Generations, Generalisations and Stereotypes

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:58 pm

I posted this on Facebook the other day:

I’m sure it was well-intended, but this presentation from… another middle years course that consists of slide after slide of ‘Generation X used vinyl records, Generation Y used cassettes, Generation Z uses mp3s… Generation X used typewriters, Generation Y used Apple IIs, Generation Z uses iMacs…’ and so on is both not very interesting and quite essentialist. Internal differences within generations dwarf generational differences, IMO. The approach to the course will be different this time…

I’ve been thinking about it since, and wanted to say a few more words about it.

Stereotyping, while to some extent unavoidable, and a side effect of the pattern-finding abilities that make us intelligent, is generally considered a Bad Thing in relation to any other groups. It’s not OK to say ‘women are {like this}’ or ‘white people’ or ‘gay people’ or ‘police officers’ or whatever.

Why would it be OK, then, to stereotype whole generations? But that’s what these generalisations do: ‘All people born in a particular bracket of years are like this…’. Clearly that’s not true – no more than ‘all people born in a particular 12th of the year have the same characteristics’ is true.

It’s not just that we’re all unique snowflakes, either – there are real and important differences within ‘generations’, that (as I already said in the short Facebook post above) are much larger than the differences between generations.

Given that, I’ve resolved to talk and think a bit about how society has changed (in some ways dramatically and in others not at all), but not to make sweeping statements about ‘how kids today are’ or ‘how kids today are not like kids in our day’.

I have readers here (and I’m going to post this discussion on the Open Forum too) who are, like me, on the cusp of the ‘Baby Boomers’ and ‘Generation X’, and a number who would be called ‘Generation Y’ (but who I think would mostly reject that label).

What do you think? Are these labels – if not true – ever useful? Or do they mask differences that it would be better if we saw?

2 responses to “Generations, Generalisations and Stereotypes”

  1. Mark says:

    Weren’t they started by marketers to help them identify the trends needed to design and advertise products to different age groups with their different income levels?

  2. Bravus says:

    Wouldn’t surprise me in the least…

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