Having just turned 72, I fall into the earliest cusp of the Baby Boom generation, a huge group of Americans born during the two decades after the end of World War 2. Thus, I qualify as an authentic recipient of the “OK Boomer,” eye-rolling retort -”a viral internet slang phrase used, often in a humorous or ironic manner, to call out or dismiss out-of-touch or close-minded opinions associated with the baby boomer generation and older people more generally.” (dictionary.com)
When my 21-year-old granddaughter recently asked me if anyone had replied to one of my personal declarations of wisdom with this sarcastic rejoinder, I at once replied with an emphatic “No! I don’t go around saying ‘In my day, by cracky…’” (apply grumpy old coot voice here).
But hours later, I applied a little thought to that short conversation, and questioned my response. In what ways do I convey a holier-than-thou attitude to young people with whom I converse? No doubt, I do. A few of my past declarations come to mind. I suppose we all feel compelled to draw comparisons that paint us in a better light. We’re all guilty. But, why wouldn’t those of my generation who were so vilified for their long hair, cacophonous music, and disrespectful attitudes be more understanding of the angst expressed by millennials today?
Undeniably, there will always be a communication gap between generations – that fact is irrefutable and unavoidable. And to be honest, I have no desire to join in the conversations about music, shows, and social media memes that delight my grandchildren. But how out of touch am I, really, with these young humans who will someday rule the world? (I fully understand that I am thinking only from the standpoint of a middle class American, and I am thus applying my thoughts to said demographic.)
I like to think I’m more in tune with how younger people view the world, having been a high school and college educator for four decades, but I have to admit there are some aspects of millennialism I just don’t get. Most obvious to me is their reliance on electronic devices. It seems their conversations revolve around social media, videos, video games, and other tidbits seen and heard on their phones, tablets, laptops, or other types of screens – upon which they are inexorably dependent. I love my smart phone, but I am annoyed when I see a phone next to a dinner plate, and I seethe when I am talking to someone who is so obviously not listening because they are distracted by texts from someone else. I must confess, I have opined that their expectations upon entering adulthood are often out-of-touch with reality. You don’t just step right into adulthood with new cars, updated houses, the latest trend in wardrobes, and all the electronic devices known to humankind. But then, I back pedal in their defense, we, their parents and grandparents, have made their childhoods so comfortable, how can we expect them to anticipate anything less?
It’s as easy for me as any Boomer to retreat into the “In my day…” argument. But do we really have a leg to stand on? Yes, we worked hard. Our parents expected us to leave home when we graduated high school and to go to work or college. There was no such thing as “boomeranging” back and forth between our parents’ homes and independent living. However – and this is big - college was affordable. You could work your way through with little or no debt pounding on your door upon graduation. Today, college expenses have skyrocketed so fast, it is impossible for parents to save enough to keep up with rising costs, so most graduates are faced with a mountain of debt to which they will be tethered for decades – IF they ever pay it off. Furthermore, In the 60s and 70s, if you chose to go straight to work after high school, you could actually work your way upward in a company and earn a decent living wage. Minimum wage in 1970 was $1.60, the equivalent of $10.66 in 2019 dollars. In Texas, it’s now $7.25, certainly not enough to sustain an individual – even with roommates to share the cost. Today, finding a self-sustaining job upon graduation is rare because employers won’t even look at an applicant who doesn’t list a variety of credentials and experience on his resume. Even a college grad entry-level paycheck, minus the massive healthcare premiums and taxes deducted today, can’t provide transportation, shelter, food, and other life necessities with a little left over for saving that we once enjoyed. I’m also guilty of asserting, “In my day, we didn’t have cell phones, new cars, big TVs with thousands of options, and nice apartments right off the bat! We had to work to get nice things.” But my husband and I moved into a comfortable two-bedroom, two-bath apartment and bought a new car, a huge RCA color TV, and a king-sized bed shortly after we married in 1970. Looking at both my millennial granddaughters, who live in minimal apartments and own no cars, I don’t think I have a leg to stand on, nor does my previously mentioned “entitled millennials” assertion hold water.
The truth is, many of us Boomers were born in the right place at the right time, and we are comfortable today because of it. I know it makes me furious when my thoughts and contributions are dismissed because I’m old and out-of-touch, so perhaps I should keep my “good old days” pontifications to a minimum. Maybe we all should. OK, Boomers?