Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My tiny, transitional generation.

There's been a flurry of articles lately about generations, and I've been reading them all with fascination.

Writers are hoisting up their generational flags, claiming space in our collective conscious: The Millenials.  Gen X.  The newly-dubbed "Generation Catalano."  The Digital Natives haven't written anything yet, but I bet an aspiring 11 year-old media mogul is working up a draft somewhere as we speak.

Have you ever wondered where you fit in?  I think about this all the time.

Perhaps you were born squarely in the year 1955, and then you can say: "I'm a boomer!"  But me?  I've always felt a bit adrift. 

I was born in 1982, the year of Sophie's Choice and the Tylenol Killer.  I would play with Care Bears and Rainbow Brite, and I would watch 3-2-1 Contact and Reading Rainbow.  Maybe some of you can relate to these things.   

Doree Shafrir, clever author of "Generation Catalano" piece writes: "where the Millennials tend to define themselves in terms of the way they live now, people in my cohort find fellowship more in what happened in the past, clinging to cultural totems as though our shared experiences will somehow lead us to better figure out who we are."

Well, that's certainly true.  Those of us in Doree's cohort -- that small group born during the late '70s and early '80s -- love to reminisce, so much that it makes me laugh.  My friend Candace and I threw ourselves a David Bowie-themed birthday party a while back.  I can't stop reading Hipstercrite and her odes to Prince, Rick Moranis, and Pee-Wee Herman.  

Photo via Portroids.

We hold onto the pieces of our past with something like fondess, but also something like desperation, because we sense that "the past" will soon be this very nebulous Internet soup from which it becomes increasingly difficult to retrieve collective memories.


And actually?  When I think of "my generation," the one that straddles Gen X and the Millenials, I think our collective nostalgia points to something deeper.

I've always had this theory about us, that we were the last kids to grow up without the Internet, and that fact alone was pretty defining.  We got it in college or high school, and I remember watching the little yellow AOL man in a perpetual, frozen run on my computer screen, waiting for the dial-up to kick in.  Do you remember your first email?  I think mine was to my Dad, and it was something like: "Hi Dad.  You are cooking dinner in the kitchen right now.  Love, Tolly."    

Anyway, even though I love my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and all the conveniences of life imbued by speedy social media, I've always felt really, really, grateful that I didn't grow up with this stuff.  I've never been sure how to express exactly why, either, except for the fact that I'm so ADHD now, I can't imagine what a lifetime of Internet would have done.

But there's something else too, something that social scientists have been talking about for years: Fragmentation.  

I always find it strange whenever I'm talking about someone who is, to me, totally famous -- say, a big blogger or whatever -- and my conversation partner has no idea who I'm talking about.  Ditto for bands, or TV shows.  There are so many freakin' cultural options now.  But my generation, in our Internet-less tweens and teens, still defined ourselves around a set of basic organizing principles: You listened to Nirvana or you didn't.  You shopped at The Gap or you didn't.  That isn't to say we were conformist, it's just that the world hadn't gotten all Internety yet.  

And I miss that sometimes, the days when we had the same stuff to point to.  Maybe that's why my generation fumbled when we got social media. We didn't exactly launch Friendster or MySpace into orbit, probably because we didn't entirely get it.  But the Millenials?  Well, I'd say their little Facebook experiment turned out alright.


So who is my generation? We are the ones quoting old Troop Beverly Hills lines, but we're doing it over Twitter.  We're creating Tumblrs devoted to Saved By the Bell.  My point being: We use the Internet to patch together shared, past experience, and I've just now realized how much this affects the way I blog.

I've come to define my own blog in halves: Half shared Austin culture, half personal experience.  I want to be there with you right now Reader, bopping along to a band, eating pie, whatever.  But I also have that Millenial-esque tendency to share, to divulge, all with the subtext of: "You think I'm special, right?"

And it makes so much sense.  I used to think this was an Austin thing, this feeling of duality.  The town that invented Slacker, but the town that also invented SXSW.  We're relaxed but entrepreneurial, buzzed yes, but also business-savvy.  It's an interesting place.

But now I believe these feelings may be generational.

On the one hand, my tiny group wants to feel Part of Something.  To join.  To be in the club.  To laugh together about our first Madonna album.

And on the other hand, we want to distinguish ourselves, want to be recognized as the "special snowflakes" Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold famously described in "Helplessness Blues." 

We're still figuring out what we want.  We don't know who our spokesperson is.

Probably because that future spokesperson is still trying to figure out what he or she wants, too.

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