The Xers -- The Quiet Generation

Nobody ever talks about them. Having arrived roughly between 1965 and 1980, these children seem to have slipped through the cracks of popular culture, their legacy being a few dumb movies and some aging icons, none of whom any millennial today could name. Born into households averaging 1.75 children, this tiny cohort sneaked through its small temporal window like an Army Special Ops unit. They landed on the scene just in time to rescue head-scratching parents from VCRs and DVD players, and even more miraculous, they could operate those wrist watches with the tiny buttons on the side.

And they were the first generation who at a tender and formative age were plopped down in front of a computer screen. This was not a mere toy but something they would grow up side-by-side with -- microchip to monitor -- like a childhood friend with whom they would rise inch by inch and year by year. Their plastic twelve-year-old brains stretched, absorbed, adapted. They drew in this techno evolution -- from WordStar to Windows, from Pong to Super Mario Brothers, from floppy disc to Google Docs -- like breathing air. By the time they were in college they could traverse from PC to Mac and back again as deftly as any Baby Boomer changed lovers.

They were ever more fleet and effective for having inherited no political ideology. By the time they began contemplating what democracy was, Reaganomics and Margaret Thatcher were locked in, capitalism and the free market simply the way of things. They participated in no protest picket parties, no marches on Washington, they carved out no itinerant confederacies, no Woodstock Nation, no Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. A good many of them were freshmen in college English classes, like the one I taught, trying to figure the angles on acing the midterm.  Because classrooms had no desk computers to cheat from and only Wall Street millionaires carried cell phones, they were reduced to actually studying. They were far and away the smartest cohort of people I have ever taught.

They were the last generation to know who Tom Bombadil was and disappointed the character was left out of the screen version of Lord of the Rings. The last generation to whom their mothers read aloud The Chronicles of Narnia before bedtime. The last generation to know the good-and-evil dialectic in George Lucas’ Star Wars, that sometimes, Luke Skywalker had to close his eyes and have faith in the Force. They have benign sounding kid-down-the-street names like Joe Gebbia, Lynsi Snyder, Brian Chesky, and Elizabeth Holmes. It’s hard to find them on the internet, but from their built-in-good-environmental-taste Silicon Valley mansions they could buy and sell the vast majority of us a dozen times over.

Many of the more famous among them tend to recede in the shadows of the Intellectual Dark Web. Joe Rogan, David Rubin, and Sam Harris, for whom the podcast is as comfortable as the old family divan, their political affinities hard to nail down, they resist standard binary labels. They call themselves Classical Liberals, Fiscal Libertarians, and Walkaways. Those on network and cable TV tend to be all business. Dana Perino, a political analyst, has no idea she’s beautiful, and Tucker Carlson apparently doesn’t care how his hair looks on any given day. Facebook is the most widely used product in history, and “Breaking Bad” is arguably the Macbeth of our times, but we’ve seen Mark Zuckerberg on television maybe twice, and most of us wouldn’t know Vince Gilligan if he got in the shower with us.

They came along, according to researchers Strauss and Howe, when the focus was more on adults than kids. Often called the “Latchkey Generation,” they were perfectly happy to let themselves in after school, to unburden themselves of heavy backpacks and run roughshod over the house -- eating as many Cheetos as they could in front of an hour of MTV, then another on Nintendo, two more plumbing the depths of the most recondite operations of the TV remote. When mom got home at six with an armload of Trader Joe’s, it was time to help put away groceries then hit the books in that overloaded backpack.

Mark Twain once remarked in regard to raising teenagers: “When a boy turns 13, put him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug up the hole.” There is something to be said for instilling self-reliance at a young age. Without the focused, pandering attention of guardians, a kid has the space to examine, experiment, and explore. And too much limelight, especially on a child, can foster self-obsession to the point of sociopathy. Listening to flattery over sound counsel has been, through history, the downfall of many a leader. Too much focused attention and doting on any one person, let alone a whole generation, neuters him of the truth. He is rendered incapable of speaking that truth to power, and instead only echoes the very lies that power tells: “Defund the Po-lice” being one of the most absurd among them.

Gen Xers, many in their 40s, are now in the throes of raising teenagers themselves, some of those offspring now proud new citizens of CHAZ. Just to throw teachers into a tailspin, Gen Xers have even given those kids names like Shoichi and Rhonnielle, Gebbon and Rahual, names that aging college professors like me can neither pronounce nor spell. A clever strategy, the rationale for which I still struggle to understand. But Shoichi and Rahual are nowhere near the students their parents were, have little idea of that which they protest, yet they are out on the streets forcing unsuspecting others to literally kneel in deference to the party line in a struggle to “save the world from Fascism” just like their grandparents. Some perverse “Circle of Life” scenario, a surreal rerun from 1968. Maybe myopia, self-adoration, and hysteria, like the addiction gene, can jump a generation.

But if we want advice on saving world, I think there are some people we forgot to ask.  The “In Between” generation. Maybe because their label has been so obscured, none of us were paying attention when they pressed those wicked little buttons, when they fired up the machine and took the levers of control, when they put the Millennium Falcon into hyperdrive and blasted through the universe. We need to visit their tucked-away offices and take counsel with the people really running things. They are old enough to know what’s right and still young enough to fight for it. But walk softly and beware the silent partner. She is always smart -- and always dangerous.

Nobody ever talks about them. Having arrived roughly between 1965 and 1980, these children seem to have slipped through the cracks of popular culture, their legacy being a few dumb movies and some aging icons, none of whom any millennial today could name. Born into households averaging 1.75 children, this tiny cohort sneaked through its small temporal window like an Army Special Ops unit. They landed on the scene just in time to rescue head-scratching parents from VCRs and DVD players, and even more miraculous, they could operate those wrist watches with the tiny buttons on the side.

And they were the first generation who at a tender and formative age were plopped down in front of a computer screen. This was not a mere toy but something they would grow up side-by-side with -- microchip to monitor -- like a childhood friend with whom they would rise inch by inch and year by year. Their plastic twelve-year-old brains stretched, absorbed, adapted. They drew in this techno evolution -- from WordStar to Windows, from Pong to Super Mario Brothers, from floppy disc to Google Docs -- like breathing air. By the time they were in college they could traverse from PC to Mac and back again as deftly as any Baby Boomer changed lovers.

They were ever more fleet and effective for having inherited no political ideology. By the time they began contemplating what democracy was, Reaganomics and Margaret Thatcher were locked in, capitalism and the free market simply the way of things. They participated in no protest picket parties, no marches on Washington, they carved out no itinerant confederacies, no Woodstock Nation, no Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. A good many of them were freshmen in college English classes, like the one I taught, trying to figure the angles on acing the midterm.  Because classrooms had no desk computers to cheat from and only Wall Street millionaires carried cell phones, they were reduced to actually studying. They were far and away the smartest cohort of people I have ever taught.

They were the last generation to know who Tom Bombadil was and disappointed the character was left out of the screen version of Lord of the Rings. The last generation to whom their mothers read aloud The Chronicles of Narnia before bedtime. The last generation to know the good-and-evil dialectic in George Lucas’ Star Wars, that sometimes, Luke Skywalker had to close his eyes and have faith in the Force. They have benign sounding kid-down-the-street names like Joe Gebbia, Lynsi Snyder, Brian Chesky, and Elizabeth Holmes. It’s hard to find them on the internet, but from their built-in-good-environmental-taste Silicon Valley mansions they could buy and sell the vast majority of us a dozen times over.

Many of the more famous among them tend to recede in the shadows of the Intellectual Dark Web. Joe Rogan, David Rubin, and Sam Harris, for whom the podcast is as comfortable as the old family divan, their political affinities hard to nail down, they resist standard binary labels. They call themselves Classical Liberals, Fiscal Libertarians, and Walkaways. Those on network and cable TV tend to be all business. Dana Perino, a political analyst, has no idea she’s beautiful, and Tucker Carlson apparently doesn’t care how his hair looks on any given day. Facebook is the most widely used product in history, and “Breaking Bad” is arguably the Macbeth of our times, but we’ve seen Mark Zuckerberg on television maybe twice, and most of us wouldn’t know Vince Gilligan if he got in the shower with us.

They came along, according to researchers Strauss and Howe, when the focus was more on adults than kids. Often called the “Latchkey Generation,” they were perfectly happy to let themselves in after school, to unburden themselves of heavy backpacks and run roughshod over the house -- eating as many Cheetos as they could in front of an hour of MTV, then another on Nintendo, two more plumbing the depths of the most recondite operations of the TV remote. When mom got home at six with an armload of Trader Joe’s, it was time to help put away groceries then hit the books in that overloaded backpack.

Mark Twain once remarked in regard to raising teenagers: “When a boy turns 13, put him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug up the hole.” There is something to be said for instilling self-reliance at a young age. Without the focused, pandering attention of guardians, a kid has the space to examine, experiment, and explore. And too much limelight, especially on a child, can foster self-obsession to the point of sociopathy. Listening to flattery over sound counsel has been, through history, the downfall of many a leader. Too much focused attention and doting on any one person, let alone a whole generation, neuters him of the truth. He is rendered incapable of speaking that truth to power, and instead only echoes the very lies that power tells: “Defund the Po-lice” being one of the most absurd among them.

Gen Xers, many in their 40s, are now in the throes of raising teenagers themselves, some of those offspring now proud new citizens of CHAZ. Just to throw teachers into a tailspin, Gen Xers have even given those kids names like Shoichi and Rhonnielle, Gebbon and Rahual, names that aging college professors like me can neither pronounce nor spell. A clever strategy, the rationale for which I still struggle to understand. But Shoichi and Rahual are nowhere near the students their parents were, have little idea of that which they protest, yet they are out on the streets forcing unsuspecting others to literally kneel in deference to the party line in a struggle to “save the world from Fascism” just like their grandparents. Some perverse “Circle of Life” scenario, a surreal rerun from 1968. Maybe myopia, self-adoration, and hysteria, like the addiction gene, can jump a generation.

But if we want advice on saving world, I think there are some people we forgot to ask.  The “In Between” generation. Maybe because their label has been so obscured, none of us were paying attention when they pressed those wicked little buttons, when they fired up the machine and took the levers of control, when they put the Millennium Falcon into hyperdrive and blasted through the universe. We need to visit their tucked-away offices and take counsel with the people really running things. They are old enough to know what’s right and still young enough to fight for it. But walk softly and beware the silent partner. She is always smart -- and always dangerous.