A Primer on Generation Jones: Q & A with Jonathan Pontell

I was born in the mid-1960’s. Depending upon which demographer you believe, I am either one of the youngest Baby Boomers or one of the oldest of Generation X. I don’t particularly feel that I belong to either. I was born after the JFK assassination, which I think is the real dividing line between the two generations. Do you have any memories of the day he was shot? If not, you are not a Boomer. But I feel older than the people who are GenXers. What happened to my generation? I don't think we have been named yet.
The paragraph above is the first paragraph of the first blog post that I ever wrote. It was more than seven years ago on April 29, 2006. I still feel that the assassination of JFK, nearly 50 years years ago to the day, is a huge dividing line, forever changing everything.

I've been watching a lot of the coverage on the news and saw a report by Bill Flanagan on CBS Sunday Morning, that I thought was particularly poignant. The text from the report is here and I've excerpted part of it below, which discusses the generational shift on that day.
My father always said that the day JFK died was the day our country went from optimism to cynicism. His death changed the way his generation saw their country and themselves. 

They went almost overnight from young upstarts to the old guard, the squares, the Archie Bunkers. Their own kids were so loud and entitled that they told them to get out of the road, the times they are a-changin', don't trust anyone over 30. 

Within five years of the Kennedy assassination, the World War II generation went from being the embodiment of youth to the Silent Majority. 

It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. That's why, 50 years later, the death of John F. Kennedy still resonates so powerfully with those of us who were kids at the time. It was the moment when our parents went from believing in all the great things that were going to be, to regretting what might have been.
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Since I wrote my first blog post, I learned that my generation does have a name. It's Generation Jones. The phrase Generation Jones was coined by Jonathan Pontell. Since I'm especially interested in the topic, I contacted Jonathan and he answered a few questions for me via email all about Generation Jones. Here they are below.

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LJ: How and why did you to come up with the term Generation Jones?

JP:  At a personal level, I never felt like I was part of the Baby Boom Generation, despite what the so-called experts said back then. I remember my social studies teacher quoting one of those experts to my high school class back in the 1970’s, and the class immediately bust out in laughter, because it was so obvious to us that we weren’t part of the Boomer

I didn’t give it much thought until many years later, when I heard that the “experts” had finally identified our post-Boomer generation, which they were calling Generation X. But when I looked into what they described as Xers, I quickly realized that they had, once again, ignored people my age, because we were no more Xers than we were Boomers.

It was at that point that I realized I was part of a lost generation of Americans, and decided that I would try to arrive at the key common denominators among people my age that made us a cohesive generation, to determine which birth years were the correct boundaries between our generation and the surrounding ones, and to come up with a name which encapsulated our generation.

A key motivation that began this process came for me one night on a beach in India when I became teary-eyed when suddenly hearing MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech, and realized that there was something special about being a real child of the sixties; that the idealistic zeitgeist of Love & Peace stoked our young impressionable hearts in a way that was residual and lasting, and that our collective voice needed to be heard now that we are adults.

Originally, I thought that I was toward the leading edge of this generation, but extensive research led me to realize that I was more in the middle. There were many other surprises for me as well, which led me to do a very detailed analysis of a huge amount of quantitative and qualitative data before I felt like I had arrived at an accurate portrait
and understanding of who this generation is.

The name “Generation Jones” came out of a long process which eventually generated around 650 possible names for our cohort. I then did several surveys to try to find the most popular of these names, and Generation Jones was overwhelmingly the favorite name of the several thousand people surveyed.

LJ: I read that you were planning to put on a Generation Jones conference in New York? Can you tell me about it?

JP: Yes, we will be holding The Generation Jones Summit in New York City, and we’re quite excited at the level of interest we’re already seeing about it. Several high-profile political figures and entertainment celebrities have already expressed interest in becoming involved in it, and we’ve already had quite a few offers of sponsorship.

We want to make the event truly memorable, since it will be the first large gathering of Jonesers of its kind; we anticipate over 10,000 attendees at the event. We’re approaching this in a very diverse way, and will have A-list speakers and detailed workshops looking at GenJones in terms of politics, business, culture, technology, entertainment, etc.

LJ: I was born in 1964 but feel like my contemporaries are still lumped in with the Boomers or Generation X. I don't feel a part of either of those generations. Too young to be a Boomer and too old to be a GenXer. I was so relieved to learn that my generation actually had a name, but find it frustrating when people don't use it. Everyone should know it. Why isn't the Generation Jones term used more?

JP: It’s an ongoing process of education and spreading awareness. Unfortunately, the concept of a 20-year long Baby Boom Generation had already become so entrenched in our national mindset, that it now takes a kind of re-education, almost having to de-program people from an established mythology.

Those who do research in this field have generally enthusiastically embraced the GenJones concept and birth years, since their data typically reveals stark differences between Jonesers and the actual Boomers, who were born from approximately 1942 to 1953, and from GenXers, born from approximately 1966 to 1978. Many large corporations have spent significant resources to understand GenJones consumer behavior, leading to some huge corporations very specifically targeting Jonesers distinctly from Boomers and Xers. Quite a few prominent national political campaigns have very actively targeted Jonesers with both policy initiatives as well as in their messaging.

But while the GenJones concept and name have become quite widely used and accepted by political, business, sociology and demography experts and thought leaders, there are still many everyday people who haven’t even heard of it. They are, of course, understandably busy in their daily lives, and not spending sleepless nights obsessing about their generational identity.

But it is pretty remarkable to see the very enthusiastic reactions many Jonesers have when they do hear about GenJones. I hear over and over from Jonesers who felt an “a-ha moment” when first hearing about it; confirming an intuitive feeling they’ve long felt that they weren’t really part of the Boomer or Xer Generations which they’ve been lumped into over the years.

There is certainly a growing collective consciousness among Jonesers about the existence and relevance of our long-ignored generation, and the more we all spread this awareness, the more our generation’s voice will be heard. It feels like Generation Jones will inevitably become a household term, but there is still work for us all to do to get it there.

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I'll do all that I can to help spread awareness! Thank you so much to Jonathan for naming our generation and telling us all about it here!

For more information about the The Generation Jones Summit in New York City, keep checking the Generation Jones website.

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Photo Credit: Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. President and Mrs. Kennedy descend the stairs from Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, TX, 22 November 1963.

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Can-Can said…
This is a very thoughtful post. Thaks for it. In terms of identifying with your generational label, I have mixed feelings about that. I was 9 when President Kennedy wa assassinated. The bus from school stopped and the driver and teacher started crying. Assassinations continued to come throughout those young years of mine. Living in a conservative place in a conservative black family meant that some actions, activities and thoughts were just not on the table.
I cannot impact how others label me because of my age and stage of life but I have always been clear about how I label and identify myself and this has all changed as my awareness and self-efficacy and feelings of power and powerlessness change. Mostly now, I am really about being a human on the planet earth doing the best that I can and being as positive as I can be especially in the daily oppys to interact with my sister humans.
Lisa Johnson said…
can-can - Thank you! I guess it was seven years in the making! Part of the reason the generational stuff interests me is because I was around two classes away from being a sociology major. I loved all those classes and this stuff fascinates me! But like pumpkin spice, not everyone is into it. : )
Dave Sohigian said…
Thanks for the thoughtful post. I am still wondering about the unique qualities of Generation Jones vs. Boomers/X'ers. What is it that makes Jones different from those generations? There are very clear definitions of the qualities of Boomers, including that they are idealistic, individualistic and moralistic. Same for Gen X'ers who are pragmatic/cynical, Machiavellian and individualistic (the one quality they share with Boomers). But what characters define Generation Jones?

Feeling that you are not part of a generation is very common for those on the cusp. In some ways, this is exactly what defines the break-point between generations. But much like a fish that doesn't get to choose the water it swims in, we can't change what generation we are born into. So although many X'ers (and Boomers) feel they don't relate well to most people in their generation the fact is that "most people in their generation" is what defines the generation's character. So I still wonder, "Does Generation Jones Exist?"

P.S. Thanks, Lisa for asking me to comment on this post. I should mention that Pontell is NOT a fan of my blog because I have brought up the same questions in the past. Often my comments on blogs like yours are immediately followed up by an "anonymous" post disparaging my comments. Just FYI.

Also, I would highly recommend reading the works of Neil Howe and William Strauss. Their theories are what really brought me into generational research.
Lisa Johnson said…
dave - Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I definitely don't want to be in the middle of any feuds here, but I certainly believe that intelligent minds can and often do differ.

I guess there are many people on generational cusps and it is hard to say what defines a generation exactly, because we are all individuals. I was talking to my mom about this and she feels that she was born on a cusp too and that her generation was never named. One of the things that she mentions as she grows older and friends and family pass away, is that she loses her context. People who are the same age or generation just "get" certain things that we don't have to explain, because they lived it too. I have noticed that lack of context with some Boomers and GenXers.

But again, a lot is individually based. Also, personally I think it's good to have friends of different ages and generations, because we can learn from each other and get different perspectives on things.

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