As a millennial, I am embarrassed by the ‘Ok boomer’ phrase that has been sweeping through social media. For the uninitiated, ‘Ok boomer’ has become the go-to response to dismiss attitudes stereotypical of the boomer generation.
It is argued that millennials are tired of trying to explain the difficulties they experience from everything such as buying a house, managing finances or caring for the environment, among other issues. Given boomers’ propensity to downplay the concerns of millennials, ‘Ok boomer’ is now the general comeback to the perceived lack of awareness or empathy from our parents and/or grandparents’ generation.
Put simply, it is the latest development in the, shall we say, generational conflict between millennials and boomers. Why am I embarrassed about it? Because it shows a fundamental lack a self-awareness, a profound disrespect for others’ views and an unwarranted projection of arrogance.
While millennials indeed face difficulties entering the housing market and, generally speaking, boomers have benefited the most from the property boom, it is unfair to simply assume that someone’s attitude is coming from generational privilege. It is also ageist to dismiss an individual’s perspective on the basis of when they were born.
We millennials would do well to consider a few things before dismissing people with a lazy two word catchphrase. The first is to realise that many boomers have experienced the most disruption to their lives due to recent market and technological changes. Millennials are far more adaptable to shifts in the job market wrought by disruptive technology, whereas boomers were often trained for one occupation for life.
Boomers lived through the onslaught of job redundancies as our economy shifted gears at the turn of the century. It has been boomers who have seen their manufacturing jobs shipped overseas. It is boomers who have experienced first-hand the disruptions in our agricultural industry. It is boomers, those lucky enough to hold their positions, who have needed to upskill, retrain and adapt to the vast digitisation of industries that, for millennials, has been taken for granted.
Millennials often complain that life was simpler for their parents, that it was easier to juggle the demands of a career, parenthood and a social life. Perhaps. If we accept this proposition, what is missing from the conversation is the acknowledgement that boomers have been managing these demands during the very disruptive transition from this ‘simple life’ to the perceived much more difficult one now. They lived through it.
If life is harder now (which I don’t believe it is) then one can only imagine what it would be like trying to prepare for retirement when the entire pension and superannuation system was revolutionised halfway through your work life. Maybe a boomer can tell us. Many boomers were forced to delay retirement after their super funds dwindled during the Global Financial Crisis. Remember, they were the first generation to be told they could not rely on the pension alone.
Who is most susceptible to online scams? Boomers. Millennials may laugh at how mum and dad often struggle with the demands of new communication technology, but consider for a moment what it must have been like for people in their middle age to learn entirely new methods of communication proficiently.
We are the main beneficiaries of the digital revolution that has left us never needing to worry about time consuming chores such as collecting cash from a bank before it closes or physically paying bills. Entertainment in the form of film, television, music or books is now fulfilled with the click of a button and without the need for physical purchase.
We grew up in an era of cheap flights and travel packages. For most millennials it was a rite of passage to travel overseas in our twenties. For boomers, this was the case for the privileged few. Many of them are catching up now, taking travel tips from their sons and daughters.
So when a millennial just writes ‘Ok boomer’, what they do is dismiss the experience of that person who has most likely walked through the difficult crucible of change that has led to where we are today. We might do well to pause, consider and listen. It is wrong to just assume that boomers are privileged know-it-alls lecturing us from the top of the property ladder.
Rather, they are the victims, lessons and successors of decades of progress, and for that, they deserve more than a pejorative catchphrase.