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Whatever Happened to Gen X? And What Can We Do About Them?

Whatever Happened to Gen X?  And What Can We Do About Them?

Last week I spent the day with directors of fifty of the largest companies on the planet.  They were talking sincerely, informally about deep issues in their mega-companies and I was struck by how many of them said that one of the biggest human problems they face in the contemporary workplace is the 30-40 year old managers who absolutely do not feel like twenty-something digital native, entrepreneurial, social-media savvy hipsters  . . .  but are way too young to feel like geezers ready to be put out to pasture or to sit around lamenting about the "good old days."

Last week I also spent an afternoon talking to the Coursera people about my upcoming MOOC on The History and Future of Higher Education( https://www.coursera.org/course/highered ) and asked to see demographics for various courses:   the 30-40 year old range was the single most representative age demographic.    Turns out education isn't just for 18 and 80 year olds . . .   lifelong learning may well be most urgently needed for those (barely) 30 and already seeking to get some of the old MoJo back.

 

This morning, on Facebook, I posted about this, wondering out loud how many people 30-40 are turning to MOOCs to get some of the education they may be feeling they missed.  Or because they are under-employed (the demographics also suggested this might be the case).  Or just official or unofficial members of the Bored at Work Network (to allude to Jonah Peretti's brilliant activist alliance which seems to pull strongly from this demographic too).  My Facebook friend, Roopika Risam, self-identified as part of this age cohort, noted:  "My  entire adult life consisted of the Dot Com bubble bursting right before I graduated from college, 9/11, war, recession, housing bubble burst, etc. "

In my small city of Durham, NC, AKA the "Williamsburg of the South" for all its alternative music, food, organic farms, political movements, queer-positive vibe, art scene, intellectual life, etc, thirty-somethings dominate the locovore alt movements away from corporate life (or corporate-academic life).   Is it time to redefine what a Gen-X'er is? 

 

These really fabulous, noble, earnest, cool Gen X'ers occupy a different universe than the twenty-something Silicon Valley types (stereotypes, admittedly)  like Evan Spiegel, 23, and Bobby Murphy, 25, the two former Stanford frat boys who, I read today in the NY Times, are resisting selling their company Snapchat for billions . . . not out of some value of crowdsourced sharing that belongs to All of Us  (hear that, Jimmy Wales!) but because they are convinced they can get even more and more and more billions for a photo and video message sharing app where your messages disappear as soon as they are viewed.  

 

How to solve the Anthony Weiner Problem?  Forget digital literacy.  Just make an app where you can send sexually steamy images knowing that they can be disappeared forever as soon as they are opened.  A major social problem of our era hath been solved!   Techno-problem created.  Techno-solution found.

 

Maybe not a Gen X kind of solution.   Maybe not. . .   Maybe not. 

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