Blogs » Pop Goes the Culture » Generation Quiet?


As a 20-something in the news industry, I've seen my fair share of older, supposedly wiser veterans in the business take a stab at my generation. They write their op-eds and columns about how what we, collectively as a group, have achieved falls far short of the glory days of generations gone by.

From the flappers to the lost generation to the 60s rebels, Generation X and Y just simply can't compare with our contributions of the grunge movement, Napster and Myspace.

Now usually I just let these accusations slide down my tattooed and Nirvana t-shirt clad back. Time has a way of skewing the truth and hindsight isn't always 20/20.

But every once in awhile, a commentary comes along that, to put it in my generation's term, disses the youth today in such an unwarranted way, I feel I have to make a rebuttal.

And New York Times' Thomas Friedman's op-ed on Oct. 10 did just that.

In the article, Mr. Friedman calls us the "Quiet Generation," essentially saying that while we are idealistic, we are just sitting on our bums playing on the computer as the whole world comes crashing down around us.

And I quote, "But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country's own good. When I think of the huge budget deficit, Social Security deficit and ecological deficit that our generation is leaving this generation, if they are not spitting mad, well, then they're just not paying attention."

"America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism and outrage (it must be in there) of Generation Q. That's what twentysomethings are for -- to light a fire under the country. But they can't e-mail it in, and an online petition or a mouse click for carbon neutrality won't cut it. They have to get organized in a way that will force politicians to pay attention rather than just patronize them."

One, it's nice to know that Mr. Friedman fully expects Generation Q to fix the problems the older generations are leaving us, thus successfully taking the responsibility off their shoulders of trying to fix it now.

Two, and much more importantly, I believe Mr. Friedman is mistaking our "quiet" for what is really a generation overwhelmed by the world's problems and constantly being inundated by those problems with a 24/7 stream of information hitting us from all directions.

What should we protest and light a fire about first, Mr. Friedman? The war in Iraq? Global warming? Social Security? The budget deficit? The chipping away of the constitution? AIDS in Africa? The injustices in Darfur? Gay rights? Illegal immigration? Forcing big business to go green? The declining public education system? The rising cost of healthcare?

While my generation may not be marching on Washington with the same fervor as our 60s counterparts did, I know that we care about what is going on in the world, sometimes so much so it brings us to tears. I know classmates who have joined Doctors Without Borders, Teach for America, have devoted countless hours to creating Web sites to raise awareness about Darfur, convinced their parents to buy a hybrid, protest the Iraq war. We do care, we want to make a difference. Except our way is different.

Overwhelmed with the world’s problems, my generation is trying to change the world one small thing at a time because if we look at the overall picture, it’s enough to snuff the spirit even out of the greatest social change warrior. So we join local non-profits. We donate items to soldiers overseas. We tutor underprivileged children. We encourage our generation to vote.

And maybe it’s not enough. Maybe we do need to get organized, gather in large numbers, let Congress hear us. But to say that we don’t care or what we do means nothing in a world that is even scarier and crazier than it was 30 years ago, that’s not fair to us, Mr. Friedman. In fact, I think our problem is just the opposite. I think we care too much and doing our “quiet” little protests is our way of coping. We can’t possibly tackle all the world’s problems right now and so we are taking it one step at a time. We have to believe that we can change the world little by little for the better or else we get overwhelmed with all that is going on around us that we have absolutely no control over. And we simply shut down.

All generations have been handed challenges they had to overcome. Give us time, Mr. Friedman. You’ll see. Slowly but surely we will tackle each of ours.