“Who am I?”
There’s no more introspective self-determining question that a human can ask. It is in many ways the most important. Knowing who you are will go a long way toward determining your life’s path.
The Americans of World War I were tagged the “Lost Generation,” a name coined by Gertrude Stein and adopted by American expatriates living in postwar Paris. The term eventually grew to include those who had fought in those muddy, bloody trenches.
Their post-war world was their neighborhood. Most people stayed close, many never traveling more than 50 miles from home. Life was comfortable, predictable, and safe. Into this intimate world, the next generation was born. Because of what they would endure and achieve, they became known as “The Greatest Generation.”
The stock market crash and the ecological disaster of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s brought poverty, privation, and even starvation to Americans. But late in that decade, the war drums beat once again. Despite our best efforts to hide from the world, the world came looking for us, announcing its arrival with a stentorian, “Air raid, Pearl Harbor! This is no drill!”
America went to war, her people united by outrage. Men signed up in droves, women left their kitchens and nurseries to work in the factories and fields. But when the killing finally ended in 1945, America partied and paraded, then beat swords into plowshares and went back to work, creating the greatest economy in history.
The Greatest Generation not only made Buicks, but babies as well, sparking a land office business in delivery rooms across the nation. It was the largest single population explosion in our history. The children created in this demographic bulge became known as Baby Boomers.
Boomers were born into a contradictory world of unprecedented prosperity, yet with a deep divide between the poor and the middle class. They wore an irritatingly casual confidence; that everything they tried would succeed. This was a generation born into the Space Age, the first to think seriously about what lay beyond the earth. Environmentalism was given its first breath, as the exploration of space discovered how rare this planet is.
And yet, as good as things were, the boomers knew they could make it even better. Rebellion became a political and cultural movement. Civil Rights became constitutional realities, and in the music played at Woodstock, their voice was clearly heard.
The children of the boomers were born into a shifting world. Dominated by the sheer numbers of their parent’s generation, they felt lost. They became known as a generation without identity, or Generation X. And yet, they saw first stirrings of the information revolution. Portable music players and the first affordable cell phones began to dot the landscape.
The accelerating tech revolution exploded with the appearance of the next generation, called Generation Y. For this group, computers were no longer a novelty, but a tool as familiar and comfortable as the telephone had been to their grandparents. They developed an instinctual feel for the black magic that happened inside the computer. The Internet was plugged into every home, and the world flowed into young lives through their fingers. E-mail replaced “snail mail.” Their neighborhood is not the real world of streets and buildings, but a virtual one populated by new nations of social networking sites.
The current generational crop goes by titles such as I-Generation, E-Generation, Net Gen, and Generation 9/11. Cell phones have grown into portable computers, people choosing to text instead of talk. Music players the size of postage stamps can store thousands of songs.
However, their economy is in retreat and the specter of terrorism shrouds every aspect of daily life. For the first time, America is in descent. The future, once so rosy and optimistic lies shrouded in pessimism.
Future generations will be born into a world the dynamics of which we cannot even dream. As they take the wheel of their own destinies, they will define that world with their own hopes, dreams…and nightmares.