Am I a prehistoric Millennial?

As a late Baby Boomer, I’ve long felt out of sync with my place in time: Placed near the cusp between Boomers and Gen Xers (what some folks call “Generation Jones“), it’s never felt quite right to me.

Looking back

As a student of history and a captive of nostalgia (a Cancerian trait, I’m told), I’ve tended to look back in searching out where I might’ve been a better fit.

Much earlier in my career, when I was a full-time practicing public interest lawyer, I deeply regretted missing out on the heart of the 1960s. So many of the great civil rights and labor lawyers came out of that era, and I envied their experience.

Today, I’m not as enamored of that era or what it produced. Though the 60s ushered in remarkable societal changes (including those that have benefited me personally), it also spawned a lot of self-indulgent excesses. I have a feeling that I would’ve been a pretty square 60s activist.

I’m also totally, utterly hooked on World War II. I read about it (fiction and non-fiction), and watch countless movies, mini-series, and documentaries set in the era. Despite my anti-authoritarian streak, I have deep respect for the sense of duty and sacrifice that characterized the best of that generation.

However, as a Japanese-American, I know darn well that my life today brings lots more opportunity and acceptance than had I lived during that time. Racial prejudices toward Asians ran especially deep back then, and I very well might’ve been among the targets. So let’s concede that porting myself back to WWII America would be something less than a canny time travel move. (Vicarious nostalgia has its blind spots!)

Me, a Millennial at heart???

But wait a minute. Maybe I should be looking ahead, not back, to find a better generational fit. And perhaps the focus should be on lifestyle, not necessarily on politics and current events.

To my great surprise, I see a lot of myself in an assessment of the emerging influence of the Millennials — Generation Y, born in the 80s and 90s — by Nathan Norris for AlterNet (link here). Norris identifies four trends that are driving classic Gen Yers, motivated by a desire to escape from their safe, suburban upbringings:

First, the Millennials are exchanging safety for adventure: “It should come as no surprise that this over-protected generation now celebrates dangerous and exciting activities like skydiving, rock climbing and bungee jumping.”

Okay, as someone afraid of heights, I’m not exactly jumping off or out of things. But I do go on storm chase tours every summer. A lot of folks think I’m pretty nuts to want to get closer to, rather than away from, tornadoes and severe weather.

Second, the Gen Yers are trading suburban isolation for urban connection:  “They manifest this desire in their full-on embrace of social media and their desire to live in places where they can be around others; i.e., the densest, most active, areas of cities.”

I blog. I do Facebook. I still dislike cell phones, but I’m warming up to my new iPhone. I’ve been drawn to cities my entire adult life, first New York City, and now Boston. I wouldn’t rule out, say, living in a traditional “college town,” but the ‘burbs aren’t my thing.

Third, the Millennials prefer convenience over long schleps to get to places and to buy stuff: “Generation Y has a low tolerance for spending time on things associated with the suburban lifestyle — Saturdays filled with yard work or long commutes in the car. Instead, they want the convenience of living close to the things they need, the things they do, and the people they do them with.”

I’ll take a city condo over a ‘burby house anyday. And my favorite store in my Boston ‘hood of Jamaica Plain is the City Feed & Supply, a tiny convenience/grocery store about 20 seconds away from my door. ‘Nuff said.

Finally, the Gen Yers aren’t much into driving and cars: “Generation Y views freedom as being car-independent. …In fact, Generation Y would rather be on a bus or train where they can work or be connected to the internet and social media….”

Whoa, that’s me! I haven’t owned a car since I moved to New York to attend law school many years ago. A car would feel like a stone around my shoulders (and my bank account). Plus, I’d hardly ever use it! Give me the subway over driving anytime…

There are limits, but…

Well, you won’t catch me riding a skateboard with an iPod clipped to my belt. And I have to admit, I prefer owning a place (er, for now, owning a mortgage) to renting. Nevertheless, just about every day, I put what I need in my backpack and head out for the subway.

Living like this has been an affirmative choice, even if it makes me a bit weird among my peers. (Many friends roughly my age will happily opt for their houses and cars over my modest condo and Boston’s Orange Line!) I first discovered car-free, convenient city life during a collegiate semester in England. Obviously it stuck to the ribs. It’s validating to know that I’m not completely bizarre in wanting to live this way.

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