[Note: The following was first published in the July 2017 Alberta Outdoorsmen.]
Copyright © 2017 Don H. Meredith, All Rights Reserved.
We’ve all heard the names used to identify different generations, such as “Baby Boomers” or “Millennials.” Giving names to generations is a convenient way for sociologists and demographers to roughly describe groups of people of similar ages, cultures and life experiences. Different generations have different values and attitudes and sometimes they come into conflict.
My parents were born in the early 1910s in what demographers now call the WWII Generation (born roughly from 1900 to the mid 1920s). This generation survived the Great Depression and provided the bulk of people who fought in the Second World War or who contributed to that war effort.
My dad grew up in a rural farming community. He learned to fish and hunt when those activities were considered just another way to get food on the table. He wasn’t much of a hunter but fishing was his passion. My mother also grew up in a rural community. She didn’t fish or hunt but appreciated the wild fish and game that was brought to the table. The two met as schoolteachers during the Depression and knew they were lucky to have jobs.
My brother came along in the generation that followed: the Silent Generation (born mid 1920s to mid 1940s). It’s called the Silent Generation because members, in general, concentrated on their careers and made few waves in terms of social activism, unlike the generation that followed. They saw their parents struggle in the Depression and war years and understood the value of having and keeping a job.
Demographers admit these names and descriptions are broad generalizations that often don’t fit particular individuals. For example, my brother (now deceased) never did concentrate on a single career for any significant length of time. He moved from job to job as his interests changed.
I was born 10 years after my brother, after the end of World War II. That places me on the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation (born mid 1940s to mid 1960s), so called because we were large in number as a result of being born in unprecedented post-war prosperity. Jobs were plentiful for our parents and if we were middle class or better we had access to much material wealth and good educations. We also benefited from the social programs that governments developed as a result of the Depression, such as employment insurance, workers’ compensation and government pensions. However, many of us also saw the inequities in society and became social activists, questioning many of the things our parents believed. It was the boomers who spearheaded the start of the environmental movement.
Like my brother, I didn’t conform to many of my generation’s so-called norms, although I did take full advantage of the educational opportunities available. While I saw a lot of social activism on college campuses and gave moral support to some of it, I did not take part in the activism.
Both my brother and I inherited our father’s passion for fishing. Some of my best memories of that time involve fishing with my brother and dad on a lake or the ocean. Although we didn’t have to fish or hunt to feed our family, it was understood that any fish caught and kept was to be eaten. Catching fish just to release them was not a consideration.
By this time our family had moved to the city. My dad ensured we each went into the Boy Scouts where we would get outdoors and learn some life skills and self-reliance. In those days, the Scouts were very outdoors oriented. Our local troop camped regularly, where we learned woodcraft, orienteering, hiking and canoeing.
Along his way my brother developed an interest in hunting. He passed that interest on to me and encouraged me to take a hunter training and firearms course.
We boomers gave rise to the next generation, what demographers now call Generation X (born mid 1960s to early 1980s). That creative name was assigned because for many years demographers didn’t know how to describe this generation and X in science refers to an unknown. Gen X is a lot smaller in number than the Boomers because the birth control pill allowed more boomer women to pursue careers, postpone child bearing and have fewer children. These children were often left on their own after school before their parents came home from work, and longer during the summers, causing them not to get as much adult supervision as previous generations.
Again, these are broad generalizations. But Gen Xers did not receive the outdoor experiences previous generations did. First, many boomer families moved to cities for employment. Second, often both parents worked and there was less time for getting outside the cities. As a result, the proportion of the population that bought hunting and fishing licences kept dropping. As well, our growing human population placed more demands on resources. To compensate, governments introduced the concept of catch-and-release fishing, as well as lotteries for hunting licences. Gen X was the first to grow up during the rapid technological advances we see today. They accepted home computers and the Internet as part of life more readily than many Boomers.
Millennials and Generation Z
The Millennials (or Generation Y, born early 1980s to mid 1990s) are distinguished from Gen X mainly by their complete emersion—almost from birth—in digital technology, accepting smart phones, tablets, Wi-Fi, social media and the instant gratification they provide. Generation Z (born mid 1990s to mid 2010s) is the last generation described to date. Because its characteristics are still being defined, this generation is mainly noted for being the largest in our North American population, outnumbering Boomers. Both these generations have less time to connect with the natural world than did their elders.
Each of these six generations is distinguished from the previous one by the ever-increasing pace of social change their members have experienced. What used to work for one group in terms of interacting with people, finding a job or having enough time to participate in outdoor activities might no longer work for the next group.
It’s easy for older generations to criticize younger ones for not having the same values or not helping out. I’ve sat in meetings of non-profit organizations and heard people complain about the lack of young people stepping up to participate, and I have to admit I’ve sometimes joined that chorus. But is it fair? Maybe the organizations need to be communicating better with the people they want to step up.
A good example is what happened with the formation of the Alberta Chapter of the Backcountry Hunter and Anglers. At the organizing meetings I was impressed with the number of young, keen and motivated people that showed up to take leadership roles and help make a difference for Alberta’s wild places. Many had been hunting and fishing for much of their lives but had not bothered to join the Alberta Fish and Game Association. When I asked why, they stated they didn’t feel the AFGA represented their values with regard to wild places. They felt the government needed to hear from hunters and anglers who appreciate the solemnity of a true wilderness experience. Perhaps getting people to step up begins with asking the right questions.
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