December 14, 2000
A One-eyed Prophet's View
of the Post X-Generation
by the Rev. Paul J. Little Ph.D.
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public
Biography of Paul J. Little
Born August 6, 1928 in Wister, Oklahoma
Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, London, England. Certificated, 1979
Syracuse University, NY. Ph.D. 1969. University Teaching Fellowship
Berkeley Baptist Divinity School, Berkeley, CA. B.D. 1958
University of Glasgow, Scotland. Rotary Fdation Grad Fellowship, 1955
Linfield College, McMinnville, OR. B.A. 1953
U. S. Navy
Directed Trojan Women, Othello, Twelfth Night, Glass Menageries, Equus,
Acted Oedipus in Oedipus Rex, Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, Tevye in
Fiddler on the Roof
Tom in Glass Menagerie and others
Chairperson of theatre departments at Univ of Redlands and Linfield
Established and administered The Gallery Players of Oregon
Founded and administered The Inland Empire Theatre
Formed and president of Camelot Productions
Musical producer for Redlands Community Music Association
Chair, Univ of Redlands Faculty Council and Academic Committee
Vice President, Southern California Educational Theatre Association
Professional Affiliations Past and Present
Danforth Foundation Teaching Award
Linfield College Prof of the Year
Who's Who in American Univ & Colleges
Outstanding Educators of America
Redlands Council of the Arts man of the Year
Syracuse Univ. Teaching Award
Redlands Rotary Club
First Baptist Church
The arts, golf, fishing, reading
Wife Jo Ann developed and leads seminars on "Parenting Your Parents
Son, Brad, Broadway Musical Theater
Son, Jeffrey, V.P. for National Merit Scholarship Program
Daughter, Terry, V./P. in personnel for environmental firm, Earth
A One-eyed Prophet's View
of the Post X-Generation
by the Rev. Paul J. Little Ph.D.
In an interview for the
National Education Association conducted in June of this year, Dr. Dennis Harper, Director
of the Generation www.Y said:
What you have for the
first time in history is an area where the average kid knows more than the average teacher
when it comes to technology. That's not to say that there are no teachers that know more
than students about technology, because there are. We have to consider, however, that
there's not one teacher in the United States that is teaching today, that went to K-12
schools when the World Wide Web was in existence.
In this paper I shall
attempt two things: First I will define and then identify some of the characteristics of
the segment of the American population called "Post Xers". Then I will don my
prophet's robe and attempt to predict how this mysterious group will differ in their life
style from the three generations that immediately preceded them, The Boomers, The Busters
and the Gen-Xers.
Enigmatic as they are it is a formidable task to find the words that effectively defines
their shape. I am reminded of an occasion when the distinguished film actor and director
Robert Redford was asked to deliver the commencement address at a high school for the
performing arts. He felt compelled to say something personal to graduates as he gave him
or her their diplomas. By the time he came to the "W"s he had exhausted his
collection of inane clichés. So, enter the dream coed, Wendy Wynachesky. Gallant to the
end, Mr. Redford asked the set of dreamy blue eyes, indecently staring into his, "And
what are you going to do when you leave here?" To which, without a skipped beat and
with a subtle smile, she replied, "Well, I had thought of going straight home."
effort to accomplish my two objectives I have isolated one specific sub-group in the Post
X-Generation. They are known as the "Y-Generation". I will attempt to help you
better understand just what this generational collage of hormones and potential are like
in contrast to the Boomers, Busters and Gen-Xers. Then to discern if they are going to
surrender their responsibility to enable the Post Millennial Decade II, to become the very
best they can be.
the title of this paper I claim to be a "one-eye prophet". I am one eyed
because, as I approach this topic, I admit to seeing through a glass darkly. I view the
Y-Generation without full prophetic assurance. I want to explore the matrix of the
Y-Generation world and from that exploration, make a few prophecies. But be aware that my
prophecies are not some mystically clairvoyant predictions of future events. I shall leave
that to the television evangelists. I simply want to make some reasoned projections of
likely outcomes if the current and existing pattern in the Gen-Yers life style continues
According to the
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition (2000), Generation Y
is a noun. "The generation following Generation X, especially people born in the
United States and Canada from the early 1980s to the late 1990s"
Other names, "The
Why Generation", "Eco-boomers", or "The Millennials" occasionally
refers to this group. In size they are a generation that rivals the Baby Boomers. They
are, for the most part, the sons and daughters of our sons and daughters.
apparent cause, many of us are concerned about our nations teenagers. A national survey
published by The Public Agenda in February of this year found that seventy-four percent of
parents described teenagers as "rude", "irresponsible" and
"wild". Then they discussed what they thought was wrong with them. Only forty
percent of the parents polled believed that these young people would grow up to make
America a better place to live. Yet the same study predicted that these same children
would probably be more content in their life-style than the Boomers who preceded them. In
an August 1999 The New Yorker two dotty parents are standing by their young son's bed as
he falls off to sleep.
"Of course he looks peaceful," says the boy's father as mother smoothes down the
blankets, "he's lived his entire life in a bull market."
I contend that some of the The Public Agenda survey was somewhat
slanted toward the negative. I assert that many young people today are not as much of a
problem as we think. If anything, they will one day prove to be the apologist of our
national culture because this Y-Generation is much healthier than the deprecating news
bites in our manic media would suggest. But that is prophecy and I get ahead of my self.
who are these Gen-Yers any way? To quote Richard Tomkins of the London based "The
Born during a bulge that
demographers locate between 1979 and 1994, they are as young as five and as old as 20,
with the largest slice still a decade away from adolescence. And at 60 million strong,
more than three times the size of Generation X, they are the biggest thing to hit the
American scene since the 72 million baby boomers.
Compared to past
generations they are more racially diverse. One in three is not Caucasian, which helps
account in part, for a global perspective not held by earlier generations. Three in four
have working mothers. 32% of those under 9 were born to single mothers.
Who are they
contrast to their Generation X predecessors they are socially aware, confident in their
ability to make a difference and, attitudinally, upbeat. They are defined within their
sub-groups, called teen-tribes, by a common fashion, music and magazines. For example, one
of the teen tribe called "Ravers" will wear no clothing that does not hang
loose, listen to little music other that "Techno", and their magazine of choice
generation they are characterized as personally independent. Approximately 60% of them
under the age of eight have mothers who work outside the home. A large portion of this
Y-Generation will spend at least part of their childhood in a single-parent home. The
Y-Generation has a significantly different life experience than the people who make up the
X-Generation. Changes in family composition, elevated expectation of parents, the
accelerated delivery of information all have helped to make this Y-Generation more
self-reliant and more discriminating of messages directed at them from whatever source.
Nearly 68% of American households with children age seven or younger have at least one
personal computer with Internet capability according to the IDC/LINK Resources
Gen-Yers live lives shaped as much by cyber technology and access to information over the
World Wide Web as by changing household patterns and the presence of a working parent or
Esterbrook of New Republic asserts that the Y-Generation is the most tolerant generation
ever. He justifies this assertion on the fact that they have seemingly unlimited sources
of information available to them from over 200 cable television channels and World Wide
Web with over a million sites. They have been exposed to more divergent views then that of
any preceding generation. They are a "link-ed up" generation, making it more
knowledgeable to the world outside their home walls, and the borders of their country.
They are moving away from a traditional American provinciality. According to Larry Mondry,
executive vice-president of merchandising for CompUSA, "Today, use of the World Wide
Web and electronic mail by Generation Y is as common as the telephone. This generation
view computers as basic equipment, like pencil and paper, not something to be
feared." They utilize technology as a way to stay connected, as a way to grow. The
Internet fuels Generation Y's autonomy, where anyone with a search engine can become and
instant expert, instant artist, instant shopper, and at an amazing rate and number, an
According to Neuborn and Kerwin each of these teenagers has about $90 a week of disposable
Generally their most valued traits are anonymity and uniqueness. "They want to
customize and personalize their image, dip into different streams of history, iconography,
symbolism, and craft a message that communicates individuality even as it confirms
membership in a group, or groups".
mall in suburban Baltimore a clerk at a Wavedancer surf and skateboard shop who had the
task of handling post-Christmas returns last year, saw the return of clothes that fit
snugly and shoes unsuitable for skateboarding. Since she was just 19 herself, she
understood. She said that most of those returning the merchandise said, "My Mom and
dad got me these."
Kristy Doig of Young Intelligence, a market research and trend-forecasting group in New
York City says that the older of the Y-Generation can be described as neo-traditionalists.
these kids are fed up with the superficialities of life. They have not had a
lot of stability in their lives. Theirs is a backlash, a return to tradition and ritual.
And that includes marriage. Focused on finding the right one, they look for opportunities
to meet others in values- friendships and situations. They believe in volunteerism. Many
return to or seek spiritual roots through organized religion."
THE ONE-EYED PROPHET
As a one-eyed prophet I
am now about to do some blurry compare and contrast stuff. I am going to look back so I
can look ahead. I am going to contrast portions of the Boomer and Buster worldviews,
represented by some of us in this room and most of our children, with the worldview of the
young people of the Y Generation. I will make some sweeping generalizations recognizing
the danger of doing so, but I must do so to illustrate the polarities.
The Y Generation will
develop a strong sense of community. They will appear to be much more collaborative than
either Gen X or the Boomers. There appears to be a genuine sense of community among them,
a bond between individuals - not just in smaller units, but a feeling of connectedness to
a larger unit of society. The Gen Yers will desire this connectedness to a larger segment
of the community, and seem to actively pursue those things that will foster group work and
team spirit. There will be a lot less emphasis on individualism and self-expression
amongst Gen Yers than Gen Xers.
The Y Generation seems
to be confident beyond its years. Nothing will scare or intimidate it. Although in some
this will be perceived as brashness and even arrogance, in general this will not so. The
confidence of the teenagers in the Y Generation will come mainly from their Boomer or late
X-Gen parents whose parenting style places the child at the "center of the
universe". The child will have a heightened self-esteem, and a belief that, "I
can do anything". They have certainly been told this their whole lives.
They will also have an
incredible amount of energy. That energy will often be channeled in an "other
focus", and not simply put to use in self- gratification. Although their focus (like
Gen X) is still primarily on local issues, the Y Generation is moving rapidly to a global
consciousness. Their super heroes are the earth-saving Power Rangers. The Power Rangers
are a collaborative team - where no single Power Ranger has enough super hero-ness to do
anything - they must work together to save not a single nation, but the world.
In the long run, this
confidence may backfire a bit, as young people realize that they can't do anything they
want - they will be limited by their own abilities and means. This may produce a backlash
later. It is also likely to produce a very burnt out generation, if they are not carefully
guided into using their resources wisely.
The Yers will be passionately tolerant. This attitude of tolerance started way back in the
swinging 60s. Hippies embodied it. Generation X grew up in it. Today it is part of the
very fabric of the Generation Y's worldview. They will believe that no dogmatic view can
be imposed on anyone else. Tolerance believes that only intolerance should not be
tolerated. Anyone or any institution claiming to have a corner on the truth market will be
ridiculed. And those who wish to impose their particular view of the world on others will
be scorned. Tolerance of the worldviews of all people will be the ultimate virtue for Gen
Y. Many of our generation could learn from them at this point.
The Y Generation will
celebrate rapid change and their focus will be fragmented. The "cultural weapon"
of Gen Y will be the remote control. Virtually everything today has one, but it is the TV
remote control that is the best analogy of their world. Although many Boomer, Busters and
Gen Xers use the remote control due to laziness - for Gen Y the remote is anything but a
tool for passivity. In fact, the remote control allows for interactivity with the
television. Most young people today can "multi- task", and watch more than one
channel at a time. Using the remote control, they flip between 5 or 6 channels, not
searching for a show to watch ("choose a channel and watch it", the parents
scream), but rather actually watching all 6 programs.
For today's Gen Yers the
world they perceive will be a fragmented one. Nothing seems to come to closure. Everything
is left hanging. There are no answers, only more questions. Paradox is common. In order to
handle this, Gen Y splits their lives into different compartments. This is not unusual;
people have been doing it for the last 50 years. The only difference now, with Generation
Y, is they will freely admit it, and freely admit that their beliefs are
self-contradictory, but that this is not an issue to them.
The Y Generation will be
one with a weak morality. The distinctions between right and wrong, truth and falsehood,
are being perpetually diluted more and more in today's world. When even the (supposedly)
most powerful man in the world can claim to have "never had sex with that
woman", and then spend hours in court arguing the nuances of the meanings of words,
then we must know that our moral standards are in danger of collapsing.
Many of the parents of
Generation Y children were taught to be very permissive parents. Either by deliberate
choice or simple media/societal pressure, disciplining of a child was seen as "breaking his spirit" and "restricting her freedom" (both of which
were considered most heinous acts). Thus, Gen Yers are lost in a moral vacuum. Many
Boomers and Busters are not able or simply not prepared to give moral guidance, and many
who do, are so rampantly paranoid or "foaming at the mouth" type people, that
there is no real calm, sensible voice on morality.
This is lamentable.
Unlike Gen X, they will have no real sense of their lost ness. Gen X is often
characterized as an angst-filled generation, totally aware that they are lost and
drifting. When they were very young, there were still some anchors in place. That the
anchors have since come loose is a fact they perceive. However, for Gen Y the anchors have
always been loose. They generally will not believe that there is right and wrong that can
be universally applied.
Where it was an option
for the Boomer and Buster, the Y- Generation will be sucked into situational ethics. There
will be no sense of things being right or wrong with them. They will not have moral
boundaries, and many moral decisions that Boomers and Busters take as self-evident, such
as the sanctity of life, the value of ownership, etc., will not be understood by this
generation. As far as they are concerned, they will never out of bounds. How can you be
out of bounds if there are no boundaries? In the world-view of the Y Generation, morality
will be subjective. The Nietzsche existential concept of the superman will have taken
root. The superman is able to enjoy any action he undertakes, whether it is altruistically
assisting an elderly lady across the street or beating up the old lady to steal her
handbag. As long as this is what the superman wanted to do, he is truly "super" if he feels no feelings about either action except self-fulfillment.
Because they do not have
any boundaries, the Gen Yers will often find themselves in a confused situation, living
with the paradoxes inherent in Nietzsche's "superman" model. It will not
uncommon to discover that a young person will say and truly believe one thing in one
environment, and something completely contradictory in another. When this is pointed out,
no problem will be seen. Today's Gen Yers will be able live with internal and external
paradox very comfortably.
Even in the light of a monumental change of direction in parental attention toward
children, many Gen Yers will feel isolated. They will be independent, trusting only in
themselves for direction and motivation, and they will resent any connection with the
slacker image of the Gen Xers. Yet, there will still be a massive independence that
creates something of a paradox.
Gen Yers will have moved
but a little from the old adage, "Don't trust anyone over thirty." Now they will
say, "Don't trust anyone over 20." In spite of many things such as the anonymity
and isolation of the Internet, Ian McAllister writes: "The sense of isolation among
Millennials [Y Generation] isn't a desperate thing. Many of them actually feel pretty
comfortable with it. It's all they've ever known. The erosion of trust during the Xer's
childhood now is a part of the very air the Yers breathe. The paradox is that their
pessimism and skepticism exist in spite of many positive efforts made on the part of
parents and government to provide and protect."
will grow up to be sociable and team-oriented adolescents but will strike many adults as
somewhat bland, conformist and dependent on others to reach judgments"
The Gen Yers will be
convinced that politicians cannot be trusted, and they will be using our current Florida
2000 vote debacle to openly mock them. They will be convinced that integrity is lacking in
the partisan system, and they would use the words of William Shakespeare to call down a
plague on both their houses if they only knew whom William Shakespeare was.
Strauss and Howe
identified the cycle in which we are living as "the unraveling" This is
particularly difficult for idealistic Boomers to live through - and many blind themselves
to the facts (just as the Chamberlains and others did in the previous unraveling before
the Depression and WWII). The Xers are ready for it, as they have grown up during the
unraveling, and have a sense of "what could have been". But the Yers know
nothing else. And his or her response (one which may actually be the salvation of us all
through the looming crisis) will be to not trust any one else, particularly politicians.
They will be the young Turks of the next crisis, and will rise quickly afterwards as the
trailblazers of a new world, just as JFK did. There is hope.
Dr. Edward Winter of the
U30 Consulting Group may be right, "Think of them as the quiet little group about to