Regularly, the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) publication Strategies & Tactics reports trends in the industry. The Jan. 2020 issue suggests that people are growing angrier. They cite a 2018 Gallup Poll of more than 150,000 in 140 countries reporting feeling more stressed out, worried, and angry than ever. For business, this trend is worthy of consideration. As a baby boomer myself, I also wanted to know why we are so angry.
Baby boomers are the 76 million people born between 1946 and 1964. We saw our parents and grandparents struggle, fight in wars, and work very, very hard. According to AARP, Boomers, though they are getting older (late ‘50s to early ’70s), are still holding on to their jobs and assets and are wielding a good bit of economic control. Around 80 percent of the country’s personal net worth belongs to boomers. However, this does not mean all Boomers are doing well, far from it. A 2017 Economic Policy Institute reports that 48 percent of the elderly are economically vulnerable with 5.5 million seniors facing food insecurity. The situation only gets worse for women and minorities.
Besides being tired of hearing young people saying “OK boomer,” when you try to share a story about what happened “back in the day,” there seems to be some genuine irritation (although possibly propagated by the media) directed toward millennials and probably at life in general.
In an extremely informal poll, here are some of the reasons we think boomers are angry. You may have your own:
Missing out. Fun, vacations, and buying nice things had been delayed until there was enough money to help children with school and pay off bills. Now Boomers are faced with their own health issues, elderly parents, and/or young adult children in need—further delaying dreams.
Being blamed for the condition of the world. Of course, as we know better, we do better. Boomers are playing catch-up with a lot of science and changing behaviors. Protests and awareness is fine if it comes with a change in behavior for everyone. Anger may come from bearing the brunt of criticism from people, like entitled celebrities, who take jets to the Oscars.
What’s happening with technology. We love all the gadgets and Facebook, but they are getting more and more complicated and people don’t seem to be happier. In Luke Fernandez and Susan J. Matt’s new book titled Bored Lonely Angry Stupid, they examine how previous generations embraced solitude. Today, we can’t bear to be alone and social media is making people more anxiety-prone and stressed-out than ever. The fragility and short attention span can be difficult to deal with.
Lack of discernment in media consumption. The days of “thinking for yourself” or “researching other points of view” or even being able to tolerate hearing another point of view seems to be over. Youth are surrounding themselves with people and news sources that do not challenge their world view. It can be frustrating when it seems like everyone is offended by every opinion. This makes it almost impossible to develop diverse relationships with people of differing opinions.
So how do we avoid contributing to the creation of an angry society?
Check out Keenan Emery’s article on millennials in this publication. It’s essential to consider how you would choose to live if you grew up in their world; with oppressive and ever-available technology. Try to meet people where they are and listen to those varying opinions. Be open to learning and managing your use of new technology. Be equally critical of the news sources you consume. When your kids say, “OK boomer,” laugh and tell them the story of how you played outside all day and there were only three TV channels anyway.
Mary Louise VanNatta, APR, CAE, is the CEO of VanNatta Public Relations, a PR, event planning, and consulting firm in Salem, Oregon. PRSalem.com