i think a lot about generations, and lately there is much discussion about the baby boomers and the millennials. i see in the millennial generation such parallels with the baby boomers: the narcissism, the entitlement, the lack of empathy, the desire for bigger better more without a sense of consequence. with all of the drama surrounding the last election much was said about the contrast between the two generations, with baby boomers on one end too absorbed in their version of the past & millennials “too busy posting selfies.” on the other. in the middle of this is my generation: generation x. we are a generation that clearly remembers life before computers, smart phones, and social media, but we also got in on all of it as it came to be. as the era of selfies sank in i felt the sort of millennial burn out that baby boomers complain about, but i also have an understanding of it that my parents don’t have.
the baby boomers are a generation raised by stay-at-home mothers. apart from the occasional babysitter, they were rarely left alone. they were also raised in the “american dream” era: the leave it to beaver, tv dinner, tract-home, suburbia era. everyone strived to be as cookie-cutter as possible, individuality was discouraged, and if you were different you were interrogated, humiliated, and sometimes even assassinated. even their rebellion from the older generation was about the collective: they had group protests, they formed communes. they were all together all the time. they looked alike and dressed alike and sang the same songs and recited the same mantras, over and over. they grew up and invented starbucks and turned mom & pop discount stores into mega stores, shopping centers into malls and founded big businesses. they never understood the “selfie” because they were never allowed to declare their vanity or show their vulnerability or their individuality. these things were deep, dark secrets to them.
generation x, on the other hand, was the latch-key kid generation. we are a generation left mostly to our own devices. large numbers of us were raised by single mothers, and we had to fend for ourselves and many of us took on the role of taking care of our siblings (and at times our parents) as well. we didn’t have the internet or on-demand or reality television. the limited amount of information that we had, coupled with the lack of supervision left us with wide open fields to fill in with our imaginations. we are a generation of investigators and inventors, with boundless curiosity. we took what information we had and created something of our own with it. we are self-taught and self-disciplined. we took pictures of ourselves because we wanted to figure out how to use a camera. we took pictures because we were lonely, or bored, or felt invisible to our parents and to the world. we took pictures because it felt like a magic trick to set the camera up, turn on the self timer, hear that “click” and not know what it would look like. seeing the result when you opened that envelope and looked through the photographs was like getting an issue of sassy magazine in the mail or being lucky enough to catch your favorite band’s video being played when you turned on the television. there was mystery involved, and enough space to process it and digest it and create something out of it. there was also no photoshop and there weren’t a million eyes on you, authenticity was more important than perfection.
in high school my friends and i would take pictures with film cameras, have the pictures developed and then write little captions for them on paper which we would cut out and scotch tape to the borders of the pictures, and mail them to each other. a sort of pre-historic instagram. from pre-digital days i have film and polaroid self-portraits that i took of myself, and when digital cameras came out i took more than my fair share of self-portraits with them. hundreds, to be honest. i took them with crappy point and shoot cameras, plastic toy film cameras that allowed light leaks and had colored strips of plastic that you could put over the lens (the original “filters”). i took them with my mother’s cannon a-e1 film camera, with a bulky cannon digital slr, and by the time the iphone came around, i felt like i’d taken enough (ok, ok, i still take the occasional selfie).
looking back through all of the pictures that i took over my formative years, i see a lot of questions that are specific to my generation. generation x wonders, “do i exist to my parents? am i unique and creative? do i exist cosmically (because space)?” millennials instead wonder, “am i famous?” and, “am i pretty enough, skinny enough, rich enough, do i look enough like celebrity a b or c? do i have enough likes and followers?” i feel like self-portraits are about self-discovery, and perhaps selfies are about self-promotion. and maybe that’s the core difference between generation x and the millennials. certainly you can’t call an entire generation shallow, but when i look at millennials on social media, there is a competitiveness and a drive to publicize everything that just doesn’t appeal to me. i’ll take my mediocre self-portraits and all of the flaws that they show. because i see myself in them, my own unique self.