Food for Thought: Are Generations Just an Artificial Construct?

A friend linked me to this video the other day which basically dispels the the entire notion of generations to be nothing more than a construct that we’ve made up. Ever since the opening of this blog, this has actually come to my mind quite a few times. Who decided that this generation is born between this and this year? How did we agree that this generation has this set of characteristics, and another generation a completely different one?

It’s all pretty trivial, if you think about it. Discussion about generations becomes especially heated when it comes to careers and jobs. We talk about how Millennials have a completely different work ethic from say, members of Generation X, but at the end of the day, but is that really true? At the end of the day, we’re all people. We prefer to make more friends than enemies, we want to be happy and we want to succeed. So, are we really that different after all?

Extending upon Adam’s argument, I think that in many ways, the whole idea of these generational differences is misleading. It seems to imply that because you’re born in a certain generation, you take on certain characteristics and you have a certain personality. Generation X’s grew up in a tougher and less wealthy world, so it’s easy to say that they’re hard workers and have a strong sense of responsibility. But that doesn’t mean that everyone born outside of this year group is lazy and thoughtless. In fact, it can be quite as easily argued that in a wealthier society, people are more competitive because they are well aware that they have the potential to achieve more. This competition drives them to work hard and to think and act responsibly to beat out all the rest, so in that sense, we’re really all the same.

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Graphs taken as screenshots from video

On one hand, there are so many different people in a generation, and the age range is pretty large. Someone who’s 30 is a Millennial, and so is an 18-year-old. A 30-year-old would have had some solid work experience and perhaps settling down to start a family, while an 18-year-old is just freshly out of high school. They would be at completely different stages of life – so how can we lump them both into one ‘generation’? As Adam mentions in his video, a Millennial could be a mother of a Millennial, which completely goes against the whole scientific idea of family generations.

I wish I had a coherent conclusion to express, but I don’t. Generations are a construct, because it’s trivially decided in what years a generation starts and ends. But there are trends that show some differences between them, for example a varying level of trust in what we see online, contrasting views on sticking to one job or exploring options. In discussing generations, I think it’s important that we understand these differences are not born out of the generation we belong to, but are the result of the varying circumstances we grow up in. A lot of arguments regarding generations are also way too absolute and unbacked in the way it classes humans into different groups, lacking the understanding that we in many ways are the same.

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