The period in which we were born sets the stage for what happens in our lives, good and bad. I’m not talking about a life determined by the convergence of stars and planets but one affected by the generation we belong to. There are benefits that come to every generation, as well as things we miss by virtue of our birthdate.
My parents grew up on farms, as did many of their generation. They suffered the pains of World War II, but found themselves in the middle of a new prosperity when the war ended. This was a time when Americans became homeowners en masse, families could buy a new car every ten years, and a college education was more affordable than it is now.
As a member of the Baby Boom generation, I am benefiting from the safety nets of Social Security and Medicare established by the federal government following World War II. Unfortunately, these may not be available to future generations.
Today’s younger generations have an advantage over mine of not seeing their stress levels rise when faced with a technological challenge. The son of a friend invented the term “compuitive” to describe the intuitive skills his generation uses when it approaches technology. As my friend said, “It’s not the technology itself that’s the problem. It’s that those of us who have felt competent all our lives now feel incompetent when dealing with a new telephone, computer or television.”
Future generations may benefit from cures for diseases that people in my generation suffer from, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. They may live longer and healthier lives. They may solve problems that seem intractable to us now.
I admit to yearning to be in an earlier generation (or to have written something before now) after hearing a literary agent speak last week about today’s publishing world. He spoke positively about dramatic changes in which more people are self-publishing, creating e-books, and going around the major publishing houses, some with great success. He spoke of writers taking the responsibility for marketing their products, perhaps even their own publishing. While never mouthing a discouraging word, he made comments like this: “There are many good presses out there that allow writers to print a small number of books to share with their families;” or “Facebook fan pages can be great marketing tools. One of my successful authors has 4,500 to 5,000 fans.” Even better is: “Give out the first hundred copies of your first book for no charge before raising the price to 99 cents.” These comments suggest that the situation is not so rosy and that some of us may be finding another way to publish, by taking our manuscripts to Kinko’s.
Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for what I have received and am receiving. But some days I can’t help wishing that the world of vanity presses and Amazon publishing had come after I was gone and the cure for certain killer diseases had arrived sooner. That’s the generations’ gap.