) and Ray Kurzweil (optical character recognition and text-to-speech technology).
“Ask the average person to name who dreamed up the web, DNA fingerprinting or the lithium-ion battery, and most likely you’ll draw a blank stare,” Reuters reported a few years ago. “That anonymity is deceptive. Boomers’ inventions — ranging from the now-ubiquitous World Wide Web to the synthetic cell and the nanoscale motor — promise to reshape the world of the 21st century as surely as Edison’s (light bulb) and Tesla’s (AC power) set the stage for the 20th.”
The world we live in, for better and worse, is a reflection of how boomers created the world inhabited by today’s boomlets — millennials (1977 to 1995) and iGen (1996 to 2010), also known as Gen Z.
So for those who mock baby boomers with the viral and dismissive retort, “OK, boomer,” maybe you need to lay off a little. Boomers made it easier, in many ways, for you to grow and engage a society where immediate entertainment and information gratification are commonplace.
But before boomers get all smug, fatter and happier, they need to realize they also contribute to the frustrations that cause boomlets to lash out. Baby boomers wanted to change the world — and they did, but it hasn’t always turned out so great.
Boomers, rebelling as hippies in the 1960s, got caught up in the “me” generation, which led to greed and national economic dysfunction, now realized as huge deficit spending and a gargantuan national debt that is strangling our creativity and future growth.
Boomlets are rightly frustrated with how boomers, who now hold about 60 percent of the nation’s wealth, seem to be hoarding opportunities. Boomlets have huge economic anxiety about the future. They’re often stifled by the global climate crisis created by boomer economics and companies. They’re irked that their future doesn’t seem as bright as they think it should, in part, because boomers have sucked a lot of the air out of society.
“OK, boomer” went viral last month when a 25-year-old politician in New Zealand offhandedly rebuffed a colleague during a speech on climate change. Chloë Swarbrick later explained, “My ‘OK boomer’ comment in parliament was off-the-cuff, albeit symbolic of the collective exhaustion of multiple generations set to inherit ever-amplifying problems in an ever-diminishing window of time.”
She’s got an outstanding point. Boomers need to relax a little — and should engage in a new, proactive manner to fix what they’ve screwed up. But maybe boomlets should not be so quick to point fingers and should take more responsibility to work with them to get it done. OK?