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