When Gen-Xers were very young, they roamed unbelted across the backseats of their parent's cars -- child safety seats were optional. No one called 911 when they spotted kids alone in a vehicle. Unsupervised 10- and 11-year-old kids babysat their younger brethren. While their parents toiled at the office, latchkey Gen-Xers of the 1970s ranged freely, a herd of nomadic cyclists with sprinkler-damp hair, Popsicle fingers and playing cards threaded through the spokes of their bikes.
When Xers were teenagers, their parents bought the first home computers and marveled as kids learned to program in BASIC. Carbon paper was out; joysticks were in. Gen-Xers were the first gamers, the first kids to be weaned on cable TV, the first members of the MTV generation.
Born of unprecedented freedom into an era of infinite technological promise, Generation-X seemed, at first, to have been born into a golden age. Xers soon encountered some unease, however. As they became sexually active, AIDS appeared on the scene. As they graduated college, the 1987 stock market crash swallowed the job market. Then, the dotcom bubble burst in the mid-90s, and the jobs Gen-Xers had tried to create for themselves evaporated like smoke.
Some Xers traveled the world -- "Generation X" author Douglas Coupland dubbed this group the "poverty jet set." Some, like Kurt Cobain, started bands and created the soundtrack of a generation. Others lived in their starter apartments well into their thirties, playing video games and holding down menial jobs. Films like "Singles," "Reality Bites" and "Clerks" painted a picture of Generation Xers as overeducated underachievers, slackers and losers.
But is the image of lazy, grunge-y, plaid-wearing twentysomethings an accurate picture of Generation X? Behind the mass-media stereotypes, Gen-Xers were (and still are) quietly changing the world.