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(December 1999) [Printed in "Reality Module No.13."]
Generations - A Thought Experiment
It was a delight to discover a couple of years ago that I'm too young to be a Baby Boomer. I'm in the vanguard of Generation X.
But I remember musing about how different things would have been for me at my current age - if I'd been born 20 years earlier.
I am quite certain that if I was my current age and the year was 1979 my circumstances would be different. Rather than being 36, single, living in a rented-flat & struggling to find my quota of paid work - I'd possibly be married with maybe one or two children, paying off a mortgage, and working full- time. (At my age [in 1960] my Dad had been married for nine years, had two children, was living in a small (rented) house outside Traralgon, and had a "job-for-life" with the State Electricity Commission!)
I've missed out, so far, on this domestic scene.
Are things tougher for my generation living in 1999 compared with a life in 1979? Would I have been happier if I'd been an alternative me born 20 years earlier?
In my lifetime I have watched the prices of houses skyrocketing. What once was conceivably affordable now seems like an almost impossible expense. (I was born just a few years too late to take out a mortgage in that time before real estate prices took off!)
I've seen the age of an easy job market with ample employment opportunities die away - and watched unemployment rates climb. (I have been unemployed several times in my life, and even now my hold on employment seems precarious. This uncertainty makes long term planning impossible - no wonder I have not taken out a mortgage.)
I remember in 1979 that most families had one breadwinner, and couples where both people had full-time jobs were pretty much the exception. That is hardly possible now - living expenses are now so high and wages have lost so much of their real value. As a single person I can cope (even on a part-time income) but there is no easy affluence.
Sometimes I envy the alternative me in 1979. I envy him his loving wife and his family - but perhaps most of all I envy his feelings of financial security.
At times I feel like I have been forced by financial circumstances to have a sort of prolonged adolescence - I cannot afford to marry, settle down and help raise children. Sometimes the emotional pain associated with this separation from a fully-mature adult role is intense. (No wonder people are marrying much later now and having fewer children - it is harder and takes longer to gain a measure of income security these days.)
But with me as I am now - I'm not sure I'd be happy with my alternative's life in 1979. I'd like the full-time job & the financial security (and an affordable house) - but I'd probably find his job boring and (because of my family commitments) I'd feel trapped in it. In 1979 they was less room to grow because, for all its faults, the world of 1999 offers us all a far richer palate of career and social possibilities.
And living in 1979 I'd have to cope with the looming spectres of the 1980s and 1990s - corporate greed & corporate downsizing.
A 56-year-old me in 1999 might be unemployed (and unlikely to ever find another job), divorced (all that pressure!) & much unhappier than I am now.
1999 is a tough time to be young in. Gone is the seemingly blissful ease of the 1950s to 1970s for most of us, but it is also a time when the old social and economic structures have began to crack and - like at all times of social and economic stress - the impetus to seek out possibilities for new and very positive changes is enormous.
The whole world is changing around us! The old evils persist but everywhere the voices demanding positive changes are getting louder and louder.
It is the cusp of a new age - and it is a privilege to be living in this time! But like at all times of profound social change, the portents are both exhilerating and terrifying.
The human race has been in its adolescent phase for several centuries now - struggling with power, tensions, and its expanding knowledge. Now we are on the threshold of adulthood - learning to accept our responsibilities as global citizens, gaining wisdom and insights into larger vistas, and learning the value (at last) of working together for common purposes.
Like a child-adult our capacity for destruction is terrifying, but so is our power to blossom new ideas, and our capacity to love one another.
Copyright © 1999 by Michael F. Green. All rights reserved.
Last Updated: 25 April 2003