It was 8:32 a.m. on a Friday morning in Peet’s Coffee on Catalina and Talbot. There are no vacant tables.
A man, probably in his mid-50’s, reads the newspaper until he is interrupted by a tap on his shoulder; his friends have arrived. Twenty minutes into their conversation, they haven’t so much as glanced at their phones. Next to the newspaper man sits a millennial with his black coffee and iPhone, leaving the world around him unacknowledged.
By 9:03, Peet’s Coffee had slowed. All that can be heard is the sound of milk steaming, quiet chatter and the YouTube video some PLNU students were watching to help them master chemistry.
In the matter of an hour, Peet’s Coffee was filled with people of all generations, some giving truth to the stereotypes society feeds into.
Times have proven to make communication and building relationships intergenerationally more difficult, according to Baby Boomers, Lynn and May Burrows. The couple says the changing of times has created a disconnect among generations.
“A part of that is due to a lack of understanding and common ground, which in communication is called consubstantiation,” says PLNU Professor of Communication, Skip Rutledge. Rutledge says it’s people’s inability to identify with one another.
Kenneth Burke coined the term “consubstantiation” in his book, “Rhetoric of Motives.” He writes, “identification is compensatory to division.” It’s because of this inability to identify that creates a communication divide—an understanding divide, says Rutledge.
As a Baby Boomer, Rutledge describes what it’s like to adapt to technology: “It feels like an ‘Indiana Jones’ kind of bridge that you’re tentatively going from step to step over fiery lava hundreds of feet below and steps are disappearing on you.”
Rutledge says, “the steps are disappearing and being replaced by others.”
Many among the older cohorts do attempt to change with the times, but there’s a comfortability factor that keeps them from adapting, according to Rutledge.
But PLNU Sociology Professor Daniel Davis looks at this discomfort from a different perspective. Younger generations, such as Yers and Zers, are too quick to “critically accept” the new things of society, according to Davis.
“My fear is that the newest generation(s) is so used to having all this data about them being exposed that they don’t know what privacy is or how important privacy is,” says Davis. He explains older generations aren’t so inviting to try new things.
Technology, however, isn’t the only contributing factor in the generational divide. “Whenever I talk to my parents [for example] about this kid who was wearing a cool outfit, and he was ‘flexing on people,’ they didn’t really know what that meant,” says Gen Zer, Cameron Johnson.
Davis says this is miscommunication in the mainstream vernacular. There are differing linguistics and jargon in how people communicate. People throughout generations must learn the appropriateness for communication, and it must be “easy to use for people to adapt,” says Davis.
But these factors don’t have to divide. “If we did not classify people into this generation or that one with a given characteristic for those groups, certain people would not feel as divided,” says millennial, Jenna L. McDaniel. “I absolutely think society as a whole would be more unified [without generational classification].”