Some younger people have been populating the blogosphere complaining that baby boomers have spent the world, had cushy 40 year job plans, retired and are now SKI-ers – spending kids’ inheritances. So young folk are left with climate change, terrorism, sky-high house prices, massive university tuition fees and little prospect of a continuous job until they retire.
I have three responses to this:
- Boo. Get a life and stop moaning.
- Wouldn’t you have done the same?
- Just what did the baby boomers do for us?
I want to concentrate on the last of these.
Each generation should leave the world a better place but it doesn’t always happen. So is the world a better place now than it was, say, in 1950? 1960? Or even 1970?
It is important to recognise just how much the world has changed since WW2 and that this change has been brought about largely by baby boomers – those born between 1945 and say 1960. I grew up in southern England with wartime scars still evident and with the terror of all-out nuclear war, the 4-minute warning which I remember being very worried about. See ‘The War Game’ (1965) which catches the threat we all lived with at the time.
Life was vertically fragmented – parents were often traumatised by WW2, as were their parents by WW1 and the 1930s depression. They did their best, we had a free health service and I had free education through to university, neither of which they had enjoyed. But I didn’t know them as people.
At least there was a sort-of peace.
Food and clothing were rationed in Britain until well into the ‘50s. So the table, wardrobe and toy cupboard was generally quite bare. For people growing up in some other parts of Europe and wider, this must have been even worse. Think Berlin, Hamburg, Tokyo. People started with little or less but just got on with it.
Even afterwards, with the ‘60s revolution that sounds so romantic from afar, there was a distinct division which most parents could not understand. Wonderful music, a sense of freedom but it was all an illusion. Free love and going to San Francisco with flowers in your hair was one response to the nuclear threat, a way of coping.
The revolution never arrived however many marches you went on (and I did). So by the time of the ‘70s, the bubble had burst. There was the disconnected feeling – news came via papers, TV and Life Magazine. We saw the horrors of war in our living rooms each night but could do nothing about it other than get angry and protest.
Anasthetic arrived – credit cards and cheap travel. Since the ‘80s we have been spending – literally – our lives in retail therapy and mass tourism.
But not all of us and not all the time.
One of the few benefits of war is that it accelerates the pace of technology. While rockets were designed to drop megaton warheads, the space race also promoted the development of technology, micro-processors, computers.
This is truly the third industrial revolution but, unlike the first two in steam and electricity, computing has eventually become so democratised that we can carry smartphones, know where we are in the world to a metre or so, and have disposed of much dull and boring work. Bill Gates’ dream (a baby boomer) of a computer on every desk and in every home has more than been realised.
But the major advance which is the engine of today is not just computer technology but the internet. Now you can all realise Tim Berners-Lee’s dream – another baby boomer – of a connected world and speak to the whole planet for the price of a beer or two a month. You can promote yourself and your ideas across the planet. You can find like-minded people, collaborate on projects, and get together virtually or actually.
The internet was developed by idealistic baby boomers with some help from some teenage Generation X. Zuck and co. were still in their prams. Theirs was the vision which we now enjoy, the collaboration for the benefit of all that enables some 8.3% of UK GDP to be earned online.
This also gives most people the chance to be silly together. Facebook’s pages justify Flaubert’s objection to trains. But it is also enormously empowering. For not only was Barack Obama the beneficiary of mass power in his election campaign, so were the people of Egypt, Tunisia and many other places. The internet enables collaboration in a way that has never occurred before.
As a baby boomer, I am lucky. Undoubtedly the world I grew up in was better than that of my parents. I haven’t had to go off and fight in the trenches nor have I worked in a mind-numbing job. I have had a good education and the good fortune to be able to use it and pass my knowledge on.
There will always be a place for conventional work but the future is bright indeed. There are problems but these can be solved with the power of collaborative work.
So, young people are, I think, even luckier than baby boomers were. While I despair of the actions of governments and banks, at least there is the potential for everyone to take charge of their lives and build something. Despite all the issues that still need attention, the world is incomparably a better place than in the early post-war years. I’d swap places anyway any day.
This is what the baby boomers have done for you. Not since the printing press has such a gift been passed on to the children. With this bequest, Generation Y and later can make the world a really bigger and better place. Zuck already has. Let the baby boomers spend their twilight years without guilt. Let them help the next generation, pass on the true altruism of the time and avoid the costly mistake of ‘loads-a-money with no values’.