generation-y_bannerA few months ago, I applied for a librarian position with Semester at Sea.  Considering I’ve spent my entire life so far trying to figure out how to get paid to travel, this seemed like an incredibly obvious route to try.  The job description was pretty standard librarian fare, there were some other lines in there specific to working on a ship i.e. close quarters, being on call 24-hours a day etc. Then there was a big section about working with Generation Y.

There was a link to a full-page document about Gen Y, how they think and process information, how to deal with them, what they care about etc.  I read through it thinking that it sounded exactly like me when I was an undergrad studying abroad–“They drink!  They seem to not really care about anything!  They’re all over the place!”, I figured I’d certainly be able to handle these damned kids with their wacky devices and short attention spans.  Of course, since I had just read all about how erratic this group of people are, I didn’t feel it was wise to align myself with them too much in my cover letter.  Instead I opted for the hug the world/I work well with EVERYONE approach.

Sassy Redhead spent her day recently at a library conference where the covered how to work with Gen Y.  “They will be twittering, and using facebook at work!  They are bursting with energy and need a constant flow of projects!”  Like me, Sassy shrugged and wondered why such a big deal needed to be made about all this.

I actually went to a similar library conference years ago that dealt with Gens X, Y, and Millennials (who I guess are Gen Y, but just a better name, or maybe the slightly younger Gen Yers– who knows, gotta have a label for everything), basically making each group sound radically different from one another and creating the illusion that there is no way these people can possibly all get along.  Clearly, this, not the Rise of the Machines, will be our undoing.

At the end of this conference, the resident Poeish librarian asked the question that we were all kind of wondering but were worried about sounding stupid asking–“Aren’t generations supposed to be longer than this?”  It seems like every decade, there’s a new named generation, but an actual generation is significantly longer than ten years, isn’t it?  Free Online Dictionary says a generation is: A group of generally contemporaneous individuals regarded as having common cultural or social characteristics and attitudes.  Ok, I guess that makes sense.  So is it now that things culturally and technologically are moving along at such a clip that people ten years apart have nothing to say to one another?

I remember when there was a huge fuss made over Generation X–the slacker, lazy generation that ended up doing quite well for themselves.  At the time, I thought I was a Gen Xer, since I was born in 1979, then I was a Gen Yer possibly a Millennialer, but just like my horoscope is on the cusp, so is my generational standing. Can I use the fact that I am of the Y generation (according to some charts) as a tool to get jobs?  Technically these crazy, uncontrollable, mysterious people are MY people.  I should be able to harness their energy and use it for the common good.

I appreciate that the older generations try to embrace (or are made to try to embrace) the new crop of workers that will eventually take over (provided Baby Boomers ever actually retire), but I feel like the dissection and examination of each new wave of people must do more harm than good.  Everyone thought Gen X were the loser generation–turns out that they just thought outside of the box and all that worrying that the sky was falling was a waste of time; now everything thinks Gen Y are overstimulated and impossible to focus.  Is someone going to be able to get away with unreliable and erratic behavior on the job if they simply blame it on their generation?  “I’m Gen Y, this is how I process, can’t help it.”

Maybe I just don’t get it because I am it.  I can’t analyze my circumstances and the way I grew up from within.  Thirty years from now, I’ll probably be lecturing to my peers about how to work with Generation Z, and their penchant for walking on stilts eating honey from a jar while we try to come up with ways to get them to just check email once in a while.