I had the privilege of dining with a group of senior citizens recently. Actually, let me be honest, I was in a seaside café and a posse of grey-heads ambled in, straight off the coach, looking for ‘tea and a wee’.
Listening to their conversations as I ate, I noticed just how much of it was framed with dissatisfaction. If a subject came up, it was introduced by saying how bad it was. The coach driver, the weather, the cost of stamps, an absent spouse and more were fair game. ‘Why does everyone rush everywhere?’ one asked. More prosaically, and with more murmurings of asset, another chimed in with ‘Why did that coachdriver not stop for the toilets?’ Coach tour veterans all, they began a recital of possible toilet stops on the M6 that would have put Google Maps to shame.
The topic switched to young people and sure enough, they received the same treatment. If I’d been a young person walking in and overhearing this moaning I would have been dismayed. I appreciated that for this particular group of elderly companions, griping was just how they discussed things – they all seemed perfectly cheerful and I am sure they had no intention of upsetting anyone. But it provided an example of how communication between generations has become something that isn’t always perfect.
Oldsters complaining about the youths around them, or vice versa, is not new. But popular media and corporate marketing is, I believe, exaggerating these tendencies to our disadvantage. You may be familiar with the terms ‘boomer’ and ‘millennial’, although a few years ago you probably were not. These new words have their origins in American marketing jargon and would most effectively be translated as ‘old people’ and ‘young people’. But all too often you will read breathless articles accusing ‘millennials’ of being idle, workshy internet addicts or ‘boomers’ of being out-of-touch money hoarders who poisoned the planet. For example, the top entry on Google search autocomplete starting with ‘How did boomers…” ends with “…ruin the housing market?” For “Why do millennials…” one can soon find the ending “…hate working?”
Strong words. But do we actually think like this about old and young people we know? Generally not. Research suggests although we sometimes struggle to communicate with those of a different generation, we almost all want to do so, and find it positive when we do. Sadly, when negative stereotyping is repeated it gets reinforced, and people end up believing it is true. There has been a regrettable history of popular media using stereotypes to fan the flames of hatred – foreigners, the poor, muslims, migrants and more have been targeted in the past for bigotted criticism. I suppose we must have run out of minority groups to hate, so the next targets we are being offered are our own children and grandparents. I hope we are all grown-up enough not to fall for this cynical marketing ploy.
Some intergenerational mysteries can’t be so easily explained. For Google autocomplete on the phrase “Why do boomers…” bizarrely, the top answer is “…love minions”. Do old folk like minions? If so, why? I’d never even wondered about that until I started researching for this article and now I really want to know. Please, can anyone old enough help me out?