Taking on Nussbaum (Grandparents Gone Ga-Ga)

August 2, 2010 § 1 Comment

About a month ago, Bruce Nussbaum, a popular Design + Business guru and writer for Business Week, wrote an article called F*** the Boomers, Screw the Xers, Give Gen Y Power Now. In it, he proclaims the Boomers need to step aside and let the Gen Yers (a “search-learn-make-share” demographic) take over because they are better equipped than Boomers and Gen Xers to remake and reverse the US’s global decline.

All of which is fine enough. But, Mr Nussbaum goes so far to say that the reason Gen Xers should be skipped over is because “Xers still don’t get it” and that “Sure the Xers will whine but they will follow (they always do). And deep down, they’ll feel relieved of the burden of responsibility and embrace the irony of losing out (once again).”


As one of the younger members of Gen X (I was born in 1976), I fail to see how Mr. Nussbaum’s viewpoint makes any sense at all. I would go so far to say that he is misinformed, possibly delusional.

Sure, it may be true that we are the generation of Slacker and many of us spent many years wandering the wilderness of society, but the Xers I know are nothing like what Mr Nussbaum portrays.

The Xers I know are entrepreneurs, educators, leaders, hard workers, committed to family and community, world travelers, intellectually curious, and perhaps most importantly, fighters.

(Fighters? You must be joking, right? No.)

The oldest of the Xers began their journey in the workforce right as the 1988 recession hit. Some of us were the soldiers in the first Gulf War. We enjoyed a few good economic years in the go-go 90s, where we were the workforce behind the web’s explosion before the boom went bust. We have since led the charge for the much-more successful second generation of the web. All Xers were adults during the tragic events of 9/11 and its ensuing recession and war. We’ve had no choice but to sit by and watch as the Boomers-in-charge began shipping manufacturing jobs overseas. We are now dealing with the “Great Recession” that has caused the greatest levels of chronic unemployment since the Great Depression.

And we did all this while having come of age right as the US was changing from an analog, monolithic, and segregated society to a digital, diverse, and integrated society. We have been (and are) the bridge between the analog-inclined Boomers and the digital-savvy Gen Yers. This is no small feat or task.

Boy oh boy, my rankle is rousing.


We are a rather small generation compared to the Boomers and Yers, leaving us with less people to do more.

While the Boomers may have made it cool to care about the environment, Xers have carried the torch and spread the fire, if you will.

While the boomers may have started the running and fitness craze, it is the Xers who made it mainstream.

We have been leaders in urban revitalization efforts, populating cities left for dead by the Boomers. (This conveniently helps work towards solving both the health and environment problems in one efficient stroke.)

Throughout the recessions and wars, we were given hope the Boomers would start retiring and we would fill those jobs. It hasn’t happened. So, instead, we’ve had to innovate and find new ways to make a living.

All this doesn’t even begin to touch the millions of Xers who work in the civil sector, fight our wars, work in the arts, volunteer for non-profits, went in to the Peace Corps, or simply do whatever they have to do to to feed their families.

Go on, tell me that Gen Xers “don’t get it.” What a smug, careless statement.

Instead of gaining respect for our tenacity and savvy, we’re overwhelmed by a media that celebrates the 60s and Boomer culture while cooing over Gen Yers that have had very little time to accomplish anything. All this while our achievements and cultural touchstones are barely acknowledged in any meaningful way besides infomercials for 80s and 90s pop music. Sweet.

But, ya know, hey, it’s cool. We’re used to it by now.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a rant against Gen Yers. This is about the popular perception from a Boomer culture loathe to admit that Xers, for all our warts and bruises and worries, have earned the right to more respect than a dismissive comment by a popular business + design writer and educator.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though: Grandparents are always harder on their own children than their grandchildren.

Before all is said and done, Gen X will have left its mark. We are the bridge between the old America and the new one. We are the translators and innovators between two generations within a culture shifting markedly day-by-day.

If anyone thinks the Xers are done or to be passed over, I wouldn’t bet against us. We’re still relatively young and if history has shown anything, we’re relentless. Quite the opposite of Mr. Nussbaum’s blind, bland, boring, and bumbling notion of a generation of irony-seeking slackers.

After all, I would argue that we were slackers not because we didn’t care, we were slackers because we did care, but had no meaningful outlet. That has changed.

Our dissatisfaction is our fuel. And trust me, we have plenty of it.



August 25, 2008 § 1 Comment

I recently read the book Slackonomics by Lisa Chamberlain. The book covers the growing pains of Generation Xers, the tumult of the economy in the past 20 years, and Xers place in it.

For the first few chapters, I was thoroughly engaged as Ms. Chamberlain holds a mirror up to Generation X’s experiences socially, economically, and politically. It was an easy read and made me feel not so lonely on my somewhat unconventional professional and personal journey. But as the book went on, I found myself wondering aloud about what her ultimate point is. When she finally got there, she makes some interesting leaps, not all of which I am sure are completely founded by her set-up, but interesting nonetheless.

It goes like this:

• We are in an era of intense economic Creative Destruction (economic transformation through radical innovation), with Gen Xers leading the charge. This is good and shows our willingness to take risks and innovate. For example, think of Google, Amazon, iTunes, and countless other new companies and innovations.
• The free market is falling into Supercapitalism, which ultimately pits individuals’ needs against the common good (e.g. the worldwide plundering of natural resources; we shop at places like Wal-Mart yet complain about their low wages and union busting). This is bad.
• Far too few Gen Xers are engaged in the public marketplace that reconciles individual needs with the common good. This engagement is fundamental to a healthy democracy.
• If we don’t step up, we risk losing democracy. (For example: China’s Communist-Capitalistic Political-Economic structure shows that democracy and capitalism aren’t mutually dependent.)
• Fixing the situation isn’t going to be fun, but it’s necessary and Gen X has
all the tools to fix it.

These are some serious leaps of logic, obviously written by somebody who has read up quite extensively on economic and political theories—maybe even someone who takes them for granted. This creates the problem that Ms. Chamberlain doesn’t truly take the time to parse out her argument a bit more. Instead, she keeps the book fairly light content-wise (which has its merits), but if you’re going to tell me that democracy is buckling under the weight of capitalism, especially in such a grand fashion in the last chapter, I want some more information. Please.

In spite of these shortcomings, Slackonomics is a short enough read that you aren’t going to be heavily invested time-wise and the return of investment on that time is high. Which is nice. And it certainly made me wonder about design on the highest levels—government, power structures, leadership—which is also nice. But I would’ve gladly given a few more hours of my time for a little less mirror and a little more meat.

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