YOUTH NOW

Why Older People Have Always Trashed Young People

It’s partly fear, partly self-flattery, and partly delusion, and it’s been happening for thousands of years

Jason Feifer
GEN
Published in
9 min readSep 6, 2018

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Illustration: Grace Lee

IIra S. Wolfe is a business consultant in Pennsylvania. A decade ago, all his clients were worried about the same thing: millennials. “Millennials at that point were mostly either teenagers or just getting out of college,” Wolfe recalls, “and they were this horrible, spoiled, rotten, narcissistic, egotistical, lazy generation. Every hiring manager and every manager in the universe was saying, ‘What are we going to do about these young kids?’”

Wolfe’s job was to answer that question. So he did, in a book he wrote in 2008 called Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization. He was 58 years old at the time and meant it as a guide to intergenerational workplaces — a how-to for getting everyone to work in harmony. Chapter nine was dedicated to the workforce’s newest members. He titled it “The Dumbest Generation?”

It is not an exercise in subtlety. Wolfe begins: “What a difference a few decades can make. A young student was once embarrassed and his parents shamed by poor grades on a report card. A young worker was remorseful if he disappointed his boss.” No longer, he wrote. The basic decencies of past generations were absent in this one. Something fundamental had changed. “This is a generation who grew up reading blogs instead of books. They read updates about friends on Facebook instead of reading current events in newspapers. They know more about World of Warcraft than they do about World War II.”

Wolfe, of course, wasn’t saying anything terribly original here. He was parroting what he heard, and what is still said today — that the new generation is a weak echo of the old one. Here’s TV host Joe Scarborough’s version, in a 2017 tweet: “Young men in the 1940s liberated Europe from Nazism and the Pacific from the Japanese Empire. Today, too many stay home playing video games.” And here’s Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, in a 2017 New York Times column: “When I saw students doing their campus jobs, they seemed to have a tough time. Over and over, faculty members and administrators noted how their students’ limited experience with hard work made them oddly fuzzy-headed…

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Jason Feifer
GEN
Writer for

Editor in chief, Entrepreneur mag. Host of the podcast Pessimists Archive, about why people resist innovation. Listen at apple.co/2Cdfm0G More: jasonfeifer.com