Wednesday, August 5, 2009

X Is a Philosophy, Not a Generation

I've started reading X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking by Jeff Gordinier. I first heard about Gordinier and his book from an excellent interview Jeff DeCagna did with him way back in February 2009. As usual, I'm going to post my thoughts here as I read it, especially those that relate to the leadership opportunity presenting itself to Generation X.

The first takeaway comes in Gordinier's introduction, where he admits he is writing a manifesto for a generation that's never had much use for manifestos. At one point he quotes a 1995 Details article by Douglas Coupland, in which Coupland says that marketers and journalists have never understood that X is a term that defines not a chronological age but a way of looking at the world.

It's a profound bit a wisdom, and one, I think, that can help us get past all the discussion and dispute about which years define which generations. The generalities that define each generation are much more indicative of a cultural mindset. This mindset tends to track with a generational group of individuals because their perceptions and opinions have all been shaped by a similar set of experiences. But not everyone in the chronological generation has had those same experiences, and everyone who has had those experiences is not necessarily in the chronological generation.

To me, this puts a whole new spin on the leadership opportunity facing "Generation" X. Gordinier writes:

The boomers got their money and blew it. We have a chance now, as yuppies, or just as adults, to cull whatever capital, influence, and media savvy we've amassed and to use it for good. That doesn't mean there is any point in trying to start a "movement," at least not one so visible and self-congratulatory that it curls up as soon as someone trains a camera on it.


Generation X can do better than that, and can do better precisely because we're cynical about a phrase like "change the world." One of the more memorable pieces of business jargon from the dot-com frenzy was the term stealth mode, which was used to describe a company that had masked itself in secrecy—sometimes even using tricks that seemed to come straight out of Espionage for Dummies—in order to fool and outmaneuver its competitors. While I concede that it's blatantly hypocritical for me to be saying this in a book, it needs nevertheless to be said: the way for Generation X to survive—as a philosophy, as an antidote to the Gumpian buffoonery of American culture—is to go into stealth mode. Maybe then we can get something done.

Based on what I've heard and read about X Saves the World, Gordinier is going to spend a lot of time in the pages ahead lambasting the "Gumpian buffoonery of American culture," and I'm sure I'll find that entertaining—but the larger point here is that the philosophy of X is all about getting good things done in our society without calling attention to it. I would argue that if that notion appeals to you, regardless of your age, you're an Xer.


Shelly Alcorn said...

I read this book a while ago and it is one of my favorites. I think the author has a genuine understanding of the issues and has a delightful writing style. (His facebook posts to obscure music cuts are priceless too :D) I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did and are left with the same sense of, "Well, now what?" Maybe together we can all come to some general understanding.....

Eric Lanke said...

Thanks, Shelly. I am enjoying the book, but am already at the "Well, now what?" stage. That's in part why we started this blog--to prompt a discussion about GenX assuming a leadership role in associations and in our society. What will we do differently than our predecessors, and what impact can those actions have on the world?

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