Generation Me is a product of a massive, pervasive shift in cultural attitudes that took place in the U.S. between the end of World War II and the year 2000. Earlier eras, particular the 1950s, are often characterized as conformist. Culture was somewhat monolithic -- everyone watched the same TV shows and listened to the same music. It was more important to fit into society, wear proper clothing and be obedient to authority figures [source: Williams].
This attitude shifted drastically in the 1960s. The social upheaval characterized by the hippie movement, free love, psychedelic drugs, rock music and "dropping out" of society was the result of a divide between the previous generation's values and the younger generation's desire to focus on individualism rather than conformity. Why this happened could be the subject of an entire book -- suffice to say it happened for a variety of complex reasons and had a major impact on the attitudes of the Baby Boomer generation. Potential reasons for the growth of the counterculture include backlash toward the rigid conformity of the 1950s, greater sexual freedom due to the advent of birth control pill, responses to the perceived injustices of American involvement in the Vietnam War and growth of the civil rights movement and student activism on college campuses.
Even though the Boomers had discovered within themselves a new spirit of individualism, they had grown up in that earlier era, when conformity and obedience were paramount. They embraced individualism, but it wasn't part of the fabric of their childhoods. Their children are a different story, however.
Generation Me grew up in a world that had already established the primacy of the individual as a basic fact. From birth, they were bombarded with the idea that they were special, important, unique and excellent. Where schools had previously taught obedience, they now taught self-esteem. The future was described as holding limitless possibilities, where each child could succeed and achieve wonderful things.
Ironically, Generation Me managed to develop a deep cynicism, despite all the praise and prizes. For one thing, its members saw how hard their own parents had worked without seeing riches and fame, so to them it looked as though working hard was a sucker's bet with no guarantee of a payout. At the same time, they left college to find a crumbling economy that didn't always offer the dream job at the dream salary.
Another possible factor in the creation of Generation Me is the splintering of culture itself. There are hundreds of TV channels, dozens of films released every week, thousands of musicians producing music divided into ever smaller sub-genres. There's very little group identity because there's so much culture to choose from. It's ever easier to feel like an individual. The Internet only exacerbates the issue by fostering a democratization of ideas and making it possible to achieve worldwide fame (if fleeting).
If the change in attitude brought on by the Baby Boomers created Generation Me, what will Generation Me's children be like in10 or 20 years?
- Halpern, Jake. "The New Me Generation." Boston Globe, Sept. 30, 2007. (Accessed May 30, 2011.)http://www.boston.com/news/globe/magazine/articles/2007/09/30/the_new_me_generation/
- Twenge, Jean. Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before. Free Press, March 6, 2007.
- Williams, Ray. "Is The 'Me Generation' Less Empathetic?" Psychology Today, June 6, 2010. (Accessed May 30, 2011.)http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201006/is-the-me-generation-less-empathetic