The era of the baby boomers is defined as Americans born during the post-WW II period between 1946 and 1964. The high birth rate of over 76 million is credited to the post war economic boom that introduced the middle class to the U.S. Due to the large volume of GI’s returning home, Congress passed the GI Bill of Rights in 1944, launching benefits for our soldiers that included VA low interest or low/no down payment loans for homes and farms and low interest higher education opportunities. The children that were born to this more affluent middle class became known as the “baby boomers,” and they shared in the wide spread benefits of a country experiencing growth.
There was a lot going on between the 50s and 60s including sprawling suburbs and strip malls to new schools and infrastructure to accommodate the families. Boomers became the first generation to be raised watching television, going to the drive-in theater, and having access to cars.
But grumbling in the background of all of this success was a mounting Cold War, the over pollution of the planet, and then the Vietnam War. We saw the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, and the First Earth Day; and the boomers stood up, protested, and demanded that these issues be viewed. The 60s also brought about an entirely new ideology for the young people, including peace, love, drugs, psychedelic music, and the advancement of communes. This was a generation empowered to see beyond the “establishment” style of living of their parents, where social status and ownership reigned supreme. To say that their parents were confused is an understatement. Boomers parents had grown up in the devastation of the Great Depression and they were devoted to giving their own children a better life.
Boomers received some of the highest benefits of any generation, including about 1/3 attending college. It was during this time that societal changes took some drastic turns, bringing about the “hippies” that encouraged a simple life of returning to nature and sharing love with each other. If you walked into any town, especially on the West Coast, you would see every young person wearing bell bottom blue jeans, tie-dyed shirts, and flowers. Conversation included the sharing of the latest music, whatever drugs were being passed around, and often any of the new activist movements that many participated in. Every apartment had posters on the walls, sand candles, and lava lamps, and there were always debates about politics or philosophy. The boomers knew that they had a single moment in time that they could use to catapult a country and possibly the world into major change, and they wanted to accomplish it.
So What the Heck Happened?
I constantly hear complaints from a variety of millennials that blame baby boomers for the state of condition of the country. I can’t say that I blame them, boomers inherited a rich economy and while so much change DID occur, there was a lot that didn’t happen. However, no generation typically blames previous ones, and this included those that suffered through the Great Depression.
Boomers had the incredible option to continue with the dreams of staving off greed and value of physical objects and instead, moving the country to a stronger, better and more loving condition. The fact is, this required a lot of commitment and work, and as boomers got a bit older they fell prey to the very “establishment” ideas that they had held in disdain.
A good friend had been a cool, easy-going, member of the baby boomer generation. He was known for sharing, giving, and caring. If you met him now, it would be difficult to believe, because he has turned into a money-grubbing, angry Libertarian. I asked him “what happened” and his answer to me was “I grew up.” My response was that he didn’t grow up, he grew mean. One doesn’t completely change your personality from a positive to a total negative, unless one was false.
Sadly, many of the peace and love generation were just following along as a trend.
As the boomers aged, had families, got better jobs, and bought houses, they transitioned away from the former trend, and simply adopted a new one….the one that they vowed to never take on.
This isn’t to say that the entire generation bought into the establishment. There are an incredible number that continued with their dreams, participating in and making changes on a local, state, and national level. Many of these individuals have recognized the importance of the voting communities and have joined forces to try to get candidates elected that will continue to support the rights of others and expand into newer and more beneficial situations. These are the liberal baby boomers, and the largest volume are (of course) found on the West Coast.
However, as we have observed in some of the voting results, it appears boomers as a whole, have become more conservative, less tolerant, and are prone to following so-called “news” that appears closer to propaganda. How did a generation that had such great ideas take a complete and opposite turn? What happened to their critical thinking abilities? Their desire to make the world a better place?
Then Came Technology
While baby boomers were focused on their own lives, their kids were fast-learning the newest technologies that were exploding onto the scene. There was a large group of boomers that were working in these tech fields, helping to develop some of the very devices that we use today, but a majority of boomers were simply not paying attention.
When the internet became a hot commodity, boomers had little or no interest and it was at that moment that the great divide occurred. Boomers viewed tech gadgets as the toys for their kids, the games that they played, and really didn’t want to take the time to even bother to learn. There was a period of quite a few years where their kids were advancing technologically and they were leaving the boomers in the dust.
Early technology wasn’t easy, in fact it was quite difficult to use as well as large and cumbersome. If you didn’t know the operating system and the usual tech support tricks, you could find yourself with useless devices. This kept the boomers from even wanting to know anything about the booming tech areas, but not so their kids.
It wasn’t until cell phones became so prevalent, laptops less costly and easier to use, that boomers began to make use of them. Add to this that social media and smart phones have introduced them to an easy-to-use world of high tech that doesn’t require knowing much at all.
Their adaptation or lack thereof, may be the answer to the nagging question as to what happened to them. You see, life was easier when they were growing up and maybe when that changed, so did they. When the economy is good there are always so many positives that happen: people seem happier, donations to non-profits soar, focus on family and friends are a priority.
When life takes a turn for the worse, personalities change.
Boomers may be one of the largest percentage of those watching faux news (Fox News) and this may explain why so many have become so angry and mean. They can’t tell the difference between truth and propaganda, and since they are getting older (and that really sucks), they are selecting the brainwashing stuff rather than the truth.
To be fair, there are an incredible number of things that we can give baby boomers credit for and these can include environmental benefits with the establishment of the EPA, the end of the Vietnam War, escalation of attention and political legislation for civil rights and women’s rights, and the attention to the plight of the Native American (to name a few).
Nothing is ever black and white, and when it comes to the topic of baby boomers, there are a lot of shades of grey. Maybe if we turn on some Led Zeppelin, they will close their eyes, remember, and smile.