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Tales For An Accelerated Culture

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It all comes back to 1991.

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I have to title this post “Tales For An Accelerated Culture” because if I simply called it “Generation X” you’d more than likely assume I was speaking of the generation… my generation… rather than the actual book.

6upI usually don’t show it, but secretly I groan at the term “Generation Y”. Somehow it seems to imply to me that Generation X is some sort of failed prototype for what we should have been. If we’re the failed soda recipe 6–UP, Gen Y is 7–UP.

I guess Generation Y would simply explain it as simply an alphabetical progression. The next generation would be called Generation Z no doubt. Though Generation Y has no clue what the X stood for.

The X stands for nothing… unknown, unexplained, uncategorized and as many of our parents made plain… unwanted.

We’re like Seinfeld. The generation about nothing. Even on Star Trek it was simply The Next Generation.

Back in 1991 Strauss and Howe wrote the legendary Generational Bible “Generations: The History Of America’s Future 1584 to 2069”. According to Strauss and Howe, the actual sociological name for Generation Y is “Millennial”.

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13th GenStrauss and Howe just called us a number. The “Thirteenth Generation”.  The generation with no name that grew up in that gap between the creation of double income families and the creation of after school care. (For confused Gen Y people… the key was under the mat.)

At least Strauss and Howe got us though.

“Our 13er reader knows perfectly well what your elders seldom admit: Yours is an ill timed life-cycle.”  (Pg12)

Born after everything that was important happened. Born too late to be yuppies, but told to head to college get into debt and a world of opportunity would exist for us. We graduated college and mostly ended up working retail in the stores the yuppies shopped in. Dressed like penguins and served oysters to those that could afford it. 

The problem wasn’t that unemployment was 9%. The problem was that unemployment in my college educated peer group was 60%. So…

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Would you like fries with that?

Or as Coupland called them: McJobs.

Born before everything that was important happened. Before the Internet, before cell phones, before Google and Amazon and eBay, before cable had a zillion channels.

It’s 1991 and we’re home alone with MTV. Or at least the dream of MTV trapped in New Zealand. We get 30 minutes of Ready To Roll at 6pm on Saturdays on TV One and it’s about as close to mandatory as anything ever could be.

NevermindWith the Lights out it’s less dangerous
Here we are now entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now entertain us

It’s 1991 and we’ll never have a Tom Brokaw calling us the Greatest Generation in any retrospect because Operation Desert Storm lasts the blink of an eye and more people die in inner city gang violence than in combat. Plus the whole thing isn’t remotely noble, we all know it’s about oil. And Saddam proclaims victory like the whole thing is a cliff hanger for B-Movie and we know the sequel will be coming to theaters near you soon.

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In 1991 Douglas Coupland wrote “Generation X: Tales For An Accelerated Culture”. Thats right children, we’re named after a book, and the moniker just stuck.

Seriously I try, try, try not to think about Generation X stuff at all. But this blog has been endlessly blaring on about Generation Y for weeks now and I can’t stop picking at the scabs covering the wounds of my early twenties. So I go onto Amazon and just sure as sure can be, I can get the book my generation gets it’s name from for a single penny plus shipping.

It arrived today in the mail.

Petone wharfI’ve completely forgotten the story, but the book feels so familiar. Like an old friend that hung himself of the end off the end of Petone Wharf in the early hours of a Tuesday morning. (You attempt suicide on a Friday night because you want people to stop you. You attempt suicide on a Tuesday morning because you don’t.)

I flip it open at random and the quirky quotes line the outer edges of the book just as I remember. It still seems cool. Like the book was a webpage before webpages existed.

“Or for that matter, do you really think we enjoy hearing about your brand new million-dollar home when we can barely afford to eat Kraft Dinner sandwiches in our own grimy little shoe boxes and we’re pushing thirty? A home you won in a genetic lottery, I might add, sheerly by dint of your having been born at the right time in history? You’d last about ten minutes if you were my age these days, Martin. And I have to endure pinheads like you rusting above me for the rest of my life, always grabbing the best piece of cake first and then putting a barbed wire fence around the rest. You really make me sick.”  (pg21)

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And thats enough for today. I close the book but remember page 21 because I know I’ll either spend two hours reading it tonight, or two hours writing about it. I think writing about it might be better for me. I should just put the book on a shelf somewhere and forget about it.

I might not. Pick pick pick. I’m bleeding.

It all comes back to 1991.

Heart_In_MotionBaby, Baby
I’m taken with the notion
To love you with the sweetest of devotion

I met my wife in 1991. I had to have her. She was dating someone else and I just broke them up on purpose and didn’t give a damn about manners. She just smelled good and I’d not have killed him, but certainly tore him up good if required. Long distance for three years before we married. Snail mail across the Pacific arriving in random order whenever it felt like it.

I retrained to be a nurse – the best paying McJob possible that would never leave me unemployed again. If you don’t think nursing is a McJob, then you need to spend some quality time with thirty people with various forms of dementia with access to call bells, telephones and a sense of entitlement.

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I’ve done shift work for eons so I can be home with the kids while my wife works and vice versa. Our kids aren’t clothed in bubble wrap, but that’s only because Wal-Mart doesn’t sell it.

There will be no social security for us. The Locust Generation will have eaten that before we get there.

Selling real estate and making serious money…

…that’s the dream that there is a way out.

A way to live a life where we go to bed together every night of the week.

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Written By



  1. Vicki Moore

    February 13, 2008 at 12:18 am

    May all of our dreams come true.

  2. Jessica Swesey

    February 13, 2008 at 10:14 am

    I recently read another blog post outside of real estate that was about how much Gen X hates Gen Y — or at least is thoroughly annoyed by them. We are that sort of in-between generation where we missed the political charge and sense of freedom to do whatever we want that our parents had. And we missed the “me” generation Y that simply copied our name and put a different letter on it. Our parents didn’t tell us we were special, like the Gen Y kids. They simply said we must go to college and get a decent job — and your mother will have you this weekend and your father will have you next. Now we get lumped into the marketing research category of our younger counterparts, even though we know what a vinyl record is, what it feels like and sounds like, and we remember 8-tracks from our grandparents’ garage.

    I remember reading Coupland in college and thinking the whole book was a joke. Then I realized that was his point and he was so right. My apathy and cynical disposition about what he was saying — was exactly what he was saying? I guess I really was that latch-key kid, distrusting of anyone who was older than me.

    nice post!

  3. Athol Kay

    February 13, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Thank you Vicki. Yours too.

  4. Athol Kay

    February 13, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Hi Jessica,

    I think that lumping in with Generation Y is a big problem. And it feels like all the market research is aimed directly at Generation Y and we’re tossed in there as an afterthought. Any time you hear a mainstream media news report about “Gen X and Y”, it’s actually about Gen Y.

    I don’t think Gen X hates Gen Y. We’re annoyed by their constant chatter and what honestly seems like purposeless networking, but we’re also protective of them.

    I think we’re hopeful for Gen Y. At least we know we need future generations. The Locusts plan to eat everything before we get there. Just look at reverse mortgages. The national debt. Social Security. They plan to leave us nothing.

    Clean up on Aisle 5

    We’re here to clean up after the Boomers… it’s not Gen Y’s fault for that, but we’re kinda jealous that they will reap more of the benefits from it than we will.

  5. Chris Lengquist

    February 13, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    The “locust generations”…classic!

  6. Matt Collinge - the 604homesguy

    February 14, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    As a Vancouver-ite I know the some the places that Coupland is writes about. I live a ten minute walk from the college he went to. I remember reading Gen X and a few of his other books and really feeling a connection to the characters. I think Vancouver is very much a Gen X city.

  7. Matt Elliott

    February 18, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    This post is incredibly well-written — you do a great job of capturing a narrative.

    As a loud-and-proud member of Gen Y, I tend to scoff at the cynicism coming off Generation X. My immediate reaction is that maybe if you hadn’t come into everything with such dismal attitudes, you’d have gotten further when it comes to work. But, thinking objectively, there are two key differences between the Generations X & Y, neither of which have a lot to do with attitude: demographics & technology.

    Demographics is simple. You guys had to deal with the Boomers hovering over your head. They took all the jobs and were not going to let go for younger people. You never even had a chance in a lot of industries. Gen Y, on the other hand, is facing the equivalent of a job bonanza, as the boomers are all looking to retire within the next ten years.

    Technology is trickier, but it has to do with employee who can bring something new to the table. When you get right down to it, there wasn’t a great deal of difference between the skills a boomer brought to the table when compared to a Gen X worker. Y, on the other hand, has the benefit of being on the cusp of all this business technology that, in a lot of cases, we understand (and can operate more effectively) than our older compatriots.

    In any case, my point is this, I suppose: anyone who chalks the generational differences in the workplace up to simply attitude is missing the point.


  8. Athol Kay

    February 18, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    Great comment Matt, I think you get it. My degree is in Sociology and I did my final papers in Demographics so when I say I feel strongly about Gen X issues… it’s really intense. I seriously try and stay away from the entire issue now, because I know I end up ranting about it.

    That being said, attitude is an important part of the puzzle – at least on an individual basis. Simply being Gen X isn’t going to destory all hopes of success, just make it harder to acheive than for Boomers or Y’s.

    Gen X does have a special job to do. Simply hold it all together as the Boomers effectively go socially supernova at the end of their lifespans. And believe me, no one wants us to fail at that.

    I very much appreciate the well written comment to. Thank you.

  9. Reality

    April 15, 2011 at 3:29 am

    Well written! Being an Xer I can honestly say there are some great things about us you've forgotten to print.

    1. It seems to me you've bought into the "we secretly hope the Xers fail for our sake" propaganda the Boomers laid on us so heavily that it was disgusting during our formative and young adult years.

    Why would you continue to give those self absorbed twits that power? They wanted us to fail from day one! Why would you buy into that?

    Listen… We carried them for decades. Do you not realize this? By doing the work they did not want to do and also by being mature enough to deal with their childish, self absorbed bullsh*t.

    They danced naked at Woodstock trying to convince everyone peace freedom and love meant careless sex, rock n roll and doing too many drugs. While we grew up before they did trying to deal with their classic hypocrisy run. From hippie to dead beat materialistic scum suckers.

    They were the ultimate hypocrites. We aren't. We beat that garbage.

    Don't you get it? We're a phenomenally strong generation. Who survived so much from the Reagan era cold war to the immense gang violence of the 80s and early 90s to dealing with not being nurtured and nearly ignored yet expected to take care of ourselves from a very early age.

    We're an extremely important part of history! We are unique, VERY STRONG, and many of us have succeeded.

    Why do you continue to allow those ghosts created by a selfish, attention whore previous generation to effect you to this day?

    We survived! They did everything in their God given power to hold us back and hold us down and we beat it!

    Cmon man you're still playing into that garbage. Let it go. We won!

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