Spanning the generational divide

Steven Wenzel | Contributing Reporter

There has been much written about what generation we college-aged students belong to. We have been alternately labeled as being the last of Generation Y (early 1980s to early 2000s) and the first of Generation Z (mid-1990s to present day). On the surface, we would seem to identify more with the latter. Most college students are very connected, sporting multiple social networking profiles and staying in almost constant communication with each other. We are technologically adept and ever eager to get our hands on the newest phone or the latest app. We deal in information, creating and recreating ideas, jokes and art in a vast “remix culture.” Such traits are far more closely aligned with the newer generation than with the old.

Yet at the same time, we have experienced things that our younger brethren, raised on iPhones and Facebook, cannot relate to. My family’s household used dial-up until I was in fifth grade, and the screeching phone lines constitute a memorable part of my childhood. The Walkman and VHS tapes also rank among the technology with which we grew up but is now outdated. I didn’t get a Facebook account until well into high school, and Twitter followed far behind. These technologies give us a different foundation than that of Generation Z. Furthermore, our morals are more closely aligned with those of Generation Y. We value civic duty and feel as if we have a responsibility to leave the world better than we found it.

So where does this leave us? At first glance, such a placement would seem a disadvantage. With one foot on either side of the generational line, where will we be defined? In fact, the time of our birth gives us an interesting opportunity. Because we span the generation gap, we are in a unique position to comment on it. Our roots, barely predating the age of Web 2.0, give us a perspective on the new generation not shared by those older or younger than us. Like our elders, we can see how the world has changed, but unlike them, we can appreciate both the good and the bad of that change.

There is an interesting precedent for our situation. The Americans born during the last decade of the 1800s found themselves in a similar place. They had one foot in the puritanical values of the Gilded Age, the other in the raucous dance floors of the Jazz Age. They were children of the century and, as such, found themselves at the perfect moment to transcribe it. From that demographic emerged such greats as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, whose writings immortalized the era. They acted as mediators, immortalizing the new America in terms that the old America could appreciate.

And so we return to the present. The demographic born between 1990 and 2000 is just beginning to come into its own. Our eldest have graduated, and our youngest are entering high school. In the years to come, we will have a responsibility to use our unique perspective to foster and cultivate the America of the 21st century. We are of both the old and the new, and we must do our part to unite the two.

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