Learned #13: Generations


Welcome to Learned, a resource for all of us who are trying to get to grips with the culture wars. In this issue:

  • What We’re Learning: What’s a Millennial and Why Do They Suck So Bad?

  • What We’re Reading: Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber

  • Down the Rabbit Hole: Toasted Bread Slices Served With Pasted Avocado

Let’s get to it.

Photo by Mariana Medvedeva on Unsplash

What We’re Learning

Today we’re learning all about the damned millennials.

Someone called me a millennial the other day. This irritated the hell out of me as a) I’m forty-two years old and b) I’m not a wishy-washy, avocado-toast eating brat.

Later, once the argument had gone its way, I started to think about my reaction and came up with two questions: just who are the millennials, and second, why do they have such a bad rep?

Wait, what?

Defining a generation is hard. It is an attempt to assign hard numbers to something better defined by its cultural and economic impact. Thus, we see generations defined more by events (or the lack of) than the actual birth years of its cohorts. Still, we need numbers to even begin defining who the members of the millennial generation are.

The Pew Research Center, the kind of think tank who get paid to define these sorts of things, says:

Anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 22 to 37 in 2018) will be considered a Millennial. (Link)

But getting beyond the years, to which cultural markers define Millennials is a bit trickier. Pew Research, in the same article, goes on to say that Millennials:

  • remember and had at least some understanding of the September 11 attack

  • got their first jobs during a major economic recession

  • and grew up with the internet

Wikipedia cites research that lists out series of traits which aim to help define the cohort:

Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe…ascribe seven basic traits to the Millennial cohort: special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving.

Psychologist Jean Twenge…attributes millennials with the traits of confidence and tolerance, but also describes a sense of entitlement and narcissism

Well. That’s a relief. I’m safely in Gen X (currently ages 38 to 52) territory from both a pure numbers as well as cultural markers standpoints.

Aw, Hell no.

But that list of traits begins to explain why being called a millennial can seem insulting - sheltered, conventional, entitled, and narcissistic - especially when viewed in light of how both Baby Boomers and Gen Xers view themselves:


In the workforce, Baby Boomers play by the rules, putting their work-life first and living the true “American Dream,” which encompasses kids, a 9-to-5 career, a house and a minivan. They paved the path for the workaholic in Corporate America (Link.)

Gen X:

they’re savvy, skeptical and self-reliant; they’re not into preening or pampering, and they just might not give much of a hoot what others think of them. Or whether others think of them at all. (Link)*

So, obviously, our perceptions of ourselves are a massive part of anytime we feel insulted by any kind of label, but, for me, looking at the list of adjectives it comes down to this: I don’t feel sheltered nor particularly entitled, but I’m really not a good team-player. I do like to think of myself as creative and independent. Or, if I’m not actually those things, then at least, that’s what I aspire to be.

But that doesn’t quite explain the generational animosity. After all, every generation gets shit on by the one before. Just ask Mike and the Mechanics. However, maybe it’s social media, maybe it’s content creation, maybe it’s just the weather, but it seems like the Boomers and the Millennials are at each other’s throats with a ferocity never seen before. While us poor Gen Xers are caught in the middle. Why?

It seems to come down to workplace incompatibility. Seriously. The number of research pieces written about how to make your inter-generational workforce get along is staggering. (One, two, three, four, five…and that’s just from my first, cursory, Google search.)

I’m going to quote liberally from Wikipedia as their summary of the traits and attitudes that cause conflict with other generation cohorts is stellar:

From the subsection “Workplace Attitudes.”

Baby Boomers resonate primarily with loyalty, work ethic, steady career path, and compensation when it comes to their professional lives.

Generation X on the other hand, started shifting preferences towards an improved work-life balance with a heightened focus on individual advancement, stability, and job satisfaction.

Meanwhile, millennials place an emphasis on producing meaningful work, finding a creative outlet, and have a preference for immediate feedback.

A lot of positive generational traits end up being read as negatives by older, mainly Boomer and older Gen X managers and employers. Flexible becomes job-hopping, a desire for frequent feedback becomes needing a trophy just for participating, and, the big one, wanting to be recognized for special skills or talents becomes narcissism and ignoring the chain of command.

Fortunately, as a ‘zine-making, silk-screening, DIY-doing member of Generation X, I don’t have to care about any of this at all. I’ve got the birth certificate to prove it.

Further Reading:

*You might think I’m being biased with this particular definition. To which I can only answer, well, duh.

What We’re Reading:

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory

by David Graeber

From the book description on Amazon: Does your job make a meaningful contribution to the world?

I assume that if you have to ask the question the answer is probably no., but I haven’t read the book yet. However, the question it asks is on my mind because of the recent spate of protests by teachers and educators - people whose value to society is paramount yet whose salaries fail to live up to national standards - and because of this article by the same David Graeber that discusses a recent study showing that the more value a given profession adds to society, the less that position is paid.

Together, they support the book’s thesis - most work is bullshit and the people who perform the least meaningful work often get paid the best. Bankers, lawyers, corporate executives, etc.

I’m curious to see who Graeber pins the blame on (bankers again, probably) but, I’m more interested to see what solutions, if any, he proposes. I know a few teachers who could use some help.

BONUS: On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant by David Graeber


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Down the Rabbit Hole

Photo by Katarina Milosevic on Unsplash

All joking aside, avocado toast is fucking delicious. As is pesto toast, garlic toast, pizza toast, and cinnamon toast crunch. Basically, toast is delicious and then you can up the deliciousness factor by adding some other stuff.

Speaking of other Millennial-adjacent foods, the 2018 food of the summer will be gut-friendly, Hawaiian, and global.

As for cocktails, have you tried a kombucha mojito? How about a spinach margarita? Perhaps you’d prefer a rhubarb, fennel, and vermouth cocktail? Or just a wine slushie? Me, I’ll take an old-fashioned.

And for dessert: healthy, citrus, savory, ice creams.

Last, can’t forget coffee! This summer, spritzers, iced, and cold brew will be everywhere. Can’t wait.


Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

That’s it. Stay strong. Stay healthy. Learn something.