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Debunking the great Generation X myth

By Tim Watts, Hugh Martin and Fiona Stewart - posted Friday, 15 February 2002

It's a problem that just won't go away. How can the generations talk to each other in ways that go beyond name-calling and inane generalisations?

There is an emerging baby boomer consensus that Generations X and Y are politically apathetic, self-satisfied yuppies. This myth needs busting.

The post-baby boomer generations are extremely political, but our action bears little resemblance to the '60s counter-cultural radicalism or the more recent "community first" conservatism of the boomer generation.


Marching in the streets might have been all the rage in 1975, but so were platform shoes, and we all know what happened to them.

Just because Gen-X and Yers don't exude the "look at me" activism of our parents doesn't mean we don't care and aren't involved. It is how this disenchantment with the way the world works manifests itself that we should be talking about.

As well-travelled, technologically literate citizens, our engagement with and interest in the world is arguably the strongest of any generation in history. In Internet chat rooms, backpacker hostels and pubs the world over, we communicate our concerns and organise our networks to effect change.

The global issues that we care most about and act upon actually have more historical significance than the domestic policy concerns now preoccupying the baby boomers. Environmental sustainability and global economic governance (anti-sweatshop campaigning for example) are two of Gen X and Y's hot button concerns.

While we may watch less television than our older brothers and sisters, and while we may read newspapers less often, it would be wrong to use these facts as markers of our commitment to making the world a better place.

If growing up in the shadow of the Fraser, Hawke and Keating years taught us anything it is that we have a voice so we should use it. After all, these were the years when intellectualism was encouraged, when thinking about the big picture of our place in the world was rewarded.


This is our legacy.

Despite the hype surrounding our generations' instant riches during the dot-com boom, most of us in fact face very tough economic circumstances.

We run a distant third to our Depression-era grandparents and boomer parents in terms of wealth creation and accumulation. Unlike our parents, we have had no access to a truly sustained growth period such as occurred after the war. The growth of the equities market in the late '80s and '90s and the dot-com bubble of recent years don't quite compare. The fact that these events have left many young people with their backs against the wall is too often overlooked.

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This article was first published in The Age on Jan 29, 2002.

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About the Authors

Tim Watts is Director of OzProspect.

Hugh Martin is an OzProspect Fellow and managing editor of Blue Ear.

Dr Fiona Stewart is Director of Realworld Research and Communications and is a consultant to corporations, universities, TAFE and schools in educational futures and e-learning. Fiona Stewart is co-author (with Philip Nitschke) of Killing Me Softly: Voluntary Euthanasia and the Road to the Peaceful Pill.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Tim Watts
All articles by Hugh Martin
All articles by Fiona Stewart
Related Links
Blue Ear
Realworld Research and Communications
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