Cultural Shift: Generations, Race, Technology

I’ve been thinking about society in terms of cultural shifts.  I sense we’re in the midst of a shift or several shifts combined.  Three main factors have come to mind.  I was thinking about racial conflicts in the US (in particular in my own small midwestern town), there is of course a lot going on with technology as the information age is just starting to hit its stride (is the industrial age ended yet?), and the ever so fun topic of generations.  Here is some of what I came across, but I plan on doing much more research.

 – – –

The first article is quite interesting.  It’s about the US shifting towards a new racial majority.  I was discussing this yesterday with somone in the comments of my local paper’s website.  They challenged my assertion that this shift was supposed to happen so soon.  It’s always hard to say with predictions, but I’d think the Census Bureau would be fairly accurate.  It does seem that I was partially correct in that the shift will happen with the younger generation within the next decade or so.  I’ve heard that already for Gen Y race isn’t much of an issue.  I was a Gen Xer in the South and in the 1990s bi-racial dating was acceptable.

However, in many small midwestern towns, race was never an issue in the past because some people grew up never or rarely seeing anyone who wasn’t white.  My town is a relatively more racially diverse town (still as a college town the other races tended to be of a higher class such as wealthy people from other countries), but is only now feeling the the full impact of Chicago’s overflow (increasing inner city population?).  Crime has increased and the population in general has increased.  Even though there is more gang activity, I suspect that the crime is as much a result of cultural conflict as anything else.  It’s hard to know what is causing what with changes in various factors: race, poverty, crime, culture, racial tensions, downward turn of economy, etc.  I somehow doubt that the conflict going on in my town is simply a local issue and instead probably connects to the shifts going on in the entire country.

The End of White America? by Hua Hsu (The Atlantic)

Whether you describe it as the dawning of a post-racial age or just the end of white America, we’re approaching a profound demographic tipping point. According to an August 2008 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, those groups currently categorized as racial minorities—blacks and Hispanics, East Asians and South Asians—will account for a majority of the U.S. population by the year 2042. Among Americans under the age of 18, this shift is projected to take place in 2023, which means that every child born in the United States from here on out will belong to the first post-white generation.

Obviously, steadily ascending rates of interracial marriage complicate this picture, pointing toward what Michael Lind has described as the “beiging” of America. And it’s possible that “beige Americans” will self-identify as “white” in sufficient numbers to push the tipping point further into the future than the Census Bureau projects. But even if they do, whiteness will be a label adopted out of convenience and even indifference, rather than aspiration and necessity. […] To take the most obvious example, whiteness is no longer a precondition for entry into the highest levels of public office. The son of Indian immigrants doesn’t have to become “white” in order to be elected governor of Louisiana. A half-Kenyan, half-Kansan politician can self-identify as black and be elected president of the United States.

As a purely demographic matter, then, the “white America” that Lothrop Stoddard believed in so fervently may cease to exist in 2040, 2050, or 2060, or later still. But where the culture is concerned, it’s already all but finished. Instead of the long-standing model of assimilation toward a common center, the culture is being remade in the image of white America’s multiethnic, multicolored heirs.

For some, the disappearance of this centrifugal core heralds a future rich with promise. In 1998, President Bill Clinton, in a now-famous address to students at Portland State University, remarked:

Today, largely because of immigration, there is no majority race in Hawaii or Houston or New York City. Within five years, there will be no majority race in our largest state, California. In a little more than 50 years, there will be no majority race in the United States. No other nation in history has gone through demographic change of this magnitude in so short a time … [These immigrants] are energizing our culture and broadening our vision of the world. They are renewing our most basic values and reminding us all of what it truly means to be American.

 Not everyone was so enthused. Clinton’s remarks caught the attention of another anxious Buchanan—Pat Buchanan, the conservative thinker. Revisiting the president’s speech in his 2001 book, The Death of the West, Buchanan wrote: “Mr. Clinton assured us that it will be a better America when we are all minorities and realize true ‘diversity.’ Well, those students [at Portland State] are going to find out, for they will spend their golden years in a Third World America.”

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This next article is making too broad of generalizations for my taste, but I thought it interesting anyhow.

The author is pointing out a decisive point that might represent a shift in culture.  The year 1994 is presented as a highpoint of popular culture which so happens to be the year of my highschool graduation.  I don’t know if the author has some useful insight or not, but it does seem possible that technology has forced culture into more diffuse manifestations.

As for the possibility of decreasing intelligence, I’d question what is being tested.  The younger generation is obviously focused on different kinds of activities which would require different kinds of intelligence.  Still, this is important as standard IQ tests have apparently always shown steady increase in the population until now.  The Flynn Effect was named by the authors of The Belle Curve which was a highly controversial book because it commnted on the connection between race and IQ.

Green Day’s Dookie and the Peak of Western Civilization by Martin Cizmar

By the late 1990s, The Flynn Effect — a phenomenon whereby each generation had a steadily increasing IQ — no longer was in effect. Sure, SAT scores are on a steady upswing, but psychologists seem to be concluding that intelligence quotient (the best available measure of our raw intelligence) is slipping downward.

[…] Reading over those lists it’s obvious: There may well have been a year that matched 1994 sometime in the ’40s, ’50s or ’60s, but there sure hasn’t been one since. I, for one, seriously doubt there will be again. The Internet has made popular culture too diffuse, making it impossible to gather the sort of critical mass necessary to launch an all-encompassing mega-trend like grunge.

 – – –

The next article is critical of the Boomers.  I have a less clear opinion about health care reform, but the sentiment of this article is something many post-Boomers can resonate with.

The Boomers were the largest generation that had been born at that point and Gen Xers were tiny in comparison.  They were a generation that dominated all segments of society (media, advertising, politics, and career opportunities) for a half century.  Not only were they big but they were loud.  They always made sure their voices were heard and they’ve been an ideologically divisive force in our society.  Constant complaining and bickering.  They started more wars in their time of power than any generation ever in US history.

And now they’re retiring and they potentially could be a massive drag on society.  Who is going to support their health care?  Certainly not themselves as they’ve been bad about saving and certainly not the small cohort of Gen Xers.  We must turn to the even larger Gen Y, but it’s funny that he Boomers love to project their own narcissism onto Gen Y which is the only generation that can offer us the hope of getting beyond all the problems Boomers helped to create.  Of course, Gen Xers has their part to play as practical leaders if the Boomers will just get out of the way.

Anniversary Irony: How the Woodstock Generation is Sabotaging Health Care Reform by Adam Hanft

Much has been written about the narcissism and self-involvement of the boomers, and the way in which the undisciplined indulgences of the sixties — sex, drugs, rock and roll — became sublimated into a parallel consumer world of undisciplined, indulgent consumption.

If you’re going to reward yourself with everything NOW, and scorn the future (just take a look at the dismal stats about boomer savings) — then you’re going to have an equally selfish view of health care. Which means a reluctance to share it; a very anti-Woodstockian value

Indeed, the boomers consume health care in the same guzzling fashion that they bought homes and cars and electronics and designer everything. And they’re worried that their God-given right to consume often and endlessly is being threatened by the Obama plan.

Can we blame them for this expectation of everything? From the time they were born, and their Spock-trained parents catered to their every whim, boomers were spoiled and privileged. Society existed to dandle them and indulge their fantasies.

They also grew up as children (and adults) during the largest expansion of employer-based health care in history. Corporations may have been boring (and sometimes evil), but they were generous. Boomers’ white-collar and blue-collar parents had great benefits. They never had to deal with scarcity, with limits, with tough resource decisions. They always had plenty of toys, plenty of jobs, plenty of choices. So when opponents of reform use trigger words like “rationing”, boomers get all twitchy and shrill.

Then there’s the “Unplug Granny” distortion. The reason it’s so contagious is that it strikes at the essence of boomer anxiety, the inevitable march to mortality. They want to go on forever. They see themselves as adolescents, they dress like adolescents,they listen to oldies music that suspends them in adolescent amber. […] Talk to physicians in any area with a high concentration of those on Medicare and you’ll hear the same refrain: every little ache and pain is an occasion (even a social occasion) for a trip to doctor, since Medicare pays anyway. That’s the boomer ontology.

15 thoughts on “Cultural Shift: Generations, Race, Technology

  1. Interesting blog, but it’s missing an important part of the equation: Generation Jones (born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X). Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press’ annual Trend Report forecast the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009. Here’s a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones:

    It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. Many experts now believe it breaks down more or less this way:

    DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
    Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
    Generation Jones: 1954-1965
    Generation X: 1966-1978

    Here is an op-ed about GenJones as the new generation of leadership in USA TODAY:

    • Hello HD4010

      Yeah, I could’ve mentioned Generation Jones. I wasn’t trying to present every view I’ve come across… just talking about some trends that I see in the world. The specific generations are less important to my thinking at the moment. Also, he articles I picked were somewhat random and I’m sure I could’ve found better ones.

      I’ve read a number of articles about Generation Jones in the past and I’m somewhat familiar with it, but never studied it in deph. I generally follow Strauss and Howe. Going by their model, I’d call Generation Jones to be cuspers as the MTV Generation are also cuspers between X and Y. I identify more with older Gen Y than older Gen X, but I still identify with the general attitude of Gen X which is my cohort.

      Anyways, I don’t worry too much about precise years for the generations. If enough people identify a certain way, then it’s useful to consider that identity in looking at the bigger picture. The only reason I tend to emphasize Strauss and Howe’s model is because it has immmense explanatory power and seems to have predicted events accurately.

      So, it’s fine by me if you consider yourself Generation Jones. I’d be interested in more of your personal perspective if you’d like to share it. How do you think Generation Jones fits into what is going on with society right now? Do you think your generation can help this transition as the Boomers retire?

      BTW I didn’t mean to come off so critical of the Boomers. I don’t think it’s a matter of them getting out of the way. But I do think it’s time for them to be more willing to share the stage or else they’ll get shoved off the stage. They’re still a force to be reckoned with and still have the potential to positively contribute to society. I have a feeling, though, that Boomers and Gen Y are going to be clashng in the near future politics.

        • Would you mind expanding on that or is it too personal? What kind of technology and what kind of misuse?

          I’m a young GenXer and so I feel somewhat sympathetic towards GenY. Not all GenXers feel that way. Older GenXers who spent highschool and college in the 80s had a very different experience and they’re less understanding of GenY’s obsession with technology.

          Also, it might feel overwhelming for GenXers to have to deal with so many young people flooding the employment market just when GenXers are starting to get a toehold up in the world. GenXers might be somewhat fortunate in that the major conflict will be between Boomers and GenY, but then again GenX is stuck in the middle and might have to try to play the role of mediatior during this social shift.

          Strauss and Howe talk about all of this. Have you read about their theories? Have you read much about generations? I find it a very fascinating topic.

          • David and I were exchanging comments on my post
            ‘Education Degradation’.
            I mentioned in my post that cursive writing is now a victim of keyboard tech. He commented that he writes
            faster with keyboard and mentioned the gen Y’ers.
            He thought I was abasing his gen! lol

            I’m very interested in generational history and I will read about it if time allows.

            My sister is BS.Ed but of course you know how hard employment is these days.

  2. I can’t say I have a great deal of respect at this point for the theories of Strauss and Howe…there are reasons that their views have become so discredited, many flaws in their research and thinking.

    I agree with the great majority of experts in this field who view GenJones as a seperate full bona fide generation. It is no more cusp than Boomers or Xers.

    As far as GenJones’ role for the country…I see it as huge, at a decisive moment…we Jonesers are clearly now the dominat generation of leadership in govt. and business and among other things, bring our brand of pragmatic idealism to a host of urgent problems, which have partly festered while being approached in an ideological way the last 16 years under Boomer leadership. Nothing against the Boomers, it’s just that these times need a different approach…

  3. I’m curious as why you don’t respect the theories of Strauss and Howe. I’ve never studied their work in detail. Do you think they made a prediction that didn’t come true? Or do you think there interpretations are heavily biased? I didn’t even know there was a majority of experts. Where did you learn about how the majority of experts view GenJones? Who specifically is included in this majority?

    I don’t have any attachment to the views of Strauss and Howe. I just find it interesting. I’m always open to new perspectives. I look more into.

    Anyways, it’s somewhat arbitrary where we make dividing lines. Generations theory is less of a science and more of a model to interpret data by. A generational cohort is simply an identity, and anytime one makes generalizations about people’s identities then there will be disagreement.

    Whether thinking in terms of GenJones or not, my basic point is the same. Even though I’m uncertain about how the specifics are playing out, I do sense a shift occurring.

    I have another question. Why not use the MTV Generation as another dividing line? There is as big difference between teenagers in the 80s and teenagers in the 90s? Do you think this difference less than that between Boomers and GenJones? My oldest brother graduated in the late 80s. World events that were a reality to him are at best vague memories to me. Also, his friends are way less interested in technology than younger GenX. Of course, by using GenJones that changes the beginning years of GenX which makes it a shorter generation but still includes teenagers of the 80s.

  4. I was just at the Fourth Turning forums that are on the website run by Strauss and Howe. There are actually quite a few discussions about GenJones. The people interested in Strauss and Howe also have an interest in other viewpoints. It’s not a matter of having to choose one or the other.

    Even Howe has written about GenJones. He calls them early Xers, but acknowledges that they’re a distinct group.

    It’s interesting that Howe points out that GenJones had the lowest SAT scores. The article in my post said the younger generations were having an increase in SAT scores even as measurements of IQ were going down. I’m not sure what is being measured or how. Howe claims that GenJones when in school had the lowest scores in reading and math.

  5. Excellent piece sir.
    Would you allow me to repost the first part of this at WP Writers Group?
    And if you permit, I would just inform about the rest of the post.

    • Feel free to repost part of this. As long as you give me credit, I’m open to you reposting almost anything you so desire.

    • I used to live in Columbia SC which isn’t far from where your sister lives. What does your sister think of SC? Does she notice a lot of racism?

      Columbia is a very large town with a lot of diversity. I didn’t notice much overt racism, but there was plenty of subtle racism. The division between blacks and whites was often very clear.

      However, some of this was socio-economic class and culture. Class division, even between whites, was as clear as race division. Most wealthy white kids (and wealthy black kids) went to private schools.

  6. My sister doesn’t mention about racism.
    But like you again, I feel subtle racism there.
    And in fact again!, my sister taught a rich black autistic kid in a ‘special children’ class just months ago.

    I have reposted your article.

    • Does your sister have a career in teaching or is she just a job she is presently working?

      My mom was a teacher in public schools. She was a speech pathologist and worked with many different kinds of kids with learning difficulties including autistics. However, the kids she worked with in SC were very poor. She literally had to work with some inbred rednecks. It turns out to be true that having children with family members does lead to certain genetic problems.

      I hope my article draws some interest. It’s a worthy topic.

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