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One interesting difference between Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers (the preceding group) is that Gen-Xers have a very different relationship to authority. Whilst authority was ascribed for Baby Boomers, which means that if you were given a position you automatically had that authority, for Gen-Xers authority must be earned. It is not enough to have a position given to you. Respect must be earned before that authority is accepted.
They are not the only generation to be overly materialistic (the current one certainly qualifies), but in the early 1980s they were the generation that believed we could have it all, that embraced credit, lived beyond their means, and mimicked the 1920s in a lot of ways. Many also said it is the "generation without a cause", unlike that of the Depression/World War II era, and the Baby Boomers in the 1960s.
What general characteristics should we make when we think of Generation X? I think AuntLori makes a good point when she discusses the idea of disenfranchisement, though I would suggest that there is the disconnect with society's superficial advances leads Generation Xers to feel a sense of emptiness.
For example, in the novel Generation X, Douglas Coupland tells the stories of several adults in their 20s and 30s. Some of these characters have lived in Japan or have fallen in love, but each of them shares stories of how surprised they are when they meet people capable of finding meaning in a specific object or idea. For example, these characters would argue that spending one's life working in an office building as an accountant (for example) is a waste of life. Faced with this emptiness, many of Coupland's characters seem to invest their time and money in materials (or things like MTV as others have mentioned above), which is perhaps why so many of Coupland's novels satirize malls and television. Many of these people have accumulated a great deal of expertise about their material goods, but come to find that it's trivial.
However, Coupland's characters -- in Generation X or otherwise -- often struggle to find a plausible alternative in which to invest their hopes and values, and this leaves them with a sense of emptiness. Although it would be wrong to suggest that every member of a generation is the same, this sense of emptiness is, in my opinion, the distinguishing characteristic that we should think about when we think about Generation X.
Generation X has always seemed like a name for the disenfranchised, and that's kind of how I see members of that group. They suffer from a loss of family support and structure, as discussed above, and they are part of a group who relies less on interpersonal relationships (due to advances in technology, also mentioned above) than any generation before them. They are somehow adrift and alone in a world of rapid advances in every area which make life easier but also serve to decrease their motivation to produce.
I would have to say that one characteristic of the Generation X would be that they are one of the first generations to use technology. They also are thought to be more self reliant and individualistic.
One key characteristic that sticks out to me of those belonging to Generation X, is that it is one of the first generations to really begin dealing with divorce. The Baby Boomer generation was sort of the last generation to hold on to the traditional idea of "family" even in the face of unhappiness. Divorce is now so common we don't really consider it to be a distinguishing characteristic of a generation, but it really started in Generation X.
Generation X is also sometimes referred to as the MTV Generation. The general deterioration of the traditional family structure along with MTV's enormous cultural influence on our current media and entertainment, was just becoming prevalent when Generation X'ers were kids, Now, Generation X makes up the population of 30-40 somethings, and there are those who would speculate that the collapse of the traditional family structure in the 60s-80s and the media are contributing factors of the current generations lack of educational drive, interest in drugs and sex at much younger ages, and immunity to violence and other mature subjects on TV.
The term "Generation X" generally refers to the generation of people born in the 1960s and 1970s (cultural observers do not all use the same dates). This generation is stereotyped as one that is not very motivated, one that is softer and more complacent than previous generations.
Generation X was strongly identified with, for example, the kind of music that was coming out of Seattle in the early '90s. This was the grunge music that spoke of being alienated from society -- feeling that they had no place in society and that they did not care about society and its values. This sort of attitude, it is said, led the members of Generation X to reject hard work and achievement on the one hand and also to reject efforts to change society (like the Hippie generation had tried to do).
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