I first became aware of the yawning information gap between my generation and Millennials on Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was there, while taking a break at 15,000 feet, that I happened to mention the seminal TV character, 'Archie Bunker.' My son, Chris, and our climbing buddy, Stafford, both Millennials, responded with a resounding, “Who”?
In fact, the more we spoke about events of the 1960s, '70s and '80s, the more I was reminded of the Steely Dan song, 'Hey Nineteen' (“No, we got nothing in common. No, we can't talk at all.”).
Since the dilly on Kili, I've encountered many examples of a twenty-something not knowing what I thought was pretty basic information about the people, places and things of my era.
In fact, my curiosity began to grow as I compared the information gap between Millennials and Boomers, and what I believed was the LACK of such a gap between Boomers and our parents (aka The Greatest Generation). While Millennials seemed stumped about many things that happened before 1990, my generation appears to know quite a bit about, say, Benny Goodman, the Sudetenland and Fibber McGee's Closet (even though we weren't alive to see or experience any of the above).
So, I put my hypothesis to the test. I asked Peppercom's Millennials if they knew about 10 people, places and things from my generation. I was pleasantly surprised overall, but positively stunned by the following:
– 80 percent had never heard of Glasnost (that would be like my generation not knowing about 'appeasement').
– 50 percent didn't know about the Iran-Contra Affair (easily the biggest political scandal to hit Washington after Watergate and before Monica Lewinsky).
– 90 percent had never heard of Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 gold medal-winning U.S. ice hockey team that pulled off the biggest upset in Olympic history. Eruzione was the team's poster child, a media darling and appeared positively EVERYWHERE).
– 60 percent didn't know former U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle (now, some may argue that Dan Quayle himself might have a hard time identifying 41's VP, but would Baby Boomers blank on Richard M. Nixon? Hardly).
– 40 percent didn't remember Bo Jackson, arguably the greatest, all-around athlete of the 1980s. (He was also the star of Nike's 'Bo knows' global ad campaign. Bo may know, but Millennials sure don't know Bo).
I'll leave it to sociologists, historians and other experts to explain why so many Millennials seem to know so little about so much that came before. But, it doesn't bode well since, as we know, those who don't learn the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.
So, what do you Boomer and Millennial readers make of all this? How about you Gen X types? Why does the information gap exist? Perhaps, even more alarmingly, will the coming generation be even LESS aware of the recent past than their Millennial predecessors? If so, Archie Bunker would undoubtedly have called them "meatheads".