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Yes, We are All Different

Generation Me

Generation Me is a phrase coined by Jean Twenge to represent the millennium generation, those born from the late 70’s to today. This includes her, this includes me, this may include you.

Her book, summarizes her research into this generation, how it differs from the Boomers who went before us; the implications that generational trends hold for the world of today, and for the world of tomorrow.

Danah, an expert on the myspace generation, recommended the book on her blog:

Unlike most books on generations, this is a social psych analaysis of different behavioral characteristics over the decades. Translation: there’s a shitload of data here. The book is a bit too pop psychology for my tastes, but it makes it very accessible.


Twenge unpacks the problems with the “You can be anything you want!” value, looking critically at how this sets up unrealistic expectations that result in all sorts of social chaos.

From the book

On life’s plan:

More and more young people are going to find themselves at 30 without a viable career, a house, or any semblance of stability. (page 83)

On relationships:

Lower rates of divorce in previous decades might even suggest that they were better at relationships than we are. Maybe we love ourselves a little too much. (page 90)

On the church of self:

This is the dirty little secret of modern life: We are told that we need to know ourselves and love ourselves first, but being alone sucks. Our ultimate value is not to depend on anyone else. (page 91)

Outcomes of the focus on self

Chapter three highlights some of the outcomes on Generation Me’s focus on self esteem and self actualization.

  • The appearance obsession - 8% of twelfth-grade boys admitted to using steroids.
  • Tattoos, nose piercings and God-knows-where piercings - Sixty-nine percent of students with body piercings named self expression or “to be different” as their reasons.
  • Extending adolescence beyond all previous limits - ask someone in GenMe when adulthood begins, and a surprising number will say 30.
  • Materialism - GenMe has always lived in a time where possessions were valued.

Not everything is bad however. The belief in the individual, and that each of us can be whatever we want to be, allows for an incredible amount of tolerance. This is shown in the improvements in tolerance for minorities that have been shunned in generations past.

My Thoughts

I learned a lot reading this book. The sheer volume of data and the implications are overwhelming. My view on the world has changed; the context in which I view things has changed.

Watching television, reading newspapers, listening to peoples conversations, all have been re-framed for me; based on the trends and analysis of my generation. With just a touch pop psychology, Generation Me presents the information in a package that is accessible by all.

The research is US based and, to some extent, rings true for Australians of the same generation. The trends seem to be generic to western culture, the only question in my mind is to what degree they impact each country. I would like to believe that we have not gone as far as the Americans.

This is a book I’d happily loan to anyone who is in Generation Me, or deals with Generation Me. Most importantly, however, is for those raising the next generation to be aware of generational influences. Without this understanding, there is the risk of compounding some of the worst attributes while missing the benefits.

After all, this is not our parents world, and certainly not that of our grandparents.