Gen-X: The Forgotten Generation

I, like many others in the industry, am a proud, card-carrying Gen-Xer.

Born in [insert year here], I fall into that category of person who grew up during a time of massive technological shifts. I listened to music on my father’s record player as a child, and via cassette tapes well into my teens. I attended school without Internet during my K-8 years, doing book reports on a typewriter and (gulp) by hand (using cursive) before my family finally invested in an IBM computer.

But I enjoyed extravagances like online courses in university, and downloaded music during high school through peer-to-peer Websites like Napster (the questionable one) using AOL dial-up Internet, and had a pager before a cell phone. I understand what it’s like to rent a movie on VHS, what it means to “be kind and rewind,” and have amassed a collection of DVDs and CDs that are now collecting dust in the basement.

Gen-Xers are in a unique position because we speak the language of both our parents and kids, and understand both sides of the technology equation: life before the Internet and Facebook, and the world after. Yet study after study focuses on the importance of the Millennial generation to the economy, and their differences compared to the equally important Boomer. What about us? We have become the forgotten middle child.

Understandably, it’s tough for brands to target Gen-Xers. Boomers are generally set in their ways, while Millennials are the generation of digital, defiance, and self-exploration. What characterizes the Gen-Xer isn’t so easily defined.

Pew Research pegs those born within the 15-year period between 1965 and 1980 as Gen-X, making us currently between the ages of 37 and 52. GenXers are “bookended by two much larger generations…that are strikingly different from one another,” notes Pew Research, which refers to us as a “low-slung, straight-line bridge between two noisy behemoths.”

Gen-Xers value technology, but also appreciate the need to disconnect from it. We aren’t entitled, respect the value of hard work, and strive for excellence in everything we do. While a Gen-Xer is keen to adopt emerging technologies, we still can’t quite bring ourselves to put down a good book to read a novel on an iPad instead. We get our news from social media, just like Millennials, but aren’t opposed to flipping through a newspaper with our morning coffee either.

A new term has been coined to describe some Gen-Xers, and, by definition, some Millennials, who were born in the midst of a critical timeframe of technological and generational change – 1977 to 1983. We’re the Xennial generation, reduced to nomenclature reminiscent of Hollywood supercouples like “Bennifer” and “TomKat.”

This is when the cell phone, Walkman, first IBM computer, MS-DOS, and the Apple Lisa were invented, and shortly before the CD-ROM, Apple Macintosh, and Windows software saw the light of day. Xennials were becoming teenagers when the Internet was taking shape, and digital answering machines were the biggest innovation in landline phone usage. Dan Woodman, an associate professor of Sociology at the University of Melbourne, who seemingly coined the term, describes Xennials as the “depressed flannelette-shirt-wearing, grunge-listening children.” (Nirvana rules!)

Thus Gen-Xers, and particularly Xennials, roll our eyes at typical Boomer comments about having to walk a mile in the snow to get to school every day, but also at some of the technology that engages our Millennial brethren. (What do you mean you make millions by letting other people watch you play video games online?)

Gen-Xers and Xennials may be more valuable than you think. Like the forgotten middle children, Gen-Xers work hard to get accomplishments noticed, tug at our parents’ shirts, and urge our own children to listen. But middle children are cooperative and trusting, independent, think outside of the box, and feel less pressure to conform, according to Psychology Today.

Sage’s 2015 State of the Startup report reveals that Gen-Xers founded more than half of today’s startups, and the U.S. Department of Labor finds they out-spend all other generations when it comes to housing, clothing, eating out, and entertainment. Nielsen says Gen-Xers spend more time on social media than Millennials, at seven hours per week on average versus six. And 54% of Gen-Xers, says PR Daily, are frustrated that brands constantly ignore them, while 27% of Canadian Gen-Xers, specifically, feel as though advertising aimed at them doesn’t actually reflect their experiences, preventing them from easily connecting with brands or products. (Yahoo Canada). Gen-Xers can still be reached by traditional media, suggests Forrester Research, with 48% saying they listen to the radio, 62% read newspapers, and 85% watch traditional TV.

Perhaps most telling, however, is that Generation-X reportedly currently has the most disposable income. Consider that many bought into the housing market before the big real estate bubble. Those on the early end of the Gen-X spectrum are empty nesters with grown children and some extra cash to burn; while those on the later end of the spectrum have been working hard for the past decade or longer to achieve positions of power within their companies. Circling around 40 years of age, they’re just getting started. Meanwhile, Boomers are nearing retirement and Milllennials, plagued with massive educational debt, are economic victims of a tough job and housing market, and an overall uncertain future.

Millennials may represent the future, and Boomers a past that shaped our economy today. But Gen-Xers represent the now. So we raise our flannel shirts, Tamagotchis, Super Nintendos (the original one), massive handheld camcorders, and Blockbuster Videos in solidarity. Hear us roar!

Have we gotten your attention yet?

Photo of the IBM 5153 Personal Computer with CGA monitor, circa 1988. Courtesy of the German Federal Archive, via Wikimedia Commons. (Photo by Engelbert Reineke)