Oh, to finally feel understood! And get a little air time. I mean really, growing up, all I heard about were the Baby Boomers. Now all I hear about are millennials, millennials, millennials. Seriously. Jan Brady would understand. It’s as if no one else ever existed — especially no one between those two demographic bulge groups.
A friend recently posted an article on Facebook about Xennials, the newish name for the microgeneration spanning 1977-1983. For the first time in forever, when I read an article about “my generation,” I could relate.
I’m honestly not sure why it took the world so long to discover that people like me exist, or that we’ve long been miscategorized as members of Gen X. Yes, we were all alive then, but I certainly never felt like the designation fit well.
Sure, I wore flannel shirts in high school. I loved “Reality Bites,” and I liked Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” But I was a munchkin during Reagan’s presidency and vividly remember the Challenger explosion as a defining event of my childhood. I never identified as a slacker or felt soured on the world. I’ve long questioned plenty of what I learned growing up, but I’ve always identified as a Save-the-World sort, which is central to the millennial stereotype. Perhaps this category error — my being dubbed part of Gen X’s tail — mimics the general confusion over whether tomatoes are fruits (technically) or vegetables (functionally; tomatoes really belong in a vegetable salad).
Oregon Trail Generation? Really?
Interestingly, Slate raised the issue of my cohort’s uneasy fit as far back as 2011 when we were nicknamed Generation Catalano after everyone’s favorite TV crush. BuzzFeed dedicated a listicle to us back in 2013. And in 2015, we were dubbed the Oregon Trail Generation, recalling a favorite computer game from the days of yore.
However, the Xennial name itself doesn’t seem to have existed until Sarah Stankorb coined it in Good in 2014. Given that was nearly three years ago, it’s not really clear why the notion of my microgeneration and our fashionable name have suddenly gone viral.
That said, I’m glad there’s finally some widespread recognition of my misfit posse, born during the years of the original Star Wars movies. Given how quickly the world has changed, those few years make a difference. Consider Stankorb’s description of my analog-turned-digital cohort:
We use social media but can remember living life without it. The internet was not a part of our childhoods, but computers existed and there was something special about the opportunity to use one.
Sexting wasn’t part of our adolescence. Many Xennials didn’t get cell phones until our twenties (at which point, many friends told me, their Millennial younger siblings already had them). It isn’t a novelty to ask Siri a question, but we have some ability, or at least a latent space in our brains, to unplug. Technology unfolded around us, but we got to ease into it during that brief period before it became ubiquitous.
Exactly. The only tweak I would offer is that this group’s bounds could easily be stretched backward to 1975. Why? Consider that email was arguably the biggest and most defining technological change for my cohort. Generation Email, as we could easily be dubbed, wrote letters and made phone calls in high school.
While I had an AOL account late in high school, email didn’t become vital until I arrived in college. And I’m told that my campus dorms were only wired for Internet, and email accounts universally assigned, when the class of 1997 (those born in 1975) arrived as freshmen. Of course, we still had to be in our dorm rooms or log onto shared computers in central campus buildings to check those waiting messages, but email revolutionized the nature and speed of communication.
Another Kind of Sandwich Generation
Email has now replaced phone calls and letter writing in many cases, while texting has become our most efficient method of communication. Many features of the millennial-centric world my young children are inheriting were simply not part of my youth.
I’ve had to teach my daughters about landline phones (because we have none), records (because they’ve never heard one), rolls of film (because they’ve never seen one), and scheduled TV shows (because they’re accustomed to YouTube). While I’m a fan of social media, I also know what it’s like to live without broadcasting every thought to “friends” across the globe.
All of this is to say, I suppose, that while Xennial is too trendy a name for my personal taste (it starts with an “X”), as someone comfortable with both Gen X’s skepticism and millennials’ optimism, it actually suits me quite well. Drawing from both generations’ monikers, the name encapsulates the world I’ve come from and the world I’ve grown into. And while I perpetually bestride both, I’ll never completely fit in with either group, rather like Angela Chase.