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The Great Generational Divide

24 Aug

Recently my wife Diane and I have been watching  television commercials for  the Toyota Venza, We’ve just noticed these  advertisements,  although they have been   around since last summer. They feature twenty-year olds  making contemptuous or  patronizing comments   about their   parents’ boring lives. While their children are talking, the parents are using their Venza SUV to connect with friends, attend concerts,  and go bike and horseback riding.

Created by the Saatchi & Saatchi   advertising firm, these “Baby Boomers Gone Wild” commercials show a lot of   hostility towards the supercilious younger generation.  In the best commercial a clueless and condescending Facebook user expresses concerns that her parents are becoming “antisocial”,  because they only have 19  Facebook friends and don’t have a “real life”. She bases this on” part of an article” that  she read online. The commercial ends with her looking at pictures of puppies online while her parents are living it up with their  real life friends.  At least one young blogger criticized the commercials as  illustrating how much  the “self-absorbed baby boomers”  misunderstand generation X   and millennials.

I suppose we  like these commercials because   some of  the condescension  rings true. Our oldest son, a computer engineer,  is only half joking when he says that  he thinks it’s his job to drag us into the 21st century by buying us electronic devices.  When he asked Diane for ideas for her birthday gift this year, he totally ignored her suggestions and immediately latched on to my comment  that a GPS for the car might  be useful.

In some ways  these commercials may be payback for the 1988  Cutlass Supreme commercial  in which advertising maven  Joel Machak  introduced the famous line, “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.”   These advertisements catered to generational conflicts,  proudly proclaiming the “The New Generation of Olds. Oldsmobile shut down  in 2004  and ironically many believe the brand was killed off  by the “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.”  advertising campaign,  which alienate the traditional   market, without winning new converts.

Besides auto commercials, intergenerational hostilities are seen in other areas. “Mom Jeans”, for example is a  pejorative term for a kind of high-waisted and big-legged women’s pants  that are considered unflattering and hopelessly out of style. They originated in a 2003 Saturday Night Live skit  featuring a fake brand of jeans by that name.

“Dad Jeans” soon   followed. The Urban Dictionary says  these are jeans  that are no longer fashionable with  tapered legs,  high waists, and brand names that were cool  10 years ago. They are worn by aging men,  in denial that they are no longer hip, who have children, and drive SUVs (Venzas perhaps?).

Not even the president is safe from such snarkiness. In 2009 President Obamawore a pair of faded, slouchy dad jeans to throw out the first pitch at the  All-Star Game  and   was later seen wearing Dad Jeans during a vacation at  Martha’s Vineyard.   Asked to defend his jeans,  the president  said, “I am a little frumpy,  those jeans are comfortable, and for those of you who want your president to look great in his tight jeans, I’m sorry — I’m not the guy. It just doesn’t fit me. I’m not 20.”

During his presidential campaign Rick Santorum was unmercifully teased for wearing an article of clothing that I personally favor—  the venerable, yet unappreciated, sweater vest. I think much of the critical reaction was rooted in intergenerational hostility. Generation X comedian Demetri Martin once said, “… vests are all about protection.   Like a life vest protects you from drowning,  and bulletproof vests protect you from getting shot,  and  sweater vests protect you from pretty girls.”

Although generational conflicts have been seen throughout history, we may be facing something entirely unprecedented.   Digital technology has fundamentally changed the way in which knowledge and information are shared in our society.

In the past if a young person wanted to know how to do something,  like making an  apple pie or fixing a leaky faucet, most often they would ask their parents.  Today, however, with the abundance of  digital information, only an internet connection away,   traditional  teachers and family elders are no longer the  most credible or available sources  of  information. I even  find myself looking at You Tube videos before   attempting  most home repairs these days.

It’s not only young adults that are relying on these impersonal sources of information.  On-line schooling has recently made the leap from technical training and  college level  education to  the elementary and secondary school populations. I suppose  people  in my generation occasionally  used television, radio, or other media,  instead of elders,  for  learning functional skills, as well as acculturation. These media, however,  lacked the speed,  immediacy, and  interactivity of current technology. The internet is a source of information that responds to  your  specific questions and is available 24-7.

The type, format, and  rate of presentation  of  on-line information is also totally under the control of the learner. Also the source is impersonal and thus the exchange has less threat than might stem from feeling like one  is   ignorant and dependent upon a superior .  The young person avoids having to acknowledge their lack of skill or information and perhaps what they see as  a  critical attitude on the part  of  elders.  Our daughter and her husband really  seem to prefer getting their information online  even in areas in which we have  a lifetime of  experience. During an argument they once   said to us, “Check your expertise by the door”.   (not that we hold a grudge.

Since young people use their  information-seeking skills to find  the information,  they can justify   anything they learn as being their own idea, without  acknowledging the fact that the content ultimately came from somebody else’s parents.

Besides interpersonal  and family relationships,  generational conflicts also effect  business and economic activities. For  many years researchers and consultants have been exploring ways for  organizations to reduced  such conflicts and their  negative  effects on productivity and efficiency.

Harvard Business Review blogger Tammy Erickson has described four major sources of such conflicts   in the work place 1. Baby Boomers tend to perceive work as a place, as opposed to something you do.  With the mobility of various electronic devices,  younger workers often don’t see  work   associated with a particular location. 2.   Baby Boomers may be more  comfortable in using face-to-face   communication, in contrast to the electronic modes favored by  many younger workers;  such as  e-mailing,  texting, instant messaging, twitter, etc   (3.) Older workers tend to be linear learners  who read  manuals, obtain information ahead of time, and engage in pre-activity training.  Younger workers often prefer “on-demand”  learning style  in which they only learn things  when they are practically  needed , not beforehand.   Finally Boomers  typically  prefer having  established  schedules and place value on planning. Younger workers may feel more comfortable with  impromptu  and  spontaneous meetings and  work activities. Erickson believes just understanding these differences can help reduce workplace conflict.

So if you see me in my  dad jeans and sweater vest, you can’t  be sure if  I’m getting ready to  go on a vigorous hike  or maybe  take a nap. It all depends on what Diane has planned.

Based on a column appearing in t he Southern Indiana News Tribune


The Dirty Job of Adulthood

13 Jan

Mike Rowe

Just how bad do you think your job is?  The Wall Street Journal annually publishes a list of the worst jobs, based on things such as pay, benefits, and safety.  Perennially included are many romantic sounding occupations such as lumberjack, fisherman, and even cowboy. But for the really disgusting ones,  you  have to  catch the Discovery Channel program called “Dirty Jobs”.  In this show, Mike Rowe the talented but unfortunate    host profiles some of the slimiest jobs possible and then personally tries his hand at them. Rattlesnake catchers, pig sloppers,  and  septic-tank technicians are just some of the occupations that might make you feel better about what you do.

Or perhaps you would  like to work for Aftermath, Inc. inPlainfield, Illinois. They specialize in crime scene cleanups.  According to their advertisement, they feature cleanup services for homicides, suicides, unattended deaths, human and animal feces, discharges of guns, home invasions, filth (unspecified) , accidents,  self-inflicted wounds, meth labs, tear gas  and as they put it “much more. I personally don’t  think  I could bear much more. offers  another list of  losers, that  includes occupations such as Porta-Potty Cleaner, Gastroenterologist,  and the ever popular–  Odor Judge.  ”.   

Granted that most of us would not take   a position in which we had to manually remove colonic  polyps,  routinely rate the noxiousness of  halitosis samples, or Pin-Sol® a mass murder site.  However, we all occasionally get stuck with terrible jobs or  least lousy assignments.


           Discussing what it takes  to be an adult best selling author, Robert Fulghum   says,  “A willingness to do your share of cleaning up the mess is a test.  … taking out the garbage of this life is a condition of membership

in the [adult] community.” He goes on to list some of these  every day ordeals:  

  1. cleaning the sink strainer
  2. plunging  out the toilet
  3. cleaning up babies when they poop and pee
  4. cleaning ovens, grease traps, and roasting pans
  5. emptying  the litter box
  6. burying dead pets when they get run over

Below are my three nominations for his list.

Collecting Money 

Whether it is theUnited Way, the coffee fund,  or even collecting to send flowers to a  sick co-worker, getting other people to pony up their share is always a challenge.  People blame the messenger  and you may  have to gently remind them at times. “Hey I did not personally make her  sick, I am just collecting the flipping money!”  Some are suspicious and act like you are going to take the whole $39.50 and fly toRio.

Cleaning the Office Refrigerator

Office refrigerators, like public restrooms, suffer from a lack of  personal ownership. They truly can become a Pandora’s box of horrors. The second place winner in CNN’s Grossest Office Refrigerator contest came from  Louisville  and featured “the sandwich that time forgot”.   

Besides food at various stages of decomposition, some of the  things actually found in office  refrigerators have  included  human stool samples, an ancient mastodon’s partially digested meal,  and cow manure specimens .    

Sooner or later someone gets so disgusted they take it upon themselves to clean the  refrigerator,  likes Hercules cleaning the Augean Stables.  These stables housed three thousand oxen and had not been cleaned for thirty years. So it was quite similar to your average office refrigerator.   Hercules had only one day and he managed to get  the job done by diverting the course of  a river. Perhaps if you work by theOhio Riveryou can try this with your office refrigerator.  I suggest throwing it in. When Hercules was done he hung up the first sign saying,  “Clean up after yourself, Oedipus. Your mother doesn’t work here.”

Doing the Newsletter

My wife, Diane and I once foolishly volunteered for this job in an organization we had just joined.  They disguised it by calling it the Vice-President for Communications— but it was really the newsletter.   It involved being tortured by a temperamental copier, hunting down the guy with the mailing labels, folding thousands of pages,  and learning the totally incomprehensible intricacies of bulk rate mailing.

After a year of unappreciated blood, sweat, and paper cuts, we finally quit. No one else would take the job. In a highly insulting gesture, the president said that from now on the officers would meet for just a “few minutes” each month and take care of it.  These people  were close to requiring  the services of Aftermath, Inc. We did not see another newsletter for over a year. 

But perhaps the worse thing about the job was getting people to send in their articles. It was harder than pulling polyps.