Why is this interesting? - The Boomer Edition

On millennials, boomers, and nostalgia-fueled shade

Noah here. A few years ago I was sitting in one of those HR seminars on diversity and the moderator started going off on millennials. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I looked around the room and wondered if everyone else thought this was as weird as I did. After she finished, I offered a defense of my younger colleagues (and myself, since I just barely make the cut). First off, any generalization of 80+ million people (in the United States) is going to be grossly simplistic. Second, what 20-somethings have in common at work (early in their career, few familial responsibilities, a desire to make more money than they’re currently making) has been true of 20-somethings of any generation for a good while now.

Why is this interesting?

Millennials are inevitably compared to their parents, the Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. The Boomers carried the baggage of their parents, who had lived through the depression and World War II, and when they entered the workforce in the 1970s and 1980s, we are told they did so with respect for their superiors, commitment to their companies, and a serious attitude. With 2019 serving as the 50th anniversary for all that was 1969, it’s been a year of reflecting on the lore of the decade, which seems to have lost some luster in the last half-century.

There’s Woodstock, which friend of WITI Rex Sorgatz wrote reminded him of “a Boomer version of Fyre Festival” after watching a documentary of the festival. A recent New Yorker review of a new thirty-six-hour boxed set took things further, presenting Woodstock as a kind of money-printing nostalgia machine: 

The legend of Woodstock became a business model. The festival didn’t invent rock nostalgia, but as the most visceral stand-in for sixties utopianism it lives at the forefront of commemoration culture, helping to fuel the sense that the more we turn any anniversary into an event, the more we might understand the past. In 1974, Rosenman, Roberts, and Robert Pilpel [the financial backers of Woodstock] reflected on the experience, in a book called “Young Men with Unlimited Capital.” When they republished it, in the eighties, they lamented the “Me Generation” that emerged after the idyllic sixties. By the mid-seventies, rock festivals “had been tarnished by greedy, and sometimes unscrupulous, promoters, unruly crowds, and sky-high fees for performers,” they wrote. “Rock and roll had become such a big business that there no longer seemed to be a place for a homemade festival like Woodstock.”

The point is that memory hardly ever matches reality. If it happened with Woodstock it’s almost definitely true in other arenas. What’s more, this illustrates how nostalgia can transform into contempt for those that follow: The source of much of the shade thrown at millennials.

But what about the politics? Well that’s a bit overplayed as well. After all, the Boomers simply weren’t old enough to have made a major impact. Here’s Louis Menand writing for the New Yorker about the misconceptions about Baby Boomers and the sixties:

The boomers get tied to the sixties because they are assumed to have created a culture of liberal permissiveness, and because they were utopians—political idealists, social activists, counterculturalists. In fact, it is almost impossible to name a single person born after 1945 who played any kind of role in the civil-rights movement, Students for a Democratic Society, the New Left, the antiwar movement, or the Black Panthers during the nineteen-sixties. Those movements were all started by older, usually much older, people.

Finally, as Janan Ganesh writes in the FT, the 1960s were also the last “simple” decade. It was a world before globalization, the microprocessor, and everything that followed:

Despite its anarchic reputation, the whole of the 1960s played out in a tightly controlled world. Major currencies were still pegged to each other under the Bretton Woods system. The most populous country, China, was cut off from global trade. A worker in Munich faced little wage competition from Dresden (which was behind the Iron Curtain), let alone Shenzhen. Western societies were more homogenous than now: America’s foreign-born population was around five per cent, about a third of its present size. Student protests raged in several capitals, yes, but they were of the pie-in-the-sky variety that tend to burn out. As a mark of their success, the decade ended with those revolutionaries Richard Nixon, Georges Pompidou and Harold Wilson steering the west. These were much more orderly times than we sometimes like to imagine.

And all of that is fine. Every generation can only play the cards it was dealt. But if we’re going to insist on trying to take 20-somethings down a peg we should at least acknowledge that surely every generation has had its own Fyre Festival. (NRB)

Chart of the Day:

Millennials are now the largest percentage of the workforce. (NRB)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

PS - Noah here. I’ve started a new company and we are looking for our first/lead product designer to join the team in Brooklyn. If you are a product designer or know anyone who is great, please share. Dinner’s on me at a restaurant of your choosing if you help us find someone.