Talking about my generation

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Talking about my generation

YOU probably won’t believe this, but I’ve just developed a generational complex. It hit me when I heard that a new generation had just arrived on the block.

Now I’m feeling threatened, insecure and ill at ease. You’d think I was a millennial being told to move over and make way for the new kids, the way I’m reacting.

Now, I’ve seen generations come and go and they’ve never bothered me before. But the label they’ve put on the latest one, which is just reaching voting age this year, is a bit disconcerting. It’s called Generation Z and most of its young hopefuls are doing the Leaving Cert in June. Is this the end of the line then?

I don’t even remember the X and Y generations, but I suspect they were young at some time too, and very much at odds with everything I believed in. If not, then they weren’t worth their salt.

I’m not a fan of ‘generationalisation’ in the first place because it was invented by marketing gurus in the US and it tends to pigeon- hole and stereotype young people, while subtly managing to make older people feel well past it. I’d much prefer to ignore the years and pick the generation I’d like to belong to myself, or at least the one that I think best represents my character. I wouldn’t be a bit modest about it either. I fancy the ‘Lost Generation’ because of its literary connotations and the sense of deep anguish it exudes. But I was born too late and anyway it only applied to Americans who were losing their values in the early 1920s. There were no Irish in the ‘Lost Generation’ because presumably they had just found themselves again after 700 years of occupation and slavery.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued to learn that I actually belong to the ’Baby Boomers’ generation having been born between the end of World War II and 1965. That’s a long time for a single homogenous group, but it suits me fine because, to all intent and purposes, I could be nearly 20 years younger than I am.

Except for one small detail! Tea and other basic commodities were still being rationed when I came into the world, I was told, which might explain why I’m now inclined to indulge in a fit of panic buying every time they forecast a light fall of snow. I’m always afraid that we won’t have enough to eat – a typical Baby Boomer trait.

We baby boomers, by the way, are also characterised by a strong work ethic, a highly competitive nature and – I’m adding this bit myself – a complete aversion to smart phones, which puts us at odds immediately with this new generation Z. These kids were born with a smart phone attached to the umbilical cord. No wonder I’m feeling uneasy or queasy, I don’t know which. The whole thing is very divisive, but it shouldn’t matter really because generation labelling only applies to the young and before we know it they’ll have to fill in their generation category on driving license and job applications. Baby Boomers needn’t worry!

When I read a few interviews in the Irish Times at the weekend with a selection of 18-years-olds who were introduced as ‘Generation Z’, all I can say is give me a Baby Boomer any day over this apathetic lot. They want to take over the world, but not if it proves too much of a hassle. They’re fiercely ambitious, but they’re even more fiercely attached to their smart phones, just like Donald Trump. One of them loves Ireland dearly, yet she desperately wants to emigrate. “I’m 18 now and I feel as if I’ve lived here for long enough,” she told the Irish Times. Try being a “Baby Boomer” love! It does seem as if we’ve been here forever.

Another young Z-er has decided to study Law, because it came up in a career guidance aptitude test and because it pays fairly well and because you could make a difference. Safe or what? That’s the thing about this new generation - No one at all wants to be a hell raiser. They appear to be much more conservative than previous generations. Even the ‘Interbellum generation’ -1901 to 1913 – sounded wilder, crazier and more radical than this lot.

One interviewee agreed that the young people of his generation were moving towards “a more conservative point of view”. “We would be more socially conservative than the millennials proper,” he explained.

Just a couple of them said that they had religious beliefs, but one of those was a Spanish student and the other said she was half French. Environmentally they believe that they may have to fix up the mess made by previous generations “with whatever is left to fix up”, but you get the feeling that if it is too much bother, they’ll just leave it.

I know that generational labelling is a crude and essentially commercial exercise and it certainly doesn’t define everyone born in any particular period. But I think I can breathe easier after being introduced to the Z generation. They appear to be too exhausted from using their smart phones every day non- stop into the small hours, to be able to pose any real threat to previous generations.