Not Gen X, Not Yet Millennial

A Ballad for Generation Y

I used to think
I had the answers to everything
But now I know
That life doesn’t always
Go my way, yeah
Feels like I’m caught in the middle
That’s when I realize
I’m not Gen X
Not yet Millennial
All I need is time
A moment that is mine
While I’m in between
I’m not Gen X

Those of us born between (approximately) 1976 and 1985 are stuck between two generations. As young adults we were called Generation Y, but when late 80s/early 90s-born kids started coming of age, they were dubbed Millennials and we were retconned in with them, though we couldn’t relate (some media forced us into Generation X, who didn’t want us, which is almost worse since X had defined parameters already).

An aside: Millennials are wonderful, and apparently single-handedly taking down capitalism. I write none of this to disparage their generation.

There are a small number of extremely petty hills that I will die on. They are, in no particular order and with room for additions:

  1. Leia Organa is the main character of Star Wars.
  2. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a great Indiana Jones movie.
  3. 1976–1985 babies are neither Gen X nor Millennial.

Some of the defining characteristics of Gen Y were addressed in the Wonderfalls episode “Karma Chameleon,” in which main character Jaye defends her choice to be over-educated and under-employed because, essentially, putting out the minimum effort makes her happiest. (Jaye, of course, puts out considerable effort over the course of the episode and the series, making her slacker preferences mildly ironic and her disinterest in other people semi-tragic. But I digress.)

The rule that is generally cited when defining Millennials is that they grew up with internet access. Not so Generation Y. Our college dorms were not yet wired and we had to go to computer rooms to connect to our e-mail via dial-up; we know how to send faxes; we remember the early AOL chat rooms, long distance charges, getting call waiting for the first time and the way an incoming call could bump you off your on-line session; we got our first cell phones as adults.

Gen X were adults, or very nearly, when home internet became part of everyday life. We were teens and tweens. Millennials grew up with the internet and were the first generation of children with cell phones.

We remember before. We know where the before/after line bisects our personal history.

I did not actually play Oregon Trail, but I like the school of thinking that assigns us the name The Oregon Trail Generation, because it is a game that everyone remembers, and the height of its popularity falls at the exact right time in history. (I myself would most likely assign our generation the honorific of The Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing Generation. Released in 1987, Mavis Beacon taught a generation touch typing on computer keyboards.) The Oregon Trail computer game was released in the 1970s, making it a less apt symbol of my generation — we played it at the right time not because of the game, but because of the increased commonality of the home computer. We are the generation whose computers had to be retrofitted for the internet.

Look. Does it matter what our generation is called? Maybe not to anyone but us. Perhaps the true defining characteristic of my generation, now 40-ish and unmoored, is our insistence on defining ourselves. It’s Toxic, baby.