Collective Generational Consciousness – Overstated?

Newsweek yesterday did another blah-blah-blah piece on "Generation Y" titled Narcissists in Neverland. It’s full of gloom, a little sun, and concludes with this whopper: "So will Gen Y be able to deal with the realities of kids-and-a-mortgage adulthood? The answer is that they probably won’t do any better–or worse–than their parents did."

I hate articles like this. Generational analysis, labels, predictions, etc. get far too much attention in the mainstream media. Neil Howe, who’s written extensively about generations and termed the label "Millenials" for my generation, spoke at Pomona College a few weeks ago. He was an impressive speaker, and made some interesting observations about how young people today relate to the world in ways similar and different from our parents, but by the end I couldn’t help but ask, "So what?"

What’s the big deal? Why do people assume such intense collective generational consciousness? Where on the list of identity inputs (race, gender, location, interests, the like) does generation lie in importance? Why do people try to draw such clear distinctions between different generations, particularly hyperventilation on the part of marketers, as if a whole new rulebook is needed to understand young people today? Why resort to broad sweeping assumptions about age groups instead of labeling more discrete pockets of the population who share certain traits above and beyond the year they were born?

Summation: Collective consciousness is overstated, particularly in the context of "generations." Your thoughts?

(thanks to my friend Anastasia for the pointer.)

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