Thursday, August 27, 2009

Generation Jones?

I have to admit, this Generation Jones thing is making me a little crazy. It started back in February when we first launched The Hourglass Blog. I was going to make a comment about the generational change in leadership in the Oval Office, so I went and looked up Barack Obama's birth year. I wanted to verify my hunch that he was our first post-Boomer president. And what did I discover? Well, yes, Obama is not a Boomer, but neither is he an Xer. According to everything Google returned to me, Obama is part of something called Generation Jones. Confused, I decided not to bring the subject up at all.

But then, ConnectingTheDots (whoever that is) makes a comment on Jamie's recent Bookends versus books post, that says by ignoring Generation Jones, The Hourglass Blog was missing an important part of the equation. CTD says Generation Jones (born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X) has "gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press' annual Trend Report forecast the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009." CTD even provide a link to a webpage that recaps all this media interest. Much of this media interest seems to be driven by a marketing and political consultant named Jonathan Pontell, who, given the theme and links on his website, seems very much to be in the business of talking about Generation Jones.

So now I'm curious. What does Jamie's favorite generation experts William Strauss and Neil Howe have to say about the Jonesers, and where they fit in their cyclical theory of dominant and recessive generations? Having not (yet) read any of the Strauss and Howe books, I turn first to the Strauss & Howe entry on Wikipedia and Neil Howe's new blog—and I can't find any mention of Generation Jones on either. But Google helps me find this December 2008 Op-Ed in the Washington Post, in which Neil Howe calls Generation Jones "the dumbest generation" and nothing more than the first wave of Xers.

This is when I realize I'm in way over my head. When it comes to generational theory, I'm no more than an enthusiastic amateur, and I've found myself in the middle of a turf war between professionals, with the two sides battling for control of the narrative and the way the rest of us think about the generation we belong to. I decide to give up and go back to watching from the sidelines.

But I can't help but wonder. Pontell and the Jonesers say they're real because a lot of people born between 1954 and 1965 say they don't feel like Boomers and they don't feel like Xers. And when you think of all the bad press those generations have gotten, why would you want to be part of them if you didn't have to be? I mean, given the choice between narcissistic flower child and cynical loner, wouldn't you prefer to choose "none of the above." I was born in 1968. Can I be a Joneser, too?


Jamie Notter said...

Okay, I don't exactly consider myself a "theorist," but I've certainly done a lot of reading, and this is the first I've heard of Generation Jones. Here's the bottom line: you can take any time period of any length, and then ask people who were born in that period a bunch of questions, and the research is guaranteed to generate some kind of profile.

So what? We're treating this as some kind of problem that requires objective proof to be solved. This is bigger picture than that. It's fine if you want to slice demographic data and identify research-based trends. I think that's different, though, than generational research. Not worse, per se, but different. I don't think generational trends can be proved by research that shows 63.2% of those surveyed agree with statement x.

Anonymous said...


I'm surprised that the stereotypical descriptions of the entire population of Generation Whatever haven't been labelled as some kind of "ism" by the PC police. Apparently, the same rules that apply to other populations don't apply to generations.

I'd add more but I'm too busy fouling up the Boomer stats while Tweeting and listening to Coldplay.

Jamie Notter said...

Ha! Yes, one of my biggest generational lessons is to NOT apply the generalizations to specific individuals, which seems to be an American pasttime. But I still think the generalizations are valid, as long as you keep them at that level. Same is true for many generalizations about gender or other cultural groups. The "ism" part comes in when there is historical and current oppression of one group, which I don't think particularly happens across generations.

Shelly Alcorn, CAE said...

I can't stop thinking about this post. I ran across the Generation Jones theory a while ago and found it interesting on some levels. It seems natural that during any transition, sociologial or otherwise, there will be a period that feels a little strange and those in the transitional phase will not feel wholly connected to either what came before or after.

That being said, does anyone remember the "Yuppie" phenomenon? Those Alex Keaton, Reagan loving, Wall Street obsessed folks who came in between Boomers and Xers and were pretty much roundly rejected by both? Is that demographic the ones who are laying claim to Generation Jones now?

I don't have an answer for the question and it's just a theory I am kind of noodling on. I'm not even sure why I think it's important. But that's cuz I'm X I guess. :))

Eric Lanke said...

I don't know if today's Jonesers are yesterday's Yuppies, but the idea that they don't fit in with the Boomers or the Xers certainly aligns with my theory. If they are the ex-Yuppies, then maybe the Jones movement is in part a rebellion against that earlier rejection. Their rhetoric certainly seems bent on distancing themselves from either group.

roadkills-r-us said...

I was born in 1955. And I'm jonesing for everyone to quit trying to put people in boxes!

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