Sunday, 5 June 2011

The legacy of Generation X

When you reach a certain age, you start to think of the legacy that you wish to leave behind. What would you like to be known for ? What would history judge you by ? Generation X , to which I belong, is the post baby boomer generation in the Western world. The generation of transition from Mao to modern China in the Middle Kingdom. The generation that came of age post the Indo-Pak-China wars in India. Our best years may have gone by, but we are young enough to still influence our legacy. So what would history judge us as ?

Alas, my conclusion has to be that of a wasteful generation. A generation that went on a binge and is leaving a debt to its children. Every major country in the world is saddled with mounting public debt, created because we of Generation X wanted instant gratification, but were not prepared to pay for it. Be it health, or pensions, we wanted it all, but are leaving the bills to be paid for by our children. Alas.

We were wasteful also with the environment. More than any other generation, we have done our best to ignore the consequences of our action on the environment. We wanted our comforts but are leaving the clean up to later generations.

Despite given the great opportunity by the baby boomers , who preceded us, we have not been able to abolish war. Or even limit it. Human conflicts continue as ever before - just in a different part of the world. Cambodia, Congo, Afghanistan - the list is as depressing as ever. 

We've also, I am afraid presided over a gradual degradation of values. True we have made some remarkable progress in some fields - we are much more equal at this point in time than at any previous point in history. But overall, moral turpitude is on the ascendancy in a meteoric way.  The word greed, has perhaps taken an altogether new meaning in our time.

We've also not really put our might behind advancement of human knowledge.  No great breakthroughs in science. Yes, lots of incremental improvements, but nothing that would make us stand out in history. Worse, we went backwards in some fields - notably in space science.

Not all is bad however. We do have some accomplishments to our credit. The greatest of them all  has to be the communications revolution, especially the internet, which is nothing short of magic. We've also shrunk the world - we've brought countries and peoples together. More people have visited and experienced other cultures than ever before. We perhaps can claim some credit for the onset of globalisation - maybe one day we will transform into a truly global oneness.

But overall, the report card doesn't look too good. B minus at best. We can improve; there's still time. Maybe move the needle to a B or even a B plus. Improve our legacy to our children. It would be a crying shame if, at the end, our generation would have lived in vain. And didn't leave it a much better place than when we inherited it.

23 comments:

  1. So by some measure, you were born between 1964-1974 ;)

    BTW, I also think, every generation would would feel the same way, about it's past present and future!

    In that sense, Human beings haven't made such great progress ;)

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  2. Sandhya Sriram5/6/11

    hmm.. i wonder what triggered this soberish post from the ever cheerful indigoite...

    can we think back of a generation who have done any better. the pre-gen X were saddled with wars. the decades prior to that with captivity and struggle for freedom and if you keep going back... no report card is a A.

    Lets look beyond the Internet Revolution. let us look at the advancement medical science has made. How cultural boundaries have been broken (not just coz of technology), just because of much more people taking that bold step to break the cocoon and step out of their country (something which Gen X brought to the table), look at the awareness revolution..the way news travels today.. again a Gen X revolution. The construction advancements (phenomenal)..., opening up of money markets, .... there are so many if we start to count.

    Revolution is not about making aeroplanes and rockets, it is about making life better and hasnt Gen X done that.


    What has changed is that there are much much more people and therefore, the balance between available resources and need is closing very fast and thats not attritable to the generation. thats a phenomena which every generation has witnessed.

    Yes there are some areas which have taken a back seat like space sceince. but isnt it more important to prevent global warming that space research. Isnt this generation more aware, more resilient, more advancing.

    Ramesh of all the people cannot write a post like this :-(

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  3. @zeno - Close but not quiet.

    @Sandhya - Sorry - didn't mean to make this a sad one; was just musing aloud. You from Generation Y are far too generous to us. We can, and should have done, better. No doubt you will excel us in many many ways.

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  4. Hey,
    I am not gonna take a B(-)for our generation, easily.
    Its Gen X that has brought in the platform for transition for the Gen Y.
    As you rightly said internet is just short of magic and we have brought it in.
    All the Corporate houses are thronging with Gen X CXOs.
    I think we have brought in a sort of paradigm shift in leadership and innovation.
    OK, we didnt fight wars maybe,but we have brought our country to the top in the IT world.
    True, leaving a lot of baggage, but give ourselves a straight B at least.
    And an A+ for you to be really thinking in these lines! :-)
    Cheer up !!

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  5. interesting point. Every civilization from whichever direction of the planet they may be from, has one uncontested belief that their forefathers where several fold brilliant and just and intelligent with the bare minimal resources available to them when compared to the current crop living in a knowledge explosion era. When communication was restricted to nomadic groups, segregated by geography, discoveries and inventions and creations where breath taking. But with formation of gloabal communities and more scope for brain storming creativity seems to have taken a mighty hit. May be knowledge loses its sheen in shame when compared to selflessness.

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  6. நிலையல் திரியாது அடங்கியான் தோற்றம்
    மலையினும் மானப் பெரிது.
    Gen-X laid all the foundation for good things that has been structured and finished by Gen Y. on my field every youngster will agree that Gen-X is being our inspiration, guidance & leader. Teachers and professors who produce all these young minds are from that Gen X. we are all the reflection of your generation's mind sir. on science part i feel many of our scientist are born before 70's, today's all success story are path'ed & written by them not only in India but all over the world.

    //Revolution is not about making aeroplanes and rockets, it is about making life better and hasnt Gen X done that//
    definitely Gen-X has succeed in that area and we next gen has huge responsibility to carry forward their good works.

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  7. @Hema - OK a B, but unless we stop leaving a mountain of debt for our children, it should really be a C. Which parent would think of leaving a child in debt ??

    @Gils - Very well put. Yes, each generation tends to think of the past with some halo. My scorecard is more with what we are leaving for the future - for guys like you.

    @Venkat - That's a very kind analysis Venkat. As always, there's the good and the bad, but I am disappointed at the amount of the bad.

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  8. K.Venkataraman6/6/11

    Of late plastic money is the bane of society world wide. Everybody wants everything. The desire to have and enjoy beyond one's own means has ruined families beyond redemption. A consumer society abetted by a free spending government has brought in misery and unhappiness. National debts expanding in geometrical proportion is no solution to the welfare of common man. How I envy those long forgotten days when I had to spend every "thambidi and anna"with great care, not hundreds and thousands of rupees for useless things through plastic cards? Once the apple is bitten, days of innocence are gone for ever!

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  9. I agree with a lot of people who commented before me. You are being too hard on your generation. One thing I've observed about a generation before us, was the attitude that, "if we weren't able to do it, our next gen will". You all saw the transitions, adapted beautifully and nurtured the future gen selflessly. This coaching attitude is missing in my gen.

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  10. When you say Gen X leaving behind huge debts, what exactly are you refering to Ramesh?...puriyalai...

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  11. When you say Gen X leaving behind huge debts, what exactly are you refering to Ramesh?...puriyalai...

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  12. It is difficult to look at it objectively. It is like a parent who sees their child daily and not notice much change whereas someone outside sees a lot of change between visits. It is happeneing here on a generation scale. It does seem the change/flux happening is less compared to generations before, but the earlier generation may have felt the same when they went on a warpath. :-)

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  13. @Venkatatraman - True. Plastic has contributed to the debt culture, but even without it, indebtedness is going up and up. Beautiful line on innocence going after the bite of the apple.

    @Deepa - Very kind of you to say that. Your generation is still very young and will achieve many many things, I am sure.

    @Hema - I am referring to the national debt that every country is accumulating. It is all being spent on today's consumption - providing medical services or pensions for us, or as in TN, free colour TV and the like. Governments don't have the revenues for this, so they borrow. Somebody has to repay it someday and that will be our children. Borrowing for investment, like creating infrastructure is fine. But borrowing for indulgence in freebies ??? We must bow our head in shame.

    @RamMmm - True - incremental change is hard to spot, but even if we see my generation's accomplishments after 100 years, I am not sure it would stand out. I can't get the feeling out that my generations has been a wasteful generation.

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  14. Mmmm.I see your point.
    How about the formidable set of entrepreneurs that our gen has produced. Not sure if it is of much help.May be they are leaving some avenues of creating wealth for the next gen to pay back.

    Anyways, you have set me thinking now. An additional sense of responsibility is creeping up.
    Will some austerity help posterity?
    Feels like a mid-life crisis situation.

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  15. Ramesh, there was a very different tone to this post and after reading the comments, can see your point.

    Honestly, the whole idea of generation impact on the state of the world depends also on the legacy left by previous generation. Timing also tests different characteristics of a particular generation. Baby Boomers were no wiser in their affluence either, perhaps contributing to the debts for which you feel bad.

    In a fast changing world, when Gen X took the charge, they took it upon themselves to open the gates for doing business in a different way. You guys helped stitch the culture together. You helped us keep up the spirit high. Your down to earth attitude defined a new way of leadership. Arrogance paved the way for a balanced and perceptive aggression in your generation. Receptiveness is what you taught us. After all, you made us ready for what we will do.

    Com'on Ramesh - we owe a lot to you. With a person like you in your generation, it can't be a shade of "B" :)

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  16. @Hema - One big way to improve the situation is at least not to pile up debt anymore. Balance budgets from now on.

    @Vishal - You are very kind. Yes, every generation has its faults and the baby boomers were perhaps no better. But standout generations - like the wartime generation in Europe, the renaissance generation in middle times, the age of Socrates, Aristotle, Plato in Greece - they were the shining ones.

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  17. தமிழ் தெரிந்தோர் கவனத்திற்கு, மேலே கூறிய குறளின் முதல் வார்த்தை - நிலையில் (நிலையல் அல்ல)

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  18. Very very interesting topic on which you wrote and enlightened us... Is there a good book to read more on this topic? Will be exciting to read. :)

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  19. I was researching a bit on this topic and chanced upon this. Found it interesting.
    http://gadfly.igc.org/papers/strains.htm

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  20. @Vishal - Don't know Vishal. I am sure there are lots of books on Gen X, but this is not an area I have read much.

    @Hema - Beautiful article. Thanks so much for the link.

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  21. U wont believe it but was just thinking abt the VERY same yesterday.....I'm not sure how old u r but I include myself in tht generation. Honestly what has really changed....yes there is more technology & awareness but has anything really changed??? The value of amount of money being borrowed keeps increasing.
    Like u said how is the future generation going to pay for our inadequacies????
    Did u knw UAE is 2nd in the world after US who generates the most waste and mind u UAE is not even 1/10th the size of US....the mind keeps pondering abt the future & the situation as a whole without really arriving at any conclusion.

    I knw, I knw u were talking about a whole lot more than garbage...but I have to limit myself in ur comment section:-).
    And even if I had to write it down I cdnt have brought to the article 1/10th of the depth and the intensity of ur writing:-)).

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  22. But Ramesh everything is not tht black dot on the A4 size [white]paper[remember Preeti's post;-)]. If we look back to the 50's and now....there is a world of difference and so much of it is good too:-).

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  23. @Reflections - Garbage creation, and strain on the environment, is one of the legacies of Generation X. Its not that everything was bad - It did do a lot of good. But the adjective that comes to mind is "wasteful". It could have done so much more.

    There is indeed a world of difference and indeed much good. Need the cheery you to point that out. Thank you.

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