I recently took a Pew Research quiz that was designed to determine how much like Millennials we baby boomers are. Like most quizzes, it was a bit reductive — yet irresistible. It consisted of 14 questions on a variety of lifestyle habits (TV, newspaper, video games, phoning and texting), body art (tattoos, piercings) and attitudes about career, religion and politics.
I got 85 out of 100, and without being an oversharer, I will say that if I played video games, didn't have a landline or if my parents hadn’t stuck it out till the bitter end, I would have scored even higher.
(MORE: Why Today's Generation Gap Might Be a Good Thing)
Obviously, your typical boomer is going to answer these questions differently than someone his children’s age. After all, how much do we have in common with our parents when it comes to technology, attitudes and lifestyle choices?
While the quiz was entertaining and to a certain degree revealing, I think a more useful one could be created to show the similarities between the different generations. You can’t read a paper or website these days without landing on some story or opinion piece excoriating one group or the other: Boomers ruined the world for those who’ve followed; Millennials are lazy, entitled, tech-obsessed gamers. How did we wind up being chronically at each other’s throats?
(MORE: How to Get Along With Younger Co-Workers)
Different Generations, Different Values
According to recent government statistics, within just a few years Millennials will comprise more than half of the workforce. So rather than battling each other and grousing over different styles (of work, play, dress), I think we’d all benefit from forging the same kind of peace we do when our boomerang kids come home to roost. It’s not always easy, but it is essential — for everyone’s sanity.
After taking the quiz, I went back and did a little “postgame analysis" of the questions and answers. I found that, from a “hip to be square” perspective, questions that seemed to tag us as outmoded could actually reflect certain positive qualities. Watching television, for example. To members of the digital generation, it may feel very 20th century, but think about it: Getting your news or entertainment on your laptop or mobile device is usually a solo endeavor, but TV-watching is often a group activity and it can be a bonding experience for a couple or a family to share the same viewing experience.
Of the two phone-related questions, one asked how many texts you sent or received the previous day, with the possible answers ranging from fewer than 10 to more than 50. The number goes down as the age of the respondent goes up. But is so much texting a good thing? We know it has negative physiological effects on one’s eyes or hands — and texting while walking (or, of course, driving) can be disastrous. But “pinging” is a national addiction: It raises dopamine levels in the brain. Is this really the future we want to create?
The other phone question asked whether you had a landline and/or a cell phone. Like 81 percent of my fellow boomers, I have both (and I was somewhat surprised to see that 53 percent of Millennials do too). To me — a mother and a daughter — having a landline isn’t a fogey-ish waste of money. It ups the odds of someone being able to reach me in an emergency.
Cell phones aren’t foolproof: They freeze up, batteries die, and reception is often hit-or-miss. My family, work and personal life are important to me and while I definitely rely on my cell phone, I still like having a backup.
So while I’m 85 percent “Millennial,” my son, a bona fide member of that generation, would be the first to supply evidence to the contrary: I mix up the words “blog” and “post” and “burn” and “rip”; I leave way too many tabs open on my (desktop!) computer; I double-click when once would suffice; and apparently I don’t need to correct my spelling in Google searches.
But when it comes to tattoos, ha ha, I’ve got the whippersnapper beat hands-down.
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