The generational trials of an ‘Xennial’ life

Cutting edge technology of my youth, as it appears in a British museum. (PHOTO: Robin Hamman, Flickr CC)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Generational labels, such as baby boomer or millennial, can mislead. Nevertheless, they identify common experiences shared by people your age.

Consider the living generations today.

The “Greatest” generation grew up during the Depression. They fought WWII and the Korean War and wore high waisted pants and hats that I envy.

The Baby Boomers, born 1945-1965, witnessed the social upheaval of the 1960s while some fought the Vietnam War.

Generation “X,” born 1965-1980, were the first children of baby boomers. They grew up safe, but faced economic challenges as the post-WWII boom wore off.

Millennials, born 1980 to 2000, witnessed 9/11 and grew up with the internet and early smart phones. The lifetime of everyone on earth right now contains a remarkable amount of change.

Now, researchers are pointing to a “micro generation” that exists between Generation X and the Millennials, which they dub the “Xennials.”

Born 1976-1983, the defining feature of xennials is growing up without internet technology, but quickly adopting it before marrying and having children. This creates a group of people capable of navigating both worlds. They possess both the more traditional work ethic and slightly jaded attitudes of GenX, and the optimism and flexibility of Millennials.

I must say that this news hit home. Born in 1979, I’ve always felt a little out of place with both the GenX and Millennial labels. In considering the matter, I identified several life events that would have only been possible because of *when* I grew up.

My parents owned a typewriter, on which I typed my first essays. However, they got a computer during my high school years to use in their business. I would then type essays and speeches to print out on a dot matrix printer, peeling the feeder tabs off the sides before reading them.

When I took an interest in girls, I would get their address from them and write them letters which I would send through the U.S. Postal Service. This eliminated the awkward conversation with the parents who would answer their phone before I really got to know them. Every time I sent a letter I would silently calculate the time it would take for the Duluth postal center to process the letter and deliver it to the girl in question. Then I had to contemplate how long it took her to read the letter, consider its content, and compose a response.

I then had to imagine her letter going back through the postal system to my house, presuming she sent one at all. While all of this happened, the sun rose and set again and again like a strobe light. Men grew old and died. Televisions shows aired twice, thrice, and were cancelled. My hair grew inches and my fingernails had to be clipped. Think of that when you sweat text messages that seem an hour too late.

But something magical happened late in my high school years. A special computer was wheeled into each of the classrooms at Cherry High. It had something called … the internet. Teachers read from educational pamphlets explaining how it worked. Time to time, we could use it, most of us thinking of little else but typing in the names of our favorite brands of snowmobile or soda pop.

During this time, people started acquiring e-mail addresses. The girl from my letters got one, so I had to adapt. I did not have an e-mail address, nor could I conceive of why I should. See, I viewed the early internet as a tricked-out telegraph. I just needed to find a clear channel for transmission.

That’s why my first e-mail to a girl was sent from the address of a nice young woman who worked at a coffee shop who let me use her account. The next time I came back to that coffee shop, she had printed the error message she got back because I mistyped the address. So we sent it again, her peering over my shoulder to ensure success. Later, I contacted the admissions rep at my future college using the school librarian’s e-mail address. It took months of this before I finally conceded it might be valuable to have my own.

It was good that I did. My wife Christina and I started dating the summer after I graduated high school. I was off to college, and we weren’t sure we could make long distance work. But thanks to my new e-mail address, we stayed in touch, exchanging hundreds of thousands of words over the course of that year. By the time spring came, I would transfer to a closer college and marry my e-sweetheart from back home. We celebrate our 17th anniversary later this summer, something we plan to acknowledge on Facebook.

I got my first radio job before they automated the station. I got my first newspaper job because I knew how to work the computers.

Generational labels can be a lot of hooey, but I’m glad to be an “Xennial.” Whatever that means.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, July 9, 2017 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

 

Comments

  1. Very fun to read and probably close to home for many people who avoided email!

  2. Mike Worcester says:

    A while back another blog (yes, I read more than just yours 🙂 ) had a post discussing one of those seemingly endless debates about the relationship between Boomers and Millennials. It’s like us X-ers never existed. So I chimed in and said, essentiallly, hey what about us? You know, the people born between 1965 and 1982, give or take. The reaction was fascinating. It’s like we did not count. That we — and I say that in the broadest terms possible — were just not part of the equation. I’m a proud Gen X-er (born 1966) who bought his first Sony Walkman in 1982, got to learn Basic on a Apple II about the same year, and heard his first CD nearly the same time.

    I agree that labels for generations are hooey. To paraphrase Bruce Wayne, it’s not when they are born, but What they do that defines them.

  3. I think the labels are hooey, but the shared experiences are important. You just can’t shake an event like the Great Depression, WWII or Vietnam. Part of the reason GenX is forgotten so much is the lack of a defined single event or movement. Karate Kid and the Iran Contra hearings just don’t cut it. 🙂

    • Mike Worcester says:

      Way back when I was first starting my history degree I read Peter Carroll’s general survey, “It Seemed Like Nothing Happened: The Tragedy and Promise of America in the 1970s”. Then came the 80s and…well….it had Madonna and MTV.

      Though we did have Watergate and Nixon’s resignation when I was a kid. That was kind of a big deal.

  4. Roberta Olsen says:

    We, the Boomers, didn’t “witness” the 60’s social upheavals; we caused them. The upheavals were us!!

    • I believe the noted Baby Boomer sociologist Dr. William Joel was quoted as saying, “We didn’t start the fire,” but rather, “it was always burning since the world’s been turning” (1989).

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