INSITEVIEW- - tom shugart's weblog

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Sixties and Nineties

Dervala Hanley and I have been exchanging thoughts about our mutual interest in generational differences. She writes:

"I've always been fascinated by the differences in character between one generation and another. Not just as a youth/experience thing, but in terms of the very distinct personality and voice each generation develops.

. . . . I'm very fond of the energy and the enthusiasm of the Sixties generation, and I think that all of us who came later are envious at having missed the youthquake. So many of my generation built our twenties around the so-called New Economy office. Yes, we turned them into nerf ball playgrounds, but they're still offices. I think your generation had more fun.

Dervala's probably right. We may have had more fun than her generation, but it certainly didn't have anything to do with being superior. The historical context is such an overpowering influence. I think that the older you get the more you see the importance of it.

I used to love to hear my mother talk about the 20's. She was a teenager then, a happy-go-lucky "flapper." Some interesting similarities to the boomers: postwar prosperity, flaunting of old conventions, distinctive dress and music, getting high.

Then, of course, they were cut off at the knees by the Depression and the War. When they were able to pick up their interrupted lives after 1945, I don't think that they wanted anything to do anymore with high jinx or unconventionality. Most likely, they craved security at a level that none of us today can properly appreciate. And, mesmerized by the influence of larger-than-life Churchill and Roosevelt, they trusted their governments implicitly. They enthusiastically bought into the fantasy versions of life being spun by their new medium of television.

There was so much anger and bitterness between them and my cohort. Looking back now, I wonder if hidden resentment over our good fortune--contrasted to their interrupted youth--had a lot to do with it. It would have been nice if my generation had been more understanding, but that's not the way it works, is it?

We were just flat-out lucky. No doubt about it. Our celebrated transformation of the zeitgeist was made possible, after all, by having the luxury to wait until our thirties, if we so chose, before settling down. There was no problem in waiting until then to look for a serious job. And no problem finding an affordable house. It wasn't like today where kids have to hit the ground running as soon as they get out of college--and where young parents are so ridden with anxiety over making the right choices for their children so that they can get them into a good school.

I find it rather sad, but, again, it's the power of the historical context. Global competition--economically, America doesn't have the world to itself anymore. And both sexes--as it should be--now compete for a finite pool of jobs--the vast majority of which used to be available only to men.

May the kids who contributed to such economic vibrancy in the Ninties--and to such welcome shifts in the workplace paradigm--find some deserved mellowness in the years ahead. Actually, if Dervala's typical, it's already happening. Read her terrific post, "Freedom's just another word for everything to gain."


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