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Carter: What's an xennial? Me, apparently

For years, I've suffered from a case of identity crisis when talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-generation.

Born in 1980, growing up I was told I was a member of Generation X, which sounded like a pretty cool name, but also meant I had to be a flannel-wearing, grunge-music loving, self-loathing skeptic. (The latter, perhaps, is why I went into journalism, but I've never been much for flannel. Nirvana was OK though.)

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Somewhere in my early years of adulthood, I was told I was actually a millennial, which seemed less cool and more hipster-ish (these folks are wearing flannel ironically, ugh!), and immediately carried a lot of baggage in the work place. But at least it sounds better than the lazily named Generation Y, which is what the cohort was originally dubbed.

Turns out, I'm neither a Gen-Xer nor a millennial. I'm an xennial, a portmanteau recently coined for those select few of us born between 1977 and 1983.

Crisis of identity averted.

Dan Woodman, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Melbourne in Australia, gained some notoriety last week by popularizing the term xennial, telling the website Mamamia, "The idea is there's this micro or in-between generation between the Gen X group — who we think of as the depressed flannelette-shirt-wearing, grunge-listening children that came after the baby boomers and the millennials — who get described as optimistic, tech savvy and maybe a little bit too sure of themselves and too confident."

The defining characteristic of this cusp generation is our coming of age with technology.

For most of us xennials, the first half of our lives and certainly the majority of our childhood was pre-internet and pre-cellphone, two advances that have completely changed everyone's lives, for better or worse. Because we were growing up as technology was doing the same, it theoretically made it easier for xennials to accept and adopt than previous generations, although not to everything. (I still don't get SnapChat.)

I still remember my first friend who had the internet. Both of us are fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins (five-time Stanley Cup champs, baby!) but living in Maryland, in 1995, there was a dearth of accessible news about a team that didn't play in your home state. You'd get the tidbits from ESPN "SportsCenter," maybe a game story and box score in The Baltimore Sun if they were playing the Washington Capitals or it was the playoffs, and the occasional feature article in Sports Illustrated. But day-to-day news? Good luck.

Then one day we stumbled upon a now defunct website called the Igloo Report, filled with stories about our favorite hockey team. The two of us would huddle around the monitor, scouring the site for information about prospects and our favorite players. It was amazing. Of course, it took about 10 minutes to connect to the internet, five minutes to load a webpage and — No! His little sister just picked up the phone and kicked us off!

That same friend's mom also had a car phone, the precursor to today's far more common cellphone or mobile device. It was the size of a cinderblock, and looked just as heavy, wedged on the floor between the driver and passenger. Occasionally, he would get to drive that car and even use the phone — mainly to check in with his folks to ensure them we weren't dead on the side of the road, as all parents fear of their children when they are out past suppertime.

I even still remember that friend's landline number. I'll be darned if I could even tell you the first digit of his cellphone number, or most anyone else's, these days.

So will xennials stick as our designation? I doubt it.

Much like Generation Y was replaced with the name millennials, so too was the baby busters renamed Generation X, the G.I. Generation was supplanted by the much more celebrated moniker the Greatest Generation in 1998, and even the baby boomers — the only generation officially recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau by the way — were originally called the Rock 'n' Roll Generation or Generation Jones.

Regardless, I doubt this new designation will affect my personality traits, which seem to be a mix of Gen X and millennial stereotypes.

Gen-Xer Me: Labels, whatever man.

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Millennial Me: It's nice to be acknowledged.

Xennial Me: SnapChat … still don't get it.

Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at wayne.carter@carrollcountytimes.com.



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