I often get irritated when my kids ask to see the photo I’ve just taken with my phone. Instant gratification, I huff under by breath. They will never know the feeling of dropping off a roll of film at the local pharmacy, checking the box to get doubles for friends, and then waiting a few days for said photos to be ready for pick up.
Because they were born into a world of fast-moving technology and constant interaction through emojis and social media, my kids will never know the excitement of passing notes in class instead of texts. But I know both and have very fond memories of sneaking folded notes to my fifth grade boyfriend (my first and only boyfriend, but those few weeks were pretty great).
I was born in a window of time that straddles Generation X and Generation Y, better known as the generation of Millennials. I am part of a microgeneration called Xennials, a word which blends Gen Xers and Millenials. It’s a word that signifies a meaningful time for those of us born in the years between the late 70s and early 80s.
The jury is still out on who gets credit for the term “Xennials,” but in 2017 is was part of Merriam-Webster’s “Words We’re Watching” list. It has also been dubbed the Oregon Trail Generation—OMG was there anything better than a class period of trying to survive Mary having a broken arm or losing five pounds of food because of a wagon fire all before finally succumbing to dysentery? Xennials are also called Generation Catalano for all of us who got lost in the sea of blue-eyed angst and sexual frustration.
Xennials are the blend of two generations. We escaped a lot of the grittiness Gen Xers identify with, but we don’t relate to the idealist optimism of Millennials either. We are a bit jaded with a side of entitlement. We are both nostalgic and in awe of the future. In my humble opinion, Xennials pulled the lucky straw when we were born on the cusp of these two blocks of time.
Millennials don’t realize we were the original selfie takers. We held our 35mm cameras out in front of ourselves, smooshed our faces together and hoped for the best. There were no filters or 45 attempts at the perfect angle. We snapped away on hope and a prayer. And we laughed our asses off when the photos came in, because as imperfect as they were, our glossy 4x6s were the best representation of our youth.
Yes, we were also born in a time where we knew a bit about instant gratification. We experienced Polaroids, but we breathed, studied, and lived in film. We grew into digital cameras and still marvel at the ability of our smart phones to take such great photos.
And when it comes to phones, Xennials can remember sticking our fingers in rotary dial phones. We can still feel the pain of being tethered to a cord phone on the wall. We remember the joy of the cordless phone and the disappointment of a low battery. Pay phones, pagers, bag phones, flip phones, and iPhones. We grew up and into technology. We experienced it in real time, and our growth mirrored its advancements.
We grew up on Rocky, Star Wars, and Princess Bride. And John Hughes movies were like our diaries portrayed on the big screen. Hughes was able to tap into the everyday life of being a teenager, specifically a female teenager. While we fell in love with movies like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles and praised the reality before our eyes, as we’ve grown up, we realize the ways they’re problematic. We see the ways women and minorities were marginalized in pop culture, and are demanding more for ourselves and our children.
Xennials straddle the gap of two defined generations, and it’s like being caught between the yin and yang of energy, somewhere between the movement and stillness of decision making. It can be uncomfortable, but it can be beneficial too.
Unlike Gen Xers, we are not afraid of technology. And unlike Millennials, we appreciate technology and are in awe of the way it has made our lives easier and more exciting.
We have memories that don’t include social media and the pressure of likes, hearts, and cyber judgement. We grew up without our lives all over the internet. But as we connect with high school classmates on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, we also lament the sound of a dial-up modem, the ridiculously high phone bills that went with it, and our parents yelling at us for tying up the phone line.
From records (even 8-tracks) and mixed tapes to CDs and MP3 players, Xennials have gracefully suffered through the clumsiness of noisy inventions to the quiet hum of streaming and WiFi.
I feel like we are the walking version of Billy Joel’s song We Didn’t Start the Fire—which I used as a talking piece in a nerdy junior high history competition at a local college.
Xennials are proud of the painstakingly, yet joyously slow moments of our youth. And we are aware of how good and fast our future can be. We are a nice mix of Stop to smell the roses and Hurry up and show me what’s next.