Did I offend the Baby Boomers?

Damn, I may have put my foot in my mouth again…

Wow, I should have saw this coming, in a recent comment by Margie (BTW, I read every comment, regardless of what post it’s put on) is offended, well downright mad at my post on the impacts of Gen Y and Boomers.

Here’s Margy’s comment in its entirety, she raises some valid points, and they deserved to be brought up, here’s the comment she just left:

“Your blog entry is days old, so you probably won’t see my post here, but it’s taken me days to calm down from your post to sputter anything back. (Jerimiah, you made me mad!) I’m a Boomer but in no way ready (or financially able) to exit any stage. When did Boomer (hate that term, btw) become a pseudonym for old fogey anyway? Here’s how Boomers described ourselves to each other in an iconic (for the time) book-cum-manifesto, “The Apartment Book,” dated 1979. Sounds a little bit like the optimistic twenty-something rhetoric of 2008. “Through most of the seventies [we] struggled to invent and interpret a way of life that did not follow the old patterns. For the first time, because of the radical changes of the sixties, young people were not automatically following their parents’ paths to marriage, children and a house in the suburbs. Rather, they were searching, alone or in paris or in groups for a place to live that would express their own values. The community of young people who were, by God, going to live their own brand of life – even if they weren’t so sure what it was yet. Because we come from various persuasions and backgrounds, we approach our subject matter with new eyes. The only discipline is a shared commitment to making real ideas happen, without …hype or the tyranny of status names.”

I still believe that. And I bet if you went back further and checked on contemporaneous advertising and magazines targeting young college graduates of the early 1950’s post-war generation just entering the workplace, you’d again find that same open-eyed wonder at the opportunities before them.

The ready-for-anything attitude you describe can’t be pigeonholed into tired marketing classifications like Gen X or Gen Y. It doesn’t come and go like actors on a stage or styles in fashion. It’s something that, if we’re lucky, attacks us early and stays with us throughout our lives.”

First of all, I’m sorry for offending you, I sincerely mean that, that was never my intent.

Secondly, the post is based off data, and my duties in my day job, as it’s an accurate observation of what is, and what will happen. In fact, I’m working on a Forrester report looking at how boomers use social media (coming in the next few weeks) so this is top of mind.

As an analyst, it’s my job to categorize, segment, and describe trends, and for what it’s worth we didn’t create the “boomers” classification.

Regardless, Forrester classifies the Boomer generations in two segments, Younger Boomers (42-51) Older Boomers (52-62). My previous post was obviously referring to the older boomers, and I’ll suspect that you Margy are of the younger group.

These aren’t pigeon holes, and nor are they intended to de-personalize the individual. They are useful for those who make decisions to see the big picture, make sense of it, and do the right thing.

The fact of the matter is that some older boomers have already started to retire (congrats!) I’ve former colleagues who retired as early as 60.

So to clear up any misconceptions, in my original post, I should have indicated I was mainly focusing on older boomers, those that are getting nearer to retirement within just a few years.

This post is intended to be an explanation and an apology, I’m concerned it could potentially infuriate others further. I’ll forgo that risk and make a public apology.

Humbly, Margie, (and anyone else) I seek your forgiveness and understanding as I continue to explore these generational issues as it ties to web strategy.

24 Replies to “Did I offend the Baby Boomers?”

  1. Since I used to make a living crunching numbers and doing market research, I understand where you might be coming from, Jeremiah. There’s always a need to categorize, simplify, and generalize. I’ve found though, that even when you do that, the distribution of the characteristics you’re tracking tend to be pretty broad. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t understand the differences between even basic statistics such as a median and an arithmetic mean, and the push to create punchy PowerPoint slides means that it’s just plain easier to generalize. Now we have categories like “younger boomers” and “older boomers.” Sigh.

    You have to understand that people resent being pigeonholed by marketers. If you watch the evening network news, you get the impression that everyone over 50 cares only about urinary problems, laxatives, and bone density.

    I’ll let you in on a secret – we also like to have fun.

  2. 1) I’m horrified to hear that I’m a “young boomer”. I prefer to think of myself as a decrepit Gen-Xer.

    2) In fairness, Dennis, you CAN have fun with laxatives, bone density and urinary problems. It just takes a little creative thinking.

  3. Jeremiah,
    The trends here are irrefutable: older people leave the labor pool and are teased for their habits. Newer people join the labor pool and think they are the first to differ from their parents. It happened to my parents and it will happen to your children. I thought you picked your way through the facts and sensitivities quite well.

    The irony of course is that while social media is a breakthrough in connecting with multitudes of people as individuals, its analysis seems to require the same segmentation and grouping that the reviled mass marketing developed into a science.

    My only quibble is with Forrester’s definition of Younger Boomers. Any chance you can change the upper end to 52? No reason, really… um… I’m just asking for a friend of mine.

  4. I’m a “young boomer” (43) but have never felt like a baby boomer. I don’t know any baby boomers over 51 who aren’t “set for life” due to a mixture of hard work and “right place, right time”. I do know many “Young Boomers” who are struggling though; it seems that “Young Boomers” have a lot of “wrong place wrong time” for whatever reason! Ah demography, we could talk about this for hours!

  5. I fit into the “older boomer” category at 58 much as I try to at least pass a younger boomer. While I use a lot of data for my living, the fact is data is only a single component of judgment and even trends can be deceptive. If you read your own writing in the post Jeremiah (and you know I think you do GREAT work), most of it says “considering” retirement – which is a long way from retiring. I don’t doubt that boomers will retire from their current jobs but there are two things to think about here – “retiring from a job” doesn’t mean “retiring from work” and there is data out there to support the fact that it is almost more of a major career move than a retirement in the old way. That’s the second thing. “Retirement” might mean something else than the easy traditional definition to a boomer that you’re not accounting for. There’s data out there to support that too – both numbers and anecdotal The other side is that there are numbers that have been released recently on the impact that the social change in communication and the cyberworld have had on people 62 plus (even older here) and they are engaging on the Internet at a rate twice ANY other segment. In the U.S. there will be more than 25M online by 2009 (theoretically at least). So recognize that because we are once again undergoing a significant social change – not just a business one – the norms are tending to get thrown out the window or at least, patterns and definitions and thinking are all shifting so that things like exit stage right actually could will mean and then enter stage left too.

  6. I’m somewhere between baby boomer and Gen X status and have never felt like either. I had a professor who did Boomer research and I tried to explain to him that someone born in 1946 and 1964 had such different life experiences (I was in preschool when they were out protesting the war!) that he shouldn’t consider them to be part of one generation just because they all fell within a certain bell curve. Even 5 years, much less 15 years, can make a huge difference in the social conditions one lives under (e.g. whether Bush was President or Clinton).

    I guess in the world of stats, I’m a splitter not a lumper. I know I have some shared characteristics with others AROUND my specific age but you go 10 years in either direction and you’re talking major differences in life experience (as I’ve discovered when dating!). But sociologists and marketers sell books packaging people into “generations” (always broadly defined) so I expect that the public will continue to hear about it until the statistics reveal other counter-trends (and I think it is just a matter of time, personally).

    Numbers always rule out over people’s perception of themselves and others. We’re a science-loving society and professionals would rather trust in numbers to define reality than listen to what people actually say and think about themselves. JMHO.

  7. As an older Boomer (56), I think I can safely say that one of the biggest problem with members of my cohort is that they get offended about everything. Last time I checked freedom from offense was not one of our Constitutional Rights. So, keep up the good work, Jeremiah, and don’t worry about offending anyone.

  8. I read your article and chuckled a bit, Jeremiah. No offense taken. Being a Boomer, but a younger one, I knew you were focusing on the older Boomer segment.

    Yes, the issues you pointed out in your original article can be a problem, vast amounts of intellectual capital walking out the doors of American companies, while donning white shoes, Bermuda shorts, and boarding a plane for Arizona or Florida.

    Me? I’m not near retirement, nor do I want to be. Being self-employed, I’ll keep working until I can’t. They’ll have to pry the keyboard from my hands before they put me in the box.

  9. Thanks Jeremiah for the transparent discussion. I think we would be better served as researchers and marketeers if we just tossed all of our stereotypes and demographics out into the trash altogether. When are we going to classify people by their interests/passions and not by their age, where they live, how much they earn, their family heritage, and on and on? The long tail and the net was going to do this. People who use demographics to target audience are the old fogies here. I recently heard a saying, “In today’s interconnected, transparent world, we are all a market segment of one.” Now that’s a very new way to look at companies connecting with customers.

  10. And, just to remind you – some Boomers were doing this stuff, web strategy, a dozen years ago. While the technology may have changed, the goals and application were quite similar to the same goals that exist today. Those of us that tried to implement these techniques 10 years ago just had different challenges.

    And, I totally agree with the comments that “young boomers” are not set. It has been a constant struggle in these times, and I fear I’ll be working until I’m 80!

  11. Jeremiah,
    I have noticed a trend of folks starting to default decisions for Web 2.0 implementations to late Gen X and early Gen Y individuals solely based on age. While I understand the need to “classify” people for research etc.. too much attention to this classification specifically around technology usage and understanding can do more harm than good.

    I can’t speak for all young boomers but I am not in a position to retire anytime soon.

  12. This is a really interesting discussion. As an elderly boomer and part-time blogmaster for http://www.greatplacesinc.com, a website targeting those of us who are “sandwiched” between our aging (and often pretty infirm) parents and our acquisitive (and often pretty clueless) children, I think one of the most signficant contributions that our generation will be remembered for is what we’ll do after “retiring.” Unlike our parents, the Baby Boom generation–which is undoubtedly the most influential in our history–will continue to do amazing things. Unheard of things. Without a reference to his politics, how about the phenomenal work that Al Gore has done? Watch out, Gen Xers, Yers! Our best work is still ahead of us.

  13. which is undoubtedly the most influential in our history

    Never mind that Revolutionary Generation that birthed it all, or the post-Civil War Reconstructional, that re-birthed it again or the Depressional, that managed to survive in the worst of circumstances, or the Greatest Generation, which made modern society, surviving a great war.

    History is best written, from a future vantage, but at least the Boomers are undoubtedly the most arrogant, byproduct of having no real challenges to overcome.

    And Gen X, if we are to persist in pointless labeling, hasn’t even really yet found a voice, drowned out by the constant yip-yapping of the Boomers. Exit Stage Right already, young, middle or old, just go, and take your $4 cups of coffee with yah.

  14. I wasn’t offended … even as a member of the older cohort of the babyboom generation and card carrying ARP member .. I’m one who is heavily engaged in social media – OFN is okay .. if it stands for “old farts network” versus “Old Foggy Network” — in fact I started one for those of us elders who use social media. We’re young at heart. We won’t have t-shirts, but ratty cardigans. You’ll hear up pipe up in meetings and talk about the good old days – of dial up, DOS, the Well, PINE, etc.

    We’re a different segment of the babyboom – we were early adopters in the early 80’s and have continued to be ..

  15. Son, you are young. In time you will come to understand the wisdom of your elders. Now, let me see..,. what were we talking about and where have I put my spectacles?

  16. As an “older boomer” and Financial Advisor, I must admit, boomers (all of them) are my worst customers.

    Boomers are disloyal. The meaning of “loyalty” is foreign to them. They want everyone to kiss their collective asses. And boomers are cheap…more so than the generation before them. If you born before 1964, I will not work with you. Please find someone else.

  17. I was born on December 25, 1964, therefore labeling me as a baby boomer. Had I been born a mere 7 days later (thats only 168 hours later), I would have been labeled a Gen X’er.

    I do realize the need to put “hard” dates onto population groups to put forth statistics, trends, etc… but I believe the classifications are far too broad and generalistic.

    My life is dramatically different than someone born at the opposite end of the “baby boom” (which would be someone born the first week of 1946), and I so much resent being called a baby boomer. I don’t even remember the Vietnam War while it was fought or man landing on the Moon. I never remember NOT having a microwave to cook with. The national events that I recall, the TV shows I watched, the schooling I was provided was sooo different due to technology. America’s 200th Birthday in 1976 was one of the first national events I CLEARLY remember, while my so called fellow (older) baby boomers were already 30 years old with kids almost my age.

    Sure, I do remember stuff from 1969 or 1970 — The Banana Splits, Sesame Street, my Hot Wheels cars and GI Joe. The older boomers were graduated from college and watching Meet the Press.

    Needless to repeat that I detest categorizing us merely by a birth date on the calendar.

  18. 1) I'm horrified to hear that I'm a “young boomer”. I prefer to think of myself as a decrepit Gen-Xer.

    2) In fairness, Dennis, you CAN have fun with laxatives, bone density and urinary problems. It just takes a little creative thinking.

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