OK, Boomer and Why We Need to Fix the Generational Rift

The “OK boomer” meme shouldn’t be used to exclude baby boomers from important political discourse.

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By Andrea Huang

Just a few days ago, I had a satisfying Christmas dinner with my extended family at an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet. Over plates stacked high with vibrant California rolls as well as various assortments of exotic meats grilled and seasoned to perfection, I had a discussion with my aunt about how interconnected the world has become due to social media. While calmly sipping her miso soup, she made the strong claim that my generation was being “poisoned” by our “addiction” to cell phones.

“I mean, it’s quite sad, really,” she said. “You’re all so dependent on them. You go everywhere with them. Don’t you know that your excessive staring at cell phone screens has had significant impacts on the public health of your generation?”

I had only one retort in mind; you, presumably the average Stuyvesant student with some degree of knowledge in memes, probably already know what it was: “OK, boomer.” Saying those words would have absolutely annihilated my aunt’s authority. Her words would have laid shattered on the ground, their weight nullified to oblivion. Her voice would have been silenced by the combined apathy of millennial, Gen X, and Gen Z toward the older generations.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “OK, boomer,” it’s essentially a dismissive retort used against older people who complain about often incorrect stereotypes associated with the younger generations (typically the millennials, Gen X, and Gen Z). The most typical complaints are that youths are unable to do anything without the help of technology, that they are “snowflakes” (overly sensitive), and that they are too often staring at their phones.

The phrase is so powerful because of its implications. The nonchalant use of the word “OK” implies that today’s youth are tired of the complaints of boomers; it can almost be read aloud with a sigh of resignation. It implies that the youth have heard so many of these complaints that at this point, they simply brush them off, thus completely discounting the boomer’s words. And the use of the word “boomer” suggests that there is a fundamental disconnect between the old and young, and the youth use it as if to declare, “We are heading off into the future and making progress while you are stuck there yelling and moaning.”

Though some view “OK, boomer” as hate speech, most teenagers see it as a joke poking fun at the boomer generation, and nothing more. To call “Ok, boomer” the “ageist version of the n-word”—as some baby boomers have lamented—would be to horribly mischaracterize both youths’ intentions and the intensely degrading nature of the n-word. Despite the meme’s comedic origins, it makes sense that Gen Zers would harbor bitterness—though not something as strong as hate—toward older generations. The baby boomer generation has been largely responsible for climate change and overpopulation, and by the time they were the same age as many of today’s millennials, they lived comfortably enough to have families and two-story suburban homes. By contrast, the majority of millennials have to deal with five figures of student debt, which they will likely have to pay for decades alongside mortgage and health insurance. The furthest things from their stressed, fast-paced minds are leisure and starting families. We would love to have the same luxuries that baby boomers did.

While there are many boomers who follow the right-leaning stereotype and blame the youth for many of the world’s problems, nobody believes that all of them are conservative and insensitive. Boomers did some invaluable deeds for the world, like advancing civil rights for women and African Americans and ending the Vietnam War. Boomers taught us that it’s OK to be skeptical towards the press and the government, that speaking and protesting for our beliefs are the most admirable acts of all. This is a movement that began with baby boomers and has been embellished and embraced by people of all generations. That’s why the mentality of “OK, boomer,” which takes its roots in the generational rift, is only detrimental for all of us.

Condemning a phrase like “OK, boomer” on the grounds that it is hate speech solves nothing. It is not the problem. It’s simply a symptom of the real issue, which is that today’s youth have become so weary of baby boomers’ complaints that they exclude boomers from the discussion altogether. While it’s acceptable to use the term in lighthearted gestures of annoyance towards older people (including those who fit the stereotype), it is not acceptable to believe that “boomers know nothing and don’t care for the environment because it won’t affect them anyway.” Such a belief is foolish and unfounded, and it benefits no one to drown out the voices of the older generations. For issues as big as climate change, which could spell the end of nature and human society as we know it, we need all the help we can possibly get, and that includes the knowledge and political drive provided by boomers. No problems are ever fixed by division. They are remedied by everyone’s cooperation and assistance.

So, when I responded to my aunt’s argument, I didn’t say “OK, boomer,” though it seemed enticing. I told her my own thoughts about the explosive growth of social media and the role of phones: that though excessive phone usage has damaging psychological and physical effects, social media also allows us to connect with others instantly and effectively. It enables the spread of ideas, which encourages us to not only embrace other cultures, but also to enrich our own ideas. It empowers us to learn about whatever we are interested in without the inconvenience of having to visit a library. I got to learn from her opinions, and she learned from mine because we both respected each other too much to simply shut one another out using a disdainful catchphrase. Though this kind of mutual discussion is difficult, it is almost always beneficial. So instead of ignoring baby boomers’ advice for fixing the world’s most pressing issues, let’s integrate it into our own solutions. After all, it’s their world too.