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‘Okay, boomers’

Posted November. 16, 2019 07:33,   

Updated November. 16, 2019 07:33


The English word “Okay” means “fine” or “got it,” but when the tone of this expression‎ is tweaked, it could mean “I got it, so no more talking,” effectively indicating indifference. Young people in the U.S. cry out “Okay Baby Boomer” these days when they express discontent to older generations about the latter’s lack of attention to issues threatening the safety of future generations including income inequality and climate change. The expression‎ has become vogue after a 20-something female member of the Green Party reacted by saying “Okay, boomers’ when she was booed by fellow lawmakers while delivering her speech on a bill to cut carbon emission at the New Zealand parliament early this month. Young generations are thereby refuting older people’s criticism that “Young people today are weak and are constantly complaining about the world,” simply by saying “Okay, boomers.”

U.S. online media Vox introduced a 2017 interesting experiment of experts on childhood psychology and behavioral science, which was conducted by a research team led by John Protzko, professor at University of California, Santa Barbara. When the survey asked 260 cognitive psychologists on the results of 60-year eval‎uation on children’s patience, 84 percent of the respondents said the score would have declined over time. The reality was quite the opposite, however. The results of actual assessment suggest that children of today are more patient than those from decades ago, when those psychologists were young. This shows that even experts are not free from generational prejudice.

Then how and why groundless prejudice against different generations emerges? Researchers say that humans’ memories are the same as a video editor that selectively displays memories, rather than a video player that presents the past intact. When recalling the past, humans are significantly affected by “presentism” through which they come to reflect the situation and thought of the present, researchers added. For example, if a person’s relationship with someone deteriorates, the person comes to recall negative memories about the latter. When we say “When I was young” while recalling the past, we might be imagining the past from the standpoint of the present.

It is not just grown-ups who have prejudice against other generations. Disregarding older people and antipathy towards other races often emerge from groundless prejudice, and ruthlessly takes our society apart. For this reason, if someone uses the expression‎ “Okay, boomers” while working in office in the U.S., they warn that such expression‎ could constitute violation of the federal law that bans discrimination against older people. What is really scary is that such prejudice between different generations could be manipulated. Older people who read a lot of books say that children of today are less interested in book reading, but they could become more lenient about children’s ability to read books, according to Vox.

Conflicts between different generations that have existed for thousands of years is the same as prejudice and discrimination that separate people only based on one’s own standard, rather than admitting the difference. We have to embrace tolerance by discarding prejudice before pointing fingers at each other. If we slightly change the tone, the expressions “Okay, boomers” and “Okay, millennials” can instantly switch into a message of positivity.

Yong Park parky@donga.com