Friday 28 July 2017

So, what exactly is an Xennial and can you join up?

Bill Linnane profiles the micro-generation of people born between 1977 and 1983 who survived the analog-digital transition and lived to tell the tale

The Goonies
The Goonies
Blink 182.
Rubik's Cube
Darth Vader
Fr Ted.
Floppy discs.
Will Smith in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Heathers.
Spice Girls
Sony Walkman.
My So Called Life.

Is your name John Paul? Were you named after the guy from Led Zeppelin, or the artist formerly known as Karol Józef Wojtyla? Because if you were named in honour of the former Pope John Paul II's visit to Ireland in 1979, chances are you belong to a recently discovered micro-generation known as the Xennials.

Nestled between the wooly nihilism of Generation X and capitalism's latest ground zero, Millennials, Xennials were born between 1977 and 1983 and are not to be mistaken for Xenomorphs, the monstrous creatures from Ridley Scott's Alien, introduced to the world the same year the Pope came to Ireland. Unlike Xenomorphs, Xennials don't have acidic blood, but they are strange beasts in that they came of age while the world transitioned from analog to digital.

xennial.JPG

They made mixtapes that were recorded on actual tapes, later they owned a first-gen iPod, and now have a retro fetishistic turntable and accompanying 'cool' vinyl record collection. Unlike Millennials, they don't need what LCD Soundsystem called 'a borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered Eighties', as they were actually there.

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My So Called Life.

Coming of age at the dawn of the digital era means Xennials made all the mistakes, so Millennials wouldn't have to. Look at Tom Hardy - born in 1977, his MySpace page was still accessible until recently and was a treasure trove of terrible selfies and awkward braggadocio. Xennials also remember who Claire Swire was and why nobody says things like that in emails anymore (that's what Facebook messages are for, and also, nobody really cares now). And thanks to the wonders of globalisation - a process accelerated by digitisation - the signs that you might be a Xennial are almost universal:

1 TV: Your teenage years were shaped by the emo struggles of My So-Called Life, above, Party Of Five and Buffy, before you were cheered up by the humorously bourgeois debacles facing the guys in Central Perk. You transitioned from not having that many TV channels in your youth, to having too many TV channels, to Netflix removing the need to ever know how to Sky+ anything ever again. You remember when your parents' outrage over Father Ted's sacrilegious take on the clergy became softened in the face of various reports into the fact that some members of the clergy might not actually have been a great bunch of lads after all. You also think that watching Nasty Nick get his comeuppance on Big Brother 1 was your generation's moon landing.

2017-07-06_lif_32621828_I4.JPG
Fr Ted.

2 Internet giants: You once owned or possibly still own a Hotmail account, a sure sign that you are a Xennial. You remember the first search engines, when Ask Jeeves seemed like a sophisticated AI as opposed to the clunky mess you learned it was once you started using Google. You connected with people you didn't really like on FriendsReunited.com, and people (and bands) you did like on MySpace. You remember the banshee's screech of a dial-up modem, the strange thrill of stealing music via Napster, and opening the floodgates of filth and wonder on the internet. You possibly even owned a Geocities page dedicated to Boyzone.

3 Communications: You knew someone in national school whose dad had a phone in his car, and this was the most amazing thing, as anytime you weren't at home you needed to queue up to use a payphone. You got your first mobile at the end of the Nineties and even though older people told you that using it was the equivalent of sticking your head in a microwave oven and setting it to high, you soon became utterly addicted. You transitioned effortlessly from making calls, to sending texts, to WhatsApp, but draw the line at Snapchat as you suspect it may be something like the voyeuristic tech in the noir sci-fi Strange Days.

4 Consoles: You disobeyed your parents to go to the local arcade, when you blew your pocket money playing low-res Konami classics like Double Dragon, inputting your name as ACE (there were only three spaces) when you got a high score. But then you segued effortlessly into the age of the console, where you didn't have to hang out with the school bullies in the local arcade, as you play 8-bit classics at home, learn the basics of computer programming, and become the geeks that inherited the earth.

5 Attitude: The Xennials are mercifully spared the cynical mindset of Generation X, but also avoid the alleged 'special snowflake syndrome' of Millennials, a generation who supposedly believe they can be anything, despite the fact that robots are about to take all their jobs. Having lived through the birth of digital and the dot com bust, followed by the 2008 global collapse, the Xennial is cautiously optimistic that things work out in the end, despite not being able to afford a house anytime soon.

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Spice Girls

6 Music: As a Xennial you grew up on Spice Girls, The Offspring and Blink 182, which explains why you found it easy to never pay for music again once you discovered Limewire.

7 Movies: Every time you see a Millennial wearing a Goonies T-shirt you feel the urge to shout at them that you were there, you saw it first time round in a small town cinema with sticky floors and it scared the bejaysus out of you. You did not see some 75mm restored version on Imax at some festival of postmodernity curated by a 16-year-old hipster who owns an ironic Zune.

8 Consuming: Just as Deliveroo has taken over from actually going out to eat, your trips to the shops and the shopping centre, once a central part of your socialising, have been flung into the dustbin of history. Every day you are wearing a path to the sorting office or Parcel Motel to pick up your latest online splurges, secretly yearning for the days of the shopping trip so that you could control your relentless clicking and collecting.

9 Chain reactions: You remember the first time you read Naomi Klein's No Logo, your idealistic young mind being quite concerned by the idea of Starbucks outlets spreading like a virus. Now you claim Ireland is a Third World Country if you don't have a Starbucks on every street corner, and cite the Geneva Convention if the baristas don't write a humorous interpretation of your name on the cup so you can post it on Instagram.

10 relationships: You feel like the before and after photos in an academic paper on how technology has dehumanised us. You remember real news, eye contact, speaking, and putting effort into writing letters. Now you can't remember the last meaningful real-world interaction you had, and wonder sometimes if you are becoming less human, or just obsolete.

Rejoice then that there are some aspects of Irish society that weren't affected by the digital transition, for just as you listened to your parents droning on about the X Case as you drove to Knock a quarter of a century ago, you find yourself listening to the exact same rhetoric now. So at least that hasn't changed.

Irish Independent

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