These COVID-19 times have changed everything: from our lifestyles and livelihoods to day-to-day routines. The virus has affected the economy, education and even insurance actuarial tables. And now it seems the pandemic is changing labels and blurring the lines between generations. For instance, take the label, Zoomer, which once meant members of Generation Z, people under 25. These days when we say Zoomer, we might be talking about anyone using the online chat platform, Zoom. And that includes the Baby Boomers – many of us aging hippies and newly-minted grandparents.
Ironically, this global health crisis is intensifying the division between generations, while it simultaneously blurs the lines by creating cross-generational behavior. Until recently, using smartphones, tablets and online messaging platforms was the domain of the younger generation, millennials and zoomers (definitions provided below). These days, it’s the old fogies who are eagerly logging on. Instead of the 1960’s mantra, ‘tune in, turn on and drop out’ many of us are tuning in, turning on our laptops and staying online. It’s a new world out there – with Zoom connecting people. Sorry, Nokia, I know that’s your slogan, but it’s Zoom that’s doing the connecting these days.
We have actual human heroes during this crisis: health workers, supermarket employees, and others. But we also have a digital hero: The online platform Zoom is helping to save people’s livelihoods and relationships by enabling online communications faster and easier than ever. Thanks to Zoom, retirees who had never used a computer before are able to enjoy remote visits with family and friends. And in the process, grandparents are learning from their grandchildren, which makes for some hilarious conversations. “Oh no, Tommy, hold on – your face just disappeared from my screen. How do I get you back? Oh wait, I’ll try clicking here. Oops, that didn’t work. Oy vey, what just happened? Where did you go?” “Grandma, don’t worry. I can see you. Move your mouse down to the bottom of the … No, no, I didn’t mean to pick up the mouse and put it down. I mean move the cursor – that little arrow thing on your desktop. No, not THAT desktop, I mean the computer screen…”
One positive side-effect of this pandemic is the hope that we will become more human and more caring. Inter-generational antagonism ends in the COVID-19 reality – as people reassess priorities and soften, forgetting slights that now seem petty in the light of this terrifying pandemic. Many young people have come to appreciate both the value and vulnerability of their elders in this COVID-19 era. This virus which seems to target and threaten the elderly disproportionally, has somehow brought us closer, while physically splitting us apart. As we isolate and distance ourselves, we are learning how to come together using the tools of the digital age.
Boomers versus Zoomers: that’s what we were laughing about less than a year ago, in another life. That was back in the second half of 2019, before the corona virus turned the world upside down. What’s a Boomer? What’s a Zoomer? Glad you asked. First came the Boomers: We’re the ones born in the population explosion that followed WWII. We’re the ones who remember Beatlemania, the first Earth Day and Woodstock – unless we were actually there, in which case, we probably just remember the long drive up to Yasgur‘s Farm and maybe the first day of the festival, before the pharmaceuticals and the rain kicked in… But I digress…
So here’s a Guide for the Generationally Perplexed to explain the age categories and labels being used by marketeers and social media.
• Baby Boomers were born between 1944 and 1964, currently aged 56 to 76, making many of us retirees.
• Gen X was born between 1965 – 1979 and are currently between 41-55 years old
• Gen Y, or Millennials, were born between 1980 and 1994. They are currently between 26-40 years old.
• Gen Z, also known as Zoomers: This is the newest generation to be named and were born between 1995 and 2015. They are currently between 5-25 years old.
A word about Gen Y: The Millennials are NOT as bad as any of those business management articles make them seem. Some stuffy management types would have you believe that these millennials are all entitled and self-centered, in need of constant coddling and instant gratification, making them borderline unemployable. None of that is true. I have managed, trained, and coached millennials as employees, students, and volunteers. Just the fact that most of the volunteers I work with ARE millennials should tell you something about that self-centered label: fake news. Many millennials are far more concerned about humanity and the world around them than their elders.
Okay Boomer! Just a few months ago we were enjoying the internet memes and jokes. Comedian Ellen DeGeneres, a Boomer herself, held Baby Boomer vs. Millennial contests – though most of the so-called Millennial contestants were actually under-25 Zoomers. The most hilarious scene in my opinion was when Ellen challenged a teenager to use a rotary phone. Google ‘Ellen rotary phone fail’ if you want a laugh. Hey, who doesn’t need a good laugh these days?
Now that the boomers have become zoomers, maybe we can all get past the stereotypes and learn from each other, just as grandparents are learning from their grandchildren. It’s a blooming, booming, zooming, world.