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Each generation has things that immediately jump into people’s minds when you talk about them. Whether it’s rock music and civil disobedience or suburban homes and pension plans, there are certain images that each decade conjures up in our minds. Obviously, these are just stereotypes. Each generation runs the full spectrum of people, opinions, and motivations. However, there are certainly themes that typify each decade. I’ve talked a lot about things that may or may not come to define us, so in this case, I picked a few things from the other side–things that we may have seen from generations before that I think won’t define us at all.
1. Long-Term Relationships
Don’t worry, I’m not saying that our generation is going to kill the concept of marriage. There are still going to be millions of us who choose a person to settle down with, and a certain percentage of those who actually stick with each other. Leading up to that point, though, you can expect both people are going to have a pretty long rap sheet of dating history. See, our parents ruined marriage for us. For the time period that we were growing up, divorce rates were up to (and sometimes above) 50 percent, and we have to assume that the percentage of unhappy marriages overall was even higher. So how did we react? Well, first the average age of people getting married went up. Makes sense. We all saw our parents or friends’ parents split up, so we want to make sure that we’re older and more mature before we settle down for life. We also started having more romantic partners and casual sex. I’m not a sociologist, but as someone who happens to be in his mid-20s and is friends with a few other people around that age, I’d assert that it’s tied to the same concept. We’re terrified of becoming our parents, especially the “having kids and then splitting up in front of them” part. We want to make sure we run the full gamut of romantic activity before making our decisions–not just to figure out exactly what we want in a partner through trial and error, because we’ve experienced the things we really wanted to experience before entering into a contract with one person. It’s a lot easier to be okay with never having a threesome for the rest of your life when you’ve already had one (and probably seen it turn things south really fast).
Old people complain about how often we’re on our phones, and they’re not totally wrong. I often find myself putting on a movie I’ve been meaning to see and suddenly realizing that I’m browsing my Twitter feed in the middle of an important scene. We’re always texting, checking facts, and taking pictures of stuff. However, it’s not all bad. The great thing is that we were weaned into a culture of multitasking. We worked on homework while talking to our friends online. We held conversations with multiple people at once (usually talking about the other person). We’re crazy efficient. In spite of how much we slack off at work, I guarantee we’re getting more done per day than our parents could have dreamed of in their office jobs back in the day. Sure, some of this is due to better technology, but what it really comes down to is our ability to interact with and use that technology. There’s a reason an age bias exists in corporate culture. They don’t hate old people, they just realize that no matter how much experience an older person has, it often can’t compete with a less experienced young person with 10 times the efficiency. The problem is, in spite of the fact that we’re getting more work done than ever, we’re getting paid (adjusted for inflation and relative wage efficacy) much less than our parents were. So that’s fun.
War is always going to be a part of humankind, or at least for the next few thousand years until we all upload our brains into one collective consciousness and beam our existence across the universe in the form of light waves. Until then, we’re going to keep finding new ways and interesting reasons to kill each other. However, war is different now. Our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents all had large scale conflicts in which they were involved. Many of them actually served in those wars and came back changed. Everyone was impacted by them. After Vietnam, our military leaders began to realize that they could be much more effective if given a purely professional army. Since then, even though we’ve been involved in dozens of conflicts, large and small, we’ve never called up citizens to fight. The draft is almost totally a thing of the past. As a result, the vast majority of our generation not only has never fought in a war, we’ve never had to worry that we would have to if we didn’t choose to. There also haven’t been any large-scale conflicts since Vietnam. As big as our last campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan feel, the number of troops actually sent to fight is vastly smaller than any of our last wars. This is good in the sense that we’ve all gotten to grow up and think about things other than “Will I survive?” every day. On the other hand, there is certainly a sense of camaraderie and unification of purpose that comes from fighting against a common enemy that our entire generation will simply never experience. Is that a good or a bad thing? Hard to say.
Once upon a time, you could make a movie, write a song, or live your life unabashedly about a love story. Just straight up love, no jokes, no tricks, just “I love this person, and I want to tell the world why.” That’s leaving. The romantic comedies we enjoy the most still tell love stories, but with their tongues firmly entrenched in their cheeks. It’s tough to watch a movie these days that doesn’t coat its sentimental message in heavy layers of sarcasm. And I get it. There was a (justified) backlash against traditional love stories in media because they felt unrealistic, fake, and, well, traditional. They’ve also permeated our interpersonal interactions. Everything we say is sarcastic now. Even when we talk to our friends about how much we appreciate them, we can’t help but pepper in a few cheeky comments, out of fear that the whole ordeal will get “too heavy.” Is this a bad thing? It depends on how you look at it. On one hand, the need for sincerity creates false sincerity, so you actually have less people “faking” friendship or kindness to people they don’t like, which is sort of a beneficial version of honesty. But on the other, it’s less common to hear from someone what he or she really thinks or feels without that person qualifying it by a protective layer of satire. Well, unless you’re all drunk. In that case, everyone is free with his or her emotions. Why do you think I drink so much? You know, other than a general lack of self-control?