Xennials: The New Jan Brady?

Evidently there is a new micro generation called the Xennial. This is the poor soul who is trapped between the optimistic narcissistic entitlement of the Millennial and the confused grunge rock cynicism of Generation X .

Generally aged between 34 and 41, there are the folks who landed with one foot in both camps. They are not disheartened products of the Baby Boom who ask themselves “why participate?” Neither are they frantically Snapchatting in an attempt to chronicle their own narrative (“Look at my lunch! Isn’t it pretty?”)

Dan Woodman, a sociologist in Australia defined this term (pronounced Zeen ee al) to defrock the middle child who knows what both selfies and dial-up are. Most of the articles I have read about this are strewn heavily with pop culture references (ex: The Goonies vs Stranger Things. Nirvana vs. The Atomics). Woodman calls it the in-between generation who don’t get an identity of their own.

When I first read this, I rolled my eyes and internally asked “Really? Because this seems to be middle child syndrome (Marcia Marcia Marcia)”, and then I realized I was doing exactly what many of the articles did, for the exact reason. And, fair enough, the greatest human desire is to be known, so okay, maybe.

The problem is that I still don’t know why this particular definition exists. I call myself a Gen Xer (Gen Y?) but this is because I am defining myself by the things I experienced that my younger teammates in tech have no idea about (hand turned xerox machines; getting up to change the channel on the television) and things The Greatest Generation told me about (Party lines, black and white televisions). Also, what exactly IS a micro generation?

chart copied from Sammiches and Psych Meds

The generations are defined by year of birth (to the left is a helpful chart), but I would argue that technology itself might be the harbinger of these sociological definitions. WHEN technology existed and HOW people understood it, are the demarcations for these made up Generational categories. That and financial wealth. This means these generational demarcations are now about technology as the salient point of privilege.

When I ran this article by a few friends, (I choose both Millennials and Gen Xers) an interesting thing happened. EVERYONE resonates with the xennial definition (including me), so I began asking myself why. And the answer is that it is written in the positive and not the negative. The wikipedia definition for Generation X reads:

Members of Generation X were children during a time of shifting societal values and as children were sometimes called the “latchkey generation”, due to reduced adult supervision compared to previous generations, a result of increasing divorce rates and increased maternal participation in the workforce, prior to widespread availability of childcare options outside of the home. As adolescents and young adults, they were dubbed the “MTV Generation” (a reference to the music video channel of the same name) and characterized as slackers and as cynical and disaffected. In midlife, research describes Gen X adults as active, happy, and as achieving a work–life balance. The cohort has been credited with entrepreneurial tendencies.

It isn’t until we get to the LAST TWO LINES that anything positive is said, and based on the fact that most Gen Xers are now in middle age, this addition is recent.

Millennials have been remarked about in the workplace as being entitled, hard to manage and overly sensitive, yet idealistic and optimistic, until they aren’t. Well, shoot! Who wants to be associated with that moniker? Especially compared to something titled The Greatest Generation? It will be interesting to read the last two lines when Millennials get to be middle aged.

To me, this is not really about needing an identity as it is about understanding demographics and the likelihood of a given attitude within an age group. Xennials say they don’t identify with GenX or Millennials. Probably not. As pointed out, most definitions of both generations are negative and extoll the worst whiny bits of the privileged classes. In fact, they are usually about the negative personality traits that arise as a result of historic moment that is based in technology. Cultural knowledge is shared by those of a similar age, but also a similar geography, and similar usage of tools. Can we truly define entire populations by temporal lines without looking at technology?

Xennial is just another way for a researcher who looks at users and user experience (me) to understand a user’s story. I am not sure there is another reason to have this term, except to show how clever Dr. Woodman is at mashing up words — (and judging from the dates on his publications, he falls into the xennial category himself. I’m just saying). Regardless, the the title is an interesting one and allows for a greater understanding of technology as a starting point in understanding a population.

Xennial who notices things. Believes in the end user, good research and Mentoring Programs. Writes about her personal journey, and about UX as uxresearch_snax

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