The Generation Separation Phenomenon: Why Does It Exist?

You are one among many others, and together you are part of something bigger. You are data designed to prove something about humanity — as if anything about humanity is ever really provable.


These clumps of people are referred to as “generations,” and the data usually depicts pie or bar graphs that ultimately show how the youngest generation is of loose morals, breaking away from the values its parent generation worked so hard to instill in them.


If you’re reading this, you’re most likely either a Millennial or a Boomlet. Millennials (Generation Y) were born approximately between 1975 and 1995, while the Boomlets (Generation Z) were born between 1995 to the present time (Although, I couldn’t find consistent dates for these generations). But what does it mean to belong to a generation? Are they not merely ranges of about 20 years within the grand space of time? What are they supposed to tell us about ourselves?


Consider the analogy of generations to glaciers. A glacier increases in size over many years until finally a chunk breaks off and floats away. This is similar to generational patterns; although, while glaciers may take hundreds of years to form, generations are materialized every 20 to 25 years.


Each generation is born from the previous and clings to its mother generation for guidance. This guidance extends to all aspects of a person’s life — public and private. As the younger generation grows and matures, it evolves toward developing its own sense of identity. This evolution eventually separates the child from the parent, the younger generation from the older one, the chunk from the glacier. This chunk is now an iceberg, and might — hypothetically — turn into its own glacier one day.


But guess what? It’s all ice. We’re all human, so why distinguish between those who live decades apart, and why must we always look down upon the youngest generation?


My problem isn’t with being labeled a Boomlet; I understand that part of life is to understand your place in the world, which includes your place in history. My problem is that there seems to be this implicit understanding — almost like a natural law — that it’s OK for the previous generation to berate the successive one.


Admittedly, I do not know anything. As much as I depend on myself to actively search for knowledge, I still need the wisdom and guidance of those who walked the path before me. Sadly, that wisdom and guidance will not be accessible to me if those veteran walkers view me and my generation as “selfish” and “lazy,” as people who always received a trophy in first grade no matter their quality of performance.


So, I did some research.


After mulling over NPR’s attempt to solve the naming game by playing down the significance of generations’ designated names,  I picked up my phone and called my mother. Then my grandmother. Oh, and after that my great-grandmother. That’s right. Four generations communicating via iPhone, and, despite sharing DNA, we all had different opinions.


My mother (Generation X) sees the generational changes as influenced mainly by education. She said that the more educated a population is, the more it tends to go away and out on its own. Her answer reflects the whole point of college — get an education, be independent and try to apply everything you’ve learned to the real world.


But her answer doesn’t really address the actual tension that arises between generations, usually when the younger one starts to pull away from the older one.


My grandmother (Silent Generation), explained her view using changes in musical style and taste as a microcosmic example of this larger separation between generations.


“I remember when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones came out, and Grandpa was going ballistic over the kind of music that was being played,” she recalled. “Now, we have the same thing. I hear the same things being said about your generation that was said about the music of the 40s and 50s.”


Her answer makes the tension seem natural, a classic case of human progression and quite possibly a step toward the new generation’s coming-of-age.


As a new election year comes around, I see an increasing amount of articles challenging the next generation’s capability to take charge of the world. I’d lie if I said they weren’t offensive to me, but should we not instead see their opinions as validation that we are doing something right, that we are, indeed, dedicated to the habitual separation of generations?


As the world changes, we are continually faced with the challenge of figuring out how to live in it. This is something that children and teenagers naturally do regardless of the boundaries and norms set by the previous generation.


Against this changing world, the younger generation has a responsibility to try and understand the new order. These people will soon be the ones in power, guiding the next generation. The importance of such a natural process is not in how the generations differ, but in the simple fact that such a process exists. The world craves constant change; stagnation does not progress humanity.


I asked my 95 year-old great-grandmother what she thought about the youngest generation.


“Well, there’s always gonna be another generation,” was her response.


Elena Margarella is a College freshman from Tampa, Florida.