50 Shades of: “Hey! Where do I fit?”

For many, the age of digital understanding has been a wonderful advance. The connectivity, the sources of knowledge at our fingertips, it’s a smorgasbord of things to delight the senses. With all of these positive aspects, I wonder if this age of definitions has society focusing a little too much? Is there room for a little gray area in life without binary definition?

As humans, we like to deal with things that are concrete and knowable.
– The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening.
– People age continuously.
– The volume of water in a warm bath will be displaced proportionally by the volume of person or bath toys placed in it.

These statements satisfy an innate urge for definition and structure. Our minds have adapted to contain so much knowledge that our streamlining any information into binary logic keeps more energy available to handle other needs. If we observe early cultures, learning what kinds of food were edible or poisonous was a very important way of using this logic in [yes/no], [good/bad], or [edible/poisonous]. Our advancement from basic survival brought us to a new age where binary logic cannot contain the full parameters of all situations.

This discussion is a long way of saying two things: “Of what can we be certain?” and “Are the defining lines between generations really set in stone?” Employing the scientific method is the best way of determining information to be accurate, at least until new information can be validated on the subject. As for generational lines, I’ve been seeing many sources defining Millennials/Gen Y across varying criteria. Here are my theories on the defining lines:

1. Each century has approximately (5x) generations.
We have to draw the line somewhere, and though there can be overlap accounting for major world events or booms and drops in births, twenty years is a good marker. People in the first year representing the generation are usually (depending on society) considered legal adults shortly before they are 20. Brain researchers have also discovered changes in our minds with seven-year cycles, culminating in a mostly matured mind / prefrontal cortex, by age 21.  If we draw the lines of generation based on physical maturity, 20 year cycles represent a good balance.

2. Generations have shared experiences.
If you are a true Millennial, you were alive before Dick Clark welcomed the year 2000. This gets a little harder to define as people have different memories of events based on their respective age at the time. Still, we shouldn’t discount the younger ones of our group; though I remember certain defining moments in history better than my younger peers, it doesn’t mean that they were unaffected by the same events. Kids are always aware and learning. As one comedian said, “It’s like living with a lawyer for the prosecution.”

Case in point, a family friend was with his three-year-old crossing the street (with a green light and right of way) when a driver at the intersection beeped their horn and startled the child. The father responded appropriately to admonish the driver while keeping it G-rated for his daughter; his daughter ended the encounter by pointing to the driver and saying: “You’re a @–hole!” [Note: The child later turned to her father quietly and said that what she said was a bad word. Kids are always learning, and maturity applies collected knowledge to each new situation.]

Living in a binary world is easier for logic, but it falls short of the full spectrum of knowledge or expression that humans possess. These generation parameters are not sacrosanct, but I think they give a reasoned perspective. Depending on one’s age, you can find affinity for an older or younger generation. Generational taxonomy is more of a map than a dictionary; your place isn’t solely defined by birth, but seeing your peers allows a better perspective of where you are, and where you want to be.

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