Xennial is described by Merriam-Webster as “a word that refers to people who were born on the cusp between Generation X and the millennials.” I was born in the mid-’80s, and often feel like I can relate to both Gen X and Millennials on a cultural level, however I don’t fit into either one completely.
Those of us who belong to this increasingly fascinating group grew up right alongside the birth and widespread growth of the internet. Our early childhood days rarely had us on screens, with the occasional treat of playing Tetris or watching TV. By the time we were 10, some form of Super Mario was present in most homes, but riding our bikes to the pizza shop, playing kickball or reading a book was the more common choice of activity after school.
If we were assigned a research report in 6th grade, we packed a bag with index cards, notebooks, pens and highlighters and walked to the library. We copied from books instead of Wikipedia, and prepared color-coded cards instead of Google Docs. We had to handwrite semi-plagiarized paragraphs, changing a few words here and there to make it kosher, instead of copy pasting with a mouse. Same trick, but it required more effort and was a lot harder for teachers to catch.
As we began our teenage years, you could find us in the AOL chatrooms, talking to both friends from school and strangers hiding behind screen names. We experienced that initial, global thrill that came from speaking to people all across the world in an instant. The world was literally opening up in front of our eyes. Our children will never have that thrill. The first thing they saw was their parents texting the world about their existence.
We were naive, as the dark side of the internet was in its infancy, and not nearly as widespread as the filth available today in every corner of the web. Using our real names on the internet, not to mention voluntarily posting real pictures of ourselves online, was not yet a thing. We could be silly with our friends, pull pranks on each other, sing at the top of our lungs, and dance around the room without having a camera pointed at us and without the knowledge that everything we do will be shared with our entire world.
We are a strange creature, this Xennial. I happened to grow up in a family where advancing technology was embraced by my parents, and I often was among the first on the block to receive the newest inventions. I remember the parade of multi-line telephones, beepers, car phones, cell phones, DVD players, a discman, and a big fat MP3 player, all brought excitedly into our home by my parents.
The collective “we” of our generation slowly gained more access to knowledge than our parents had. We weren’t smarter than them, for their wisdom had and always will, far outshine our own. After all, they come with their own history and experience that’s richer than ours by virtue of having existed for longer. We were beginning to understand the vast world of information that was available with a click. We started to create relationships with people that we wouldn’t previously have had access to, and their experiences and opinions began to influence our own.
We learned how to shop online, and all of a sudden almost every single girl in 9th grade was wearing the same shirt, albeit in different colors. I’m not exaggerating on that one; I can remember exactly what that striped, boatneck GAP shirt looked like. We learned how to program numbers into cell phones, and that calls and texts were only free on nights and weekends. We slowly gained access to ways that improved our lives, eased annoyances, and with those advancements in technology came free time, and yes, a degree of entitlement.
We went from using rolls of film to digital cameras between high school and college. Suddenly, we didn’t have to be careful to secure only the best pictures. We had as many as we wanted; caution was no longer necessary. We didn’t have to drop the film off at the store, and return to pick up the pictures a week later. We just transferred our files from the camera card to snapfish.com and it would be mailed to our house within a short time. What did we do with the extra time it would have taken to go the photo store twice? Maybe we blogged. Wrote about how we view the world, kinda like I’m doing right now. Whatever it was that we chose, that scenario repeated itself over and over. Trips to the video store on days off from school got replaced by Netflix mailing you DVDs, which turned into torrenting movies on our laptops, all without leaving the house.
We have more pictures of our younger kids than our older ones, because between child #1 and child #3 we went from flip phones to iPhones, and the digital camera disappeared. With child #3, our high quality cameras are never more than a few seconds from record mode.
Our older children are starting to see videos of themselves that we posted ten (!) years ago on Facebook, and maybe they’re asking why we posted them for the world to see without their permission. We have such a unique set of circumstances fueling our choices and decisions as adults and as parents, and while we may make some mistakes, they’re ours to make, just like every generation before us.
We’re an interesting bunch, and I think we’re starting to do a damn good job at parenting in this time of brand new challenges, as our children enter the age of technological independence. We have a head start on living with technology infiltrating every single aspect of our day, yet we can still control the amount of screen time our kids have. Us late Xennials/early Millenials are starting to have been around long enough for our own wisdom to begin shining through, and settle us down a bit. Those of us on the younger end of the Xennial generation have kept up with technology advancing, instead of falling behind. Hopefully we can use our weird mix of life experiences to instill in our kids the importance of a carefree, outdoor childhood, yet still be able to monitor and guide their way through an increasingly complicated web out there.