The Boomers (NOT)

I don't know about you, but I am tired of the clichés surrounding the boomer generation. I am pretty sure that aside from the demographics (born at a certain time) there is not much that either unites or divides the boomers or even makes them worthy of a generational designation. The label is convenient for marketers and advertisers and even some demographers who relish the simplified and often reductive generalizations that come with transforming a large group of distinctly different people into a relatively homogeneous crowd. 

There is something historically interesting however, about the process of designation, about how a small cluster of statisticians and social scientists found a way of describing people more as a consequence of their birth date than as a result of any serious ethnographic enquiry into the daily lives of people from many different backgrounds.

For the most part, generations are defined by framing a twenty year period with certain characteristics that range from what people are interested in, to what they do, to what kinds of jobs they get and so on. In this approach, every period of time has certain characteristics, for example, the Eisenhower years are described as a time of conservatism or the generation X years as a time of complacency. These are of course intuitions about history and everyday life, and while there are always patterns that can be extrapolated from any historical period, the question is why box time, events and people’s experiences into labels? Little it seems to me is gained by this approach which is driven by nomenclature more than by any verifiable research. (As my readers can tell, I am not a fan of surveys.)

History is of course very cyclical and events likes wars define the experiences of those who go through them. The issue here is that any serious event will have its impact and will define those who have been part of the event or contributors to its creation. The challenge is that it is difficult to generalize from events to the people who have been at the centre of the activities they have shared. 

This is an issue of history and the ways in which we approach time. It is also a public policy issue because as different generations age and in the case of the demographic bulge that was created in the fifties and sixties size matters, public policy is overtaken by actuarial models of analysis. Put it this way, if you are over 65 today, you will pay a great deal more for travel insurance because actuarial tables show that the risks are higher. This may have nothing to do with the actual state of your health and you will not be permitted to argue about what is taken to be the gospel truth.

The broader issues here are actually centred on the need to create boundaries between different age groups, and to provide research that justifies market based models that become absolute. Ironically, customization which is really what social media portend, may be a way out of this conundrum.