I’M A BABY BOOMER, AND I’M FINE WITH ‘OK BOOMER’ by Vaughan Emsley, Newsweek
I’m a Baby Boomer, and I’m not at all offended by the sudden rise of the phrase “OK, Boomer.” Perhaps that’s surprising. If you were to go by some of the media coverage, you might assume that my cohorts and I over the age of 55 are supposed to be uniformly offended by the idea that young people, particularly millennials, have a phrase to reject the condescension and judgment that some folks in our generation are quick to heap on them.
Not this Boomer.
In fact, just like many members of my generation (which is nearly 75 million strong), I feel a connection with millennials. What, you say? How is that possible? Aren’t I supposed to be sitting on a rocking chair somewhere complaining about how “today’s young people” are skipping school to do dastardly things like trying to save the planet?
No. That’s simply not what this time of life is like for me, nor for my friends. In fact, for the first time since my teens and 20s, we feel excited about the wide world of possibilities for what could lie ahead. I turned 60 this year, but I feel like I’ve entered a second coming of age—only this time with experience to help guide me and and money in the bank to help finance my choices. (And yes, I know that financial structures and the growth in inequality are among the many legitimate causes of concern that younger generations are rightfully focused on.)
I do understand the concerns of my contemporaries who feel that their entire generation is being lumped together to receive collective blame for society’s woes. Even before the “OK Boomer” phenomenon took off, we were already getting pummeled with a long series of headlines, such as “The Boomers Ruined Everything,” (The Atlantic), “How the baby boomers broke America (Politico), and, perhaps most surprisingly, “How Baby Boomers Have Killed the Manhattan Power Lunch” (Vice). I’m not sure that last one is in and of itself such a loss to society, although the piece makes good points about “an economic system that has left both millennials and the broader workforce feeling broke, burned out, chained to their desks, and constantly behind.”
Over the years, I have at times heard people my age and older make disparaging remarks made about the younger generations, such as suggestions that they’re not hard workers, don’t understand how good they have it, are too addicted to technology, etc. Many of these are reminiscent of things older generations used to say about us when I was growing up—that we spent too much time listening to music, didn’t understand the value of hard work, wanted too much to be handed to us, etc. To some extent, these complaints are part of the “I used to walk to school uphill both ways” vintage, part of the cycle of life.
We need to hear each other and understand each other. Unfortunately, our culture is currently making that difficult—in no small part due to the proliferation of media images that make us Boomers look like old fuddy duddies.
A recent study from AARP shows just how bad this has gotten. People over 50 are rarely seen in ads, and when they are, the portrayals are often negative. The study found 28 percent of the depictions of people over 50 were negative, compared to only 4 percent of the depictions of younger people. Members of my generation are most often shown, for example, as incapable of using technology and dependent on younger people. It’s no wonder that the image of us as out of touch with today’s harsh realities remains so popular.
In fact, the many, many entrepreneurs of the millennial generation would only benefit if they cast aside creaky ageist stereotypes and engage with boomers as potential customers, allies and partners—not opponents. The same is obviously true the other way around.
The world is facing big challenges. We’ll all do a better job of tackling them when we work together, across generational lines. So this Boomer says to his younger compatriots: OK indeed. Let’s get to work.
Vaughan Emsley is co-founder of Flipside, an agency focused on marketing to people 50 and older.