In the late 1980s, a lot of people unloaded album collections they’d been cultivating for decades. CDs had come and vinyl was considered the detritus of the past, like a box of old cords or video games for extinct systems. CDs supposedly had superior sound. They weighed a fraction of what an album weighed. And all music of the future would be made on CDs. The only thing albums were good for was melting in the oven to make retro chip bowls. Albums were cumbersome and scratchy. Albums were for losers.
Fast forward 15 years where CDs are hung from porch roofs to scare away bugs and made into art celebrating obsolescence. iPods had come. Your entire music collection fits in your pocket. CDs were cumbersome and scratched if you looked at them hard. All the music of the future would be virtual. CDs were for losers.
Fast forward again and the news is starting to creep out that Millennials and Plurals—the post-Millennial group that accounts for one-fifth of the U.S. population—are cultivating weird habits. They’re buying record players and reviving vinyl. And that’s not all. A lot of them prefer watching movies on VHS. They like the experience of writing on paper with a pen and don’t want to be distracted by the internet. They’re canceling their Facebook accounts and taking technology “sabbaticals.” They’re going analog.
It's not about us or them
Some Millennials will say this is just a “them” thing. They grew up with technology and sometimes want a break from it. But the whole time they were growing up with technology, GenX and Boomers were being pushed by a technological and social juggernaut that said the person of the future will be an entirely different creature and you can either get on board or get left behind. There were predictions that paper books would be replaced by electronic reading devices; social media would be the center of our social lives and influence; if you didn’t download every app the moment it started trending you’d be out of the loop; you had to use an endless stream of acronyms like ROFLMAO even though they suggested that you frequently suffer debilitating hysteria. Unless you jumped in with both feet and stayed on top of the trends and changes, you’ll be engulfed by the wave of the future.
If you didn’t download every app the moment it started trending you’d be out of the loop; you had to use an endless stream of acronyms like ROFLMAO even though they suggested that you frequently suffer debilitating hysteria.
Many GenXers and Boomers were willing to take that risk.
So bottom line, needing a break from technology isn’t a Millennial thing. And it isn’t a Boomer thing. It’s a human thing. With all the focus on the differences in generations—and the media does seem to love to stoke that story—the trend toward embracing analog seems to indicate we all have a lot more in common than we think.
Two eyes, two ears, etc…
While technology is changing things fast, humans are humans. We can’t possibly evolve as fast as tech and we live life on a lot more dimensions than the digital one. Short of entering the Matrix, we can only venture so far into the virtual world before we sense that something’s missing.
Millennials and Plurals are indisputably faster at adopting and using new technology. But according to Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosenthing, authors of The Distracted Mind, Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, just because someone was born in a generation with lots of really fast technology doesn’t mean their bodies are built for it. They argue that our brains are simply incapable of keeping up with the level of input. There is, for example, no such thing as multitasking—the ability to do many things at one time. What’s happening when we appear to multitask is that we just switch from one task to another. Some of us do it faster, some slower, but something is lost every time we switch.
And it’s not just our brains that are being left behind. The human body has billions of sensory nerve endings, most of which are totally left out while you’re plugged into an electronic device. You can see, and you can hear. If you’ve got haptics you can feel something. But the reason so many people get nauseated when they wear VR headsets is that we have all kinds of internal systems built to interact with the real world in multiple ways. If you ask book lovers of any generation what they like about books it isn’t just the story. It’s the feel of the fabric or leather cover; it’s the smell of old dusty paper. Vinyl lovers will tell you the quality of the music is better than electronic music. But also there’s something satisfying about the heft of a vinyl album sliding out of the cardboard cover, of setting it on the turntable and dropping that needle. It’s more of a ritual than hitting search and play.
Good stuff is good stuff…
Since the beginning of time, different generations have ragged on the one behind about their crappy music, art, and fashion. But a lot of the things that were once called trash—like the music of Mozart and the paintings of Van Gogh—have been recognized as genius by not just their generation but many generations after them. That whole thing about calling the current method of expression bad is just a holdover from an old mentality—it’s all intolerance, whether it’s about race, gender, or generation. And it keeps everybody from growing. Just as Boomers and Xers need to get current with technology, Millennials and Plurals need to recognize the contributions of generations before them. A lot of them already have.
That whole thing about calling the current method of expression bad is just a holdover from an old mentality—it’s all intolerance, whether it’s about race, gender, or generation.
The top 500 songs for Millennials include a lot by The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley and the Wailers, the Jackson Five, Creedence Clearwater, Ray Charles, Little Richard, the Ramones…. Millennials and Plurals are the most diverse generations ever and they like a lot of different stuff. Chances are they know a lot more about Chuck Berry than most Boomers know about Ed Sheeran or Vince Staples.
Chocolate chip cookies, salsa dancing, meditation, aviation, these were all invented by people who are dead now. Virtual reality, self-driving vehicles, the sharing economy, these are all about today and the future. What makes them awesome—if you think they’re awesome—isn’t the generation they came from; it’s how creative they are and how they’re going to impact the world.
Love of adventure
Everybody knows the old stereotype that young people go backpacking around the world, staying in hostels and riding trains while older people stay in fancy hotels and do group tours of museums. Not anymore.
The economic downturn of 2008 gave a lot of people a perspective jolt. People who had spent their lives saving for retirement lost everything and started wondering, “If my security can be stripped away that quickly, why am I killing myself?” They started looking for more meaning—work they enjoy that would let them also travel and have a life. A lot more people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s are taking to the road and staying in hostels and Airbnbs, and even couchsurfing. Older people who stay in hostels aren’t worried about being kept up by a bunch of partying kids. They’re more concerned about making younger people uncomfortable. Interestingly, though, we often have less of an issue around age in our travels, than we do in the workplace. We expect different experiences, rather than to be in their familiar comfort zones.
Older people who stay in hostels aren’t worried about being kept up by a bunch of partying kids. They’re more concerned about making younger people uncomfortable.
Speaking of comfort zones, those older travelers aren’t staying in theirs, either. While they may still visit museums and historical sites, according to The Adventure Travel Trade Association, 40 percent of clients on adventure travel tours are between the ages of 50-70. The global average age for an adventure traveler is actually 47 and in North America, it’s 48. Travelers are heading for Africa, Scandinavia, South America, and the Mediterranean. So that’s another thing people of all generations have in common: We want an adventure.
And what about the boring stuff, like domestic life? More than 50 percent of all adults over the age of 18 are single and 17 percent of those are over 65 according to the U.S. Census. Nearly 70 percent of homes in the U.S. have either cats or dogs—or both—according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. People of all ages do yoga, run, and do CrossFit. There’s Netflix streaming, gourmet coffee, and Bernie to keep us all happy.
There are a lot more things that unite us than divide, no matter how much some people like to focus on the differences. So, next time you can’t think what to say to a coworker of a different age, just invite them out for an artisanal beer and talk about Machu Picchu and David Bowie. It’ll be fine.
Susan Lahey is a journalist who lives in Austin and writes about everything that piques her curiosity including travel, technology, work, business, art, sustainability and cultivating deep, messy, exquisite humanness in the digital age.