The New Old Generation

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Apple II circa 1977

The worst job interview I have ever had from the candidate side of the table was with Apple. Before you start throwing things at me for this heretical statement or jumping on an Apple-bashing bandwagon, let me add that this was many years ago. We have both come a long way since then…at least I know that I have and from outward appearances it would appear that Apple is a great place to work. Further setting the scene, there was no Gen X (called the Baby Bust generation in contrast to the Baby Boom) in significant numbers in the workforce and the term Gen Y had not yet been invented. There was primarily a generation of boomers-with-attitudes setting out to conquer the world. My pilot light had been lit by technology and I was going to use it to set the world on fire. As a crossover from engineering into human resources, targeting Apple as a progressive company to carve out my career seemed to be the right thing to do. What I found was that at that time the excitement was still on the technical side of things. Most of the people I met in human resources were virtually computer illiterate. Not only was I not a match in their eyes, I strutted away in full arrogant plumage wondering why I had wasted my time with them. How dare they get in my way! I am young, vibrant, smart and know it all!

It’s funny how time band-aids old wounds.

In 2009 a joint study sponsored by AARP and Microsoft looked into the subject of Boomers and Technology. One phrase I particularly like is “With one foot in the future and the other in the past, they are inventing a world for the 50-year-old of the future. The choices they make, the devices, software and services they embrace, will directly inform what is available as the next generation grows older.” This is a generation that paved the way for the technological world we live in today, but somehow has been stereotyped as a strange race of people with an aversion to anything technical. On the contrary, this study reveals that Boomers actually like to learn new technology and share their knowledge with others. It may be true that some find out about new things from their kids, but once they catch on they have the same fire in the belly that I had when Apple disappointed me years ago. Among my current Facebook friends are 30 or so “old farts” that went to high school with me. They were late joiners but have become rabid users of technology.

So where did all these new old guys and gals come from? They were here all along. The technology they invented changed the world. Just as steam power had started the industrial revolution for previous generations, the power of the microchip took it to the next level for this generation. The primary difference between generations today is probably not any lack of willingness to use technology. Rather it is because rapid development often leaves behind those who lack the knowledge surrounding the change. Everyone has seen the worker who gets lost in the new world because they either won’t or can’t adapt. It is easy to dismiss a lack of knowledge as a lack of intelligence when actually it is only a matter of education. It has nothing to do with age or generation, but is a matter of acceptance or rejection of change. A young person can be just as likely to hold on to the status quo as an older person, but studies do suggest that learning is geared more to those making a tiered approach to improving knowledge: Building on accumulated knowledge will always be easier than taking a much larger step.

My generation made terrible mistakes as well. I am not really a staunch defender of my fellow boomers because to do so would be contrary to my claim that it is not all about age. As a matter of fact, some of them should retire or just move out of the way. I could also say that to some of my younger plodder friends. If you give up, just get out! I am definitely an advocate for cross-generational dialog for the betterment of everyone that could erase these so-called stereotypical boundaries. I’ll make a deal with Gen X, Gen Y and beyond: Share your ideas honestly with me and I’ll share mine with you. If we disagree, let’s at least agree that it has to do with the whole body of human experience and is not solely dictated by the age of the thinker. By the way, my generation was the most cocky, arrogant and foolish of all times. I hope you can say that about your generation in a few years.


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