The intersect of Demographics and Tech – “GENERATION-BRIDGER”
To all my fellow social advertisers and anyone else who uses or discusses demographics; if you don’t get this straight, you’re going to miss something significant.
It’s only just now occurred to me that Douglas Coupland’s book “Generation-X” (published 1991) pre-dates David Foot’s Book, “Boom, Bust, Echo” (1996). I had the good fortune of reading Foot before I even knew Generation-X existed, which I suppose is what armed me to recognize it as the piece of shit it is (sorry Coupland).
In Coupland’s defense, the advantages Foot predicted for my generation (the baby-busters, because we are a small cohort and therefore have less peer competition), have only proven advantages to me now in my 40’s. I imagine it will be a short-lived opportunity, given our collective preoccupation with the millennials / echo-boomers. So, to some extent, Coupland’s designation (Gen-X) had merit. However, the Gen-X label and the cohort it projected its doom over has only confused discussions about demographic data, and worse, is standing in the way of a more meaningful insight.
To fully understand what I’m about to explain, first have a look at the following table I put together in Excel based on Foot’s and other collected data (hint: it’s the overlaps that bug me):
I should quickly point out that Foot’s dates are based on Canadian stats, and that there will be slight variances between national groups, depending on when WWII ended for a given country, and thus when the baby making started booming. This explains the year-out-of-sync for what Google defines as millennials compared to Foot’s Echo Boom.
Now have a look at these two statements and see how the overlapping Gen-X green line has confused the lines between cohorts.
Statistics Canada does not recognize a traditional Millennials cohort and instead has Generation Z directly follow what it designates as Children of Baby boomers (born 1972–1992). Randstad Canada describes Generation Z as those born between 1995–2014.
If you didn’t realize the Y and Z terms stem from that one book (Generation-X), let me summarize it very quickly. Because the baby-boomers are such a large cohort, lived through years of peace and prosperity, and had parents who saved and sacrificed everything for them because they’d experienced war and understood how fragile civil society is… the earliest Boomer generation (the grey line before the green line starts) had a huge advantage, and those at the tail-end (and for a long time after / the green line) were basically screwed because all the jobs, opportunities and money had been sucked up by the mob ahead of them. As a result, many were bitter, lazy and cynical.
While this may have been a prevalent sentiment for a time among those at that tail-end of the baby boom (indeed I recall the influence of those young adults while I was still a teen), at best, Gen-X ends where the baby-bust starts and they actually are just a small sub-cohort of the boomers. Consider how old I was when this book describing my generation came out: 17. Of course, I was lazy and cynical. I was a teenager. By the time I was 22, reading “Boom, Bust, Echo”… well, you can understand why I preferred Foot’s empirical description of my generation over Coupland’s judgemental one. Who wants to be considered bitter, lazy and cynical?
And explain to me why today a guy like Gary V., someone very close in age to me, successful, with very similar values and attitudes, is “peacocking around” (his words, not mine), preaching “hustle” to stadiums full of Millennials? Because he’s a Buster, or as I prefer to call it a “Generation-Bridger”. And I believe “Bridgers” like Gary V. are in a unique position to understand a few things neither the boomers nor millennials do.
For the boomers, let me explain the swagger, because I imagine for some of you, these calm, seemingly non-competitive, “I’ve reached such a level of success, now I just want to teach you my secrets” videos are starting to get annoying. As much as Gary V. is inspiring millennials (which he is), he’s also owning them (and me) by smartly investing in data on a huge multi-generational cohort that has spending power. I’ve never met the guy, but I can tell you Gary V. has a huge pixel (sorry, that’s an inside joke many may not fully understand, but I couldn’t resist).
The Millennials are just starting to hit the wall of reality their parents tried so hard to shelter them from. I commend Gary V. for awakening what may prove to be a sleeper-cell of productivity and enterprise. Their advantage is time. Mine is experience. And that experience is in a sweet-spot between understanding life with and without modern technology, something many boomers and millennials struggle with for different reasons, and another one of my reasons for the “Generation-Bridger” label (yes, I realize this won’t catch on).
Getting back to Gen-XYZ, my point is simply that Generation-X (the book) projects a long, dour, and ubiquitous shadow over a generational cohort, and its entrance into common parlance has confused a lot of discussions about demographic targeting. It was fiction really, loosely derived from a more nuanced demographic reality. As much as current events and trends can be useful data-points, understanding significant events will produce more accurate date separators and more meaningful insights. Let me give you an example, which is why I put myself and my parents on this chart.
You see how my parents were born one year before the baby-boom starts? Let me explain (mostly for millennials) what most of my fellow busters and boomers already know. You see, while the baby-boomers were being hippies, launching their significant movements (feminism, civil rights, the sexual revolution etc.), my pre-boomer parent’s generation had already grown-up, moved off-campus and were starting families of their own. I would argue that the majority of them still hold on to the traditional values of their parent’s generation.
As you would expect, growing up, roughly half my peers had pre-boomer parents and half had post-boomer parents. Collectively we all learned the difference and what to expect when we visited each other’s homes depending on whether our parents were hippies in the 60’s (again bringing me to “Generation-Bridger”). It’s a fault-line that continues to permeate and divide within generational groupings. There are MANY correlations between that single event (the end of WWII), that continue to reflect themselves culturally. In other words, as much as I may be in a small cohort of Baby-Busters, that cohort can be subdivided by that single parental generation distinction. So, a peer who had hippy parents may parent their kids differently than I with pre-boomer parents. It may even explain why I have an issue with these blurred distinctions in the first place, just as I do other new political labels which we won’t discuss here.
My point is simply this: The Baby-Bust generation is in a unique position and there is much value in understanding their particular insights. They are better described as “Generation-Bridgers”. As “Bridgers” they’re young enough to have grown up with technology and are typically comfortable adapting as it changes. And they have insights into the two generations that preceded them closely- the Boomers, and the Pre-Boomers because as a cohort, they were raised in some cases by parents from the earlier generation, and in some cases the latter one. Through their own friends, they had immediate exposure to both parental modes. This experience makes it easier for them to relate and interact with other demographic groupings than subsequent cohorts.
If you’re interested, I recommend you read “Boom, Bust, Echo”. It’s a tool; a lens through which you can analyze cohort attitudes and how they correlate with significant sociological events and attitudes. If you don’t care, can we at least drop the X, Y, Z labels?