- The Generation in Between:An Interview with Jonathan Pontell
The Baby Boom refers to the spike in births from 1946 to 1964, after the relative lows of the depression and war years. Though originally only a demographic description, it became the label of the most well-known generation arising since World War II.
Jonathan Pontell has worked to debunk this definition of the Baby Boom Generation. Rather, he argues that those born from the 1940s to the 60s actually make up two generations. The first, which he recalibrates to those born 1942 to 1953, comprise the Boomers. But those in the next cohort, born 1954 to 1965, show very different attitudes and values, as he discusses in this interview. To capture their anonymous status, he has named it “Generation Jones.”
Pontell, himself a Joneser (b. 1958), was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and first made his mark as an entrepreneur there. In the 1990s, after selling his first business, he moved to Prague and traveled extensively in Europe, India, and elsewhere. Since the late 1990s he has promulgated the idea of Generation Jones in mainstream media, such as USA Today, CNN, and other news outlets, and through a site he developed, www.generationjones.com. He is what we might call a popular intellectual, as well as a marketing and political consultant on generational tastes.
For his definition of Jones, see Pontell, “Stuck in the Middle,” USA Today 18 March 2011, as well as his website. See also Jeffrey J. Williams, “Not My Generation,” Chronicle of Higher Education 4 April 2014.
This interview took place on 2 March 2014 at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. It was conducted and edited by Williams, a Joneser himself and a Professor of English and of Literary and Cultural Studies at Carnegie Mellon University, and transcribed by Steven Secular, an MA student at Carnegie Mellon.
To start, can you define Generation Jones in a nutshell?
People born between 1954 and 1965. To go a little beyond a nutshell, it’s a generation between what’s commonly called the [End Page 485] Baby Boom Generation and Generation X. It’s a lost or forgotten generation in the sense that a lot of attention is given to the Baby Boom Generation, and then there was a whole Gen X babble-palooza that started in the early 1990s. I would argue that the spotlight passed over a large generation in between.
How is it different from Boomers? Some commentators have called this segment simply “late Boomers.”
The Baby Boom Generation traditionally has been defined as those born 1946 to 1964, and that definition is purely based on a birth chart that shows a lot of people were born during those nineteen years. But generational personalities stem from shared formative experiences, not headcounts, and no generation—before or since the so-called Baby Boom Generation—was ever defined based on the fertility rates of the parents. When the idea of the Baby Boom was first put out there, demographers were simply pointing to that bulging birth chart; they weren’t saying it was a generation. Then later, people in the media just used it as a lazy shorthand for a generation. But not sociologists, who look at shared characteristics.
What are the shared characteristics of a Joneser compared to a Boomer?
There are certainly many common denominators between Boomers and Jonesers, as there are between any generations that border each other. Both Boomers and Jonesers, at least as children, were raised in an affluent, confident America. That changed, though, for Jonesers. As they came of age in the seventies, they were confronted with the souring economy, accompanying disillusionment, and a cultural mood that contributed to a very different ongoing collective personality. For instance, in broad strokes, Boomers tend not to be cynical and to be pretty idealistic. That’s because, when you think of their upbringing as children in the 1950s, and as teens and in their twenties in the 1960s, they had a good ride. It was a very affluent and confident time. Jonesers, as children in the sixties, shared some of...