Identity, Generations, and Vocabulary to Grapple with the Modern World

A few months ago, I unearthed an old article in which Douglas Coupland, author of the book Generation X, came up with some terms for the near future. It was interesting to see how, years later, they played out. I recently tripped across an interview with him in The Guardian where he talks about generation trashing, not wanting to be the spokesperson for his generation, and delivers some new terms supporting current events.

Coupland discusses how generations used to be defined by sentimental markers (his example: The Brady Bunch) rather than when they were born. Now, however, generational definitions are becoming increasingly defined by a combination of tech exposure and global financial cycles.

Coupland’s new terms, however, are an interesting (and in my opinion, accurate) reflection of much of the public discourse happening today. My favorites include:

  • Autophobia: The fear of being an individual―a nice explanation for a lot of the groupthink so prevalent today
  • The Democracy Plateau: Wanting one’s way so badly that if you don’t get it nobody gets their way
  • The Hurt Wars: As he puts it, the emotional equivalent of Diet Coke―being outraged by everything without being remotely outraged at all.

We’ve been looking at generational cohorts for a while here at W5 and it’s interesting to see how brands try to address generations in their messaging and product placement. I was thinking about how stores in the 70s and 80s seemed to market to three groups: kids, older people, and everyone else. It made life simpler for the consumer and honestly, as a Gen Xer, a lot easier to find things I wanted to buy.

It’s interesting to me how brands target younger generations with less disposable income yet ignore Gen X who outspend both their Millennial and Baby Boomer counterparts. Also interesting is many psychologists see Gen X as making the quickest comeback from the effects of the lockdown despite potentially suffering the most through it.

As he sums it up, generation trashing is an eternal cycle. I’m sure Gen Z will consider it all cheugy.

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