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The Talented Generation

A few days ago I was reading some post about the state of some poling question when examined in generational groupings. The pollsters have all sorts of clever names for these generations. In fact, there is an entire Wikipedia article about generational names in America (though, it would seem to be a highly debated article). This list includes:

  • Interbellum Generation
  • Greatest Generation
  • Silent Generation
  • Baby Boom Generation
  • Generation Jones
  • Generation X
  • MTV Generation
  • Generation Y
  • Generation Z

I’ve substituted in the more common names for a few of them… because Wikipedia is clearly wrong… “Millennium” Generation indeed. Another point where Wikipedia is wrong is declaring that Generation X includes those born in 1981. As someone who was born in 1981, I flatly reject inclusion in that humdrum and directionless generation.

But it did get me thinking about the naming scheme in use here. First, the MTV generation seems pretty silly and is entirely too narrow of a period to be an entire generation. Supposedly this is where I fit, but I think the label MTV anything was (and still is) a pejorative comment developed by earlier generations as a way to belittle us. So, screw that too.

What it leaves us is this series of generational labels that start with X and, seemingly, ends with Z (…AA?). I always liked Generation X as a concept, because “X” meant something… it was an undefined indifference that seemed to permeate many of those who are ten or so years old than me. It’s not universal, but it’s certainly prevalent. But where “X” was cool, “Y” and “Z” have nothing going on. They are simply the letters that follow after “X”. It is exactly the sort of name I would expect Baby Boomer and Generation X pollsters to ascribe to those who are coming to take their place in the world… we have no other descriptive attributes than “those who came after”.

Well, allow me to propose a better term for those born in the 1980s, experienced puberty and high school in the 90s, and were in college during the time of Napster: The Talented Generation.

I did not select this monicker lightly. But these past two weeks in Seattle I have been dumb struck by the number of amazing things my generation is doing in their twenties. Their twenties people! Instead of pursuing quixotic protest projects or experimental drugs, my generation is doing incredibly things at an outrageously young age.

Here’s just a brief run down of some of the stuff I’ve seen in the past two weeks. Two friends are putting together weekly podcasts about the Seattle Beer scene, interviewing local brewers, attending events, providing high-quality advice on homebrew projects. A friend in D.C. is publishing articles on how to be domestic in the modern age, yet avoid becoming like Betty Crocker. Two friends — and their much larger circle of friends — coordinated and put on an entire musical. A friend in San Francisco is working with Google to track not just Swine Flu, but influenza in general. Another in San Francisco is working at UCSF on technology that may radically alter our relationship with biofuels… and the list goes on!

Some of these efforts are real jobs, but most are not… and even the guy working at Google proposed and sold the idea to upper management, it wasn’t formulated from on high. You might also say that some of it is pretty small potatoes, right? Seattle Beer… who cares? Well, turns out lots of people do, and these guys are providing a service that others want and having fun while doing it.

Part of what we are seeing is the empowerment of the digital age, of that there is no question. But I also think we are seeing a new sense of volunteerism. It’s not the old one, where you signed up to help work at the local park on Saturdays… this is a new kind of volunteerism, that is highly personal and self-driven, yet fills an important community niche and provides a mechanism to give back outside of the old rules.

I don’t expect any of this to create the next big thing, but I’m also not convinced there ever will be another true big thing in our lifetime. Sure, there will be those who try to promote whatever as big and next, but the truth is, what’s really next is going to be lots of small things… each one the brain child of a talented person looking for a way to contribute in their own way. Personally, I couldn’t think of a better time to be coming into our prime.

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