The social media-verse has enjoyed the rivalry between Millennials and Boomers for years now, and we Gen-Xers have actually enjoyed being ragged on for not caring about either side in the debate. Being sandwiched between elderly parents who hate smart phones and the generation that will never know the pain of reading Mapquest directions on actual paper, has been fun.
We are the happy ones because we were raised just prior to the technology explosion that has made current life what it is—internet, wi-fi, smart devices, and ever-cheaper technology—but we are still excited about and use them intuitively. For instance, among the living generations, I believe we have the greatest appreciation for voice mail because we were the first to have answering machines but we had to actually go home to see who called. We also had to pay the phone company when we *69-ed to find out who we just ghosted.
We have the greatest appreciation for DVRs because we remember the anxiety of someone hollering from the living room, “IT’S BACK OOOON….” and we had to race out of the bathroom or kitchen so we didn’t miss a minute of our favorite TV show. Of course, if we did miss something, we had to time it just perfectly in the summer to see what was missed in the rerun. Or worse, in the years before basic cable, we had to wait two or three years for the solitary single local channel to run it in syndication.
Personally, I love that my 1980s self would be completely stunned to consider streaming. Today, it’s not unusual for someone to call, wherever I am, and ask, “What are you watching?” the answer is, “Well, I’m sitting in McDonald’s right now and I’m watching ‘Elementary’ for the third time.” I’m not just enjoying an episode I’ve seen before on the flat screen mounted to the wall of the restaurant—I’m watching the whole series whenever I feel like it. Or I could choose one of a thousand other shows whenever I feel like it.
My generation may eventually come around to calling TV shows and movies ‘content’ but we will probably always say we ‘taped’ them.
Millennials, Zoomers, and Alphas may also never appreciate binge-watching like we do. No commercials, or the agony of having to wait all summer to find out who shot J.R., or whether Sam proposed to Diane over the phone. Answering TV’s great historical questions now only requires the time it takes to push the SKIP button.
Even so, binging has its downsides. Watching a show in succession for a weekend or—depending on the number of seasons—a month, once you’ve watched the finale, it feels almost like a breakup. After spending so much time with the characters you like, it’s a letdown when they’re gone. Then you have to go on a blind date with another show because your friends or family said you’d really like it, and just hope for the best.
Gen-Xers also appreciate iTunes and Spotify more than most. Everyone makes fun of the mix tape, but it was all we had. With bad reproduction, weird sounds, and cutting off the best song at the end because the tape ran out…how can we not love the digital equivalent of 45rpm singles we can buy for $1.00 but can now listen to out of hearing aid-sized speakers rather than a 30-pound boom box compressing our spine?
Who else could appreciate VR glasses but the adolescents who fought over Atari consoles?
I also remember watching my mom make a big production out of piling up all the mail, getting a sandwich and drink, then spending an hour writing checks and licking stamps. Then she would sort through a 1/4″ stack of last month’s canceled checks, which came in an envelope, to balance her account. Then I smile because I can pay most of my bills in the time it takes to sit through a red light and some of them are set up to pay themselves when I’m not even looking.
Say what you will about our latch-key attitudes, and weird outfits, it’s nice to live in a time with so much to appreciate, and actually be old enough to appreciate the difference.
On the flip side, I do think we should probably apologize for Grunge.