The Five-Year Generation

by Ginny Leise, staff writter

Authors and critics have long postulated that the salient characteristic of Generation Y-ers, born between 1977 and 1994, is our saturation in popular media via technology. Innovations that astound our elders seem commonplace to us; the internet and cell phones have become givens in our lives. This saturation has afforded us a few distinct advantages., an online resource for marketing tips, explains, “Gen Y kids are known as incredibly sophisticated, technology-wise and immune to most tradition [sic] marketing and sales pitches…as they not only grew up with it all, they’ve seen it all and been exposed to it all since early childhood.” Basically, we’re a tech savvy bunch. We’re not nearly as savvy, however, as Gen Z-ers (born between 1995 and 2012), or at least as savvy as Gen Z-ers will be once they come of age. Whatever advantages we had by growing up around technology, members of Generation Z will have as well, in spades.

It took me a beat to recognize the irony of Googling “Generation Y.” I am a product of my generation, and Googling for information is second nature to me. Wikipedia provided me a quick, tertiary blurb on the characteristics of Generation Y vs. Z, but left me feeling self-conscious about my generational dependence on the internet.

Curious to explore other generations’ methods of research, I consulted with Colorado College history professor Dennis Showalter. After all, before technology made it possible for us to access digested and simplified information instantaneously, researchers were forced to ask, like, real live experts. Showalter offered a more complex model for generational differences than Wikipedia (go figure). As a member of the CC faculty since 1969, he has seen generations of CC students come and go, granting him unique insight into generational differences. In his estimation, due to the rapid speed at which the technology that defines us develops, the definition of “generation” is changing fundamentally. Demarcating a generation every seventeen years becomes antiquated in a culture transforming as rapidly as ours. Showalter suggested that if we define generations by their exposure and access to information technology, we need to measure in smaller spans of time, perhaps as short as every five years.

A new generation every five years, eh? Differing value systems and life experiences riddle cross-generational communication with strife and misunderstanding—kids roll their eyes at their old-fashioned parents and parents throw up their hands in exasperation with their offspring’s inexplicable behavior. If generational stratification is accelerating, is our inability to understand one another accelerating as well? That would mean that, these days, the cultural disconnect typically associated with relationships between parents and children is just as evident between members of today’s youth, separated in age by only a few years.

At first, this struck me as grounds for dismissing Showalter’s point, but then I started thinking about Twilight, the pop culture sensation du jour that has teenagers flocking to theaters by the tens of millions (the second film installment of the Twilight series, New Moon, was the third highest grossing opening night of all time after only The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 3). For a while now, I have been wary of this whole Twilight business. I returned from a semester of pop culture isolation in Nepal last fall, and suddenly the entire country seemed to be obsessed with a vampire named Edward.

I’m usually game to participate (at times zealously) in frivolous pop culture trends, but this was one I just couldn’t get on board with. The more people tried to convince me to give it a try, the more strongly I felt about maintaining my position of resistance. The most aggravating argument I came up against again and again were comparisons to the Harry Potter series.

See, I’m a Harry Potter fan, through and through. Since middle school, I’ve counted down the days until the release of the next book, attended midnight releases at Barnes & Noble, and raced home to devour it as quickly as possible. As recently as 2007, a Harry Potter book release was a highlight of my summer. This anticipation was a quintessential experience of my generation. Waiting in line at those midnight releases, I was surrounded by my peers as we took part in the biggest cultural phenomenon of our teenage years.

Looking past any surface commonalities between Twilight and HP, I find the comparison nothing short of offensive. After my talk with Showalter, however, I began to wonder whether my unwillingness to engage in the Twilight hype had more to do with generational loyalty than literary taste. Maybe I just missed the days when my interests and I were at the epicenter of pop culture.

I decided to tread across generational lines and go see New Moon. Going in, I knew the plot centered on Bella and Edward’s romantic (yet virginal) relationship, but I wasn’t prepared for how appalling I found it. Call me a Rowling-era feminist, but selling a tale in which the protagonist throws herself off a cliff after her boyfriend dumps her to thirteen-year-old girls is atrocious. Hermione would never do something so rash. I left the theater hating Twilight more than before.

Showalter’s theory of five year generations helped me to understand my unease about Twilight. The series belongs to another generation—a generation whose cultural values I see as incomprehensible. Like a classic rock-loving parent who cringes whenever her kid turns on rap, I just can’t understand the appeal. 

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Five-Year Generation

  1. I understand your reluctance to get into the whole Twilight thing right now or ever. As I had read the book, New Moon, I knew why Bella’s character jumped off the cliff, but was not sure the film made it clear after reading your article. After Edward left Bella, she found that when she was in danger she heard his voice warning her to not do whatever she was doing. She loved the sound of his voice and when she heard it in her head it made her feel good and like maybe she still had a connection to him. She had seen others jump from the cliff and not get injured. She was not trying to commit suicide, she was trying to bring Edward close to her again. P.S. If you knew this and still wrote that article, shame on you x 100.

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