Us 90s Kids

In America we’ve given each definable generation a fancy name like “Baby Boomers” or Generation X. In China they just say “80 hou” or “90 hou,” which literally means the “post-80s” or “post-90s” generation. Many have commented on the defining characteristics of each generation, especially when the first of the 90s generation graduated from college and entered the workforce last year.

As a 90s child myself, I would call my generation privileged. We grew up as America and China were thriving economically. America in particular soared the highest in the 90s as she no longer faced the threat of the Soviet Union and assumed the reigns of world leadership. The biggest news on television I remember growing up were Princess Diana, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and the uneventful Y2K scare. Then 9/11 happened and the world changed. But before that we lived in a bliss unhampered by a horde of technological devices and the Internet. I often pity the “00后” and “10后” who begin playing with iPads before they can speak coherently. At least we didn’t use the Internet heavily until middle or high school, when technology actually helped with productivity.

A Chinese movie made a few years ago called “80后” highlights the defining elements of the 80s generation, which included pivotal events like SARS and the Beijing Olympics. The world was complicated but simple. Growing up, the main characters struggled with broken family relationships and school bullies, but academics were a reliable ladder to success. Neither were the students distracted by technology as Internet and smartphone use were not as prevalent. By the end of the movie, the present day, the 80s generation has reached age 30 and has pretty much figured out their careers and relationships. That life seems complete.

A reality TV show called “非常90后” (Very 90s Generation) reflects on a different group of young people who are more prone to talk back to their teachers, are spoiled by their parents, and prize individualism. In America, some say the 90s generation is defined by the golden age of Disney princesses, the Magic School Bus, Power Rangers and all the other wonderful characters we grew up with. Presented with an array of clothing, toy and entertainment choices and generally having the economic means to live comfortably, we emphasize individual style more than ever. We don’t necessarily want to fit in with those who came before us. We believe that we can do better, our own way, because, hasn’t the Internet changed the world?

But many criticize us for this very individualism and lack of commitment. Last December 85后 author ZhaoXing wrote a letter to her 90后 interns, telling them to stop thinking the world centered around them and to simply be on time and take orders without a fuss. For this is how the world you are entering really operates. Your homes and schools, where everyone gets some kind of prize and every complaint is catered to, are fictional.

At least out of individualism springs words from the heart. But a little too much, another blogger comments. The blogger tells how 90后 interns often write long letters to their bosses, telling them how one word or two from the bosses completely changed their lives and how much, how very much, they sincerely appreciate them. The bosses’ wives, the blogger writes, would be horrified to read those letters. In the real world you don’t have to pour out your heart to everyone. And for decorum’s sake, you shouldn’t.

Don’t, the blogger also writes, disappear without notice and leave everyone in the office confused about your whereabouts. Don’t change your internship schedule because you have this midterm or that paper. Life throws myriads of challenges at us and we must be able to bear them even under unideal circumstances.

Commitment is tied to time management, which is the bane of every 90s high school and college student today. Except for the school bus and certain school lectures, we feel time is negligible. Papers can always get extensions, and isn’t that professor who doesn’t care when we hand things in the best person ever? We hem and haw about all the work we have to do while our eyes glaze over Facebook, and then wear ourselves out cramming the night before midterms and paper due dates. Oh, if we only had enough time! Yes, we did have enough time, if only we had regarded time as something precious. In Japan and Korea, being 15 minutes early isn’t early enough, and being late is a social crime.

Time means getting up early, going to sleep early, and basically disciplining ourselves. We pride ourselves in freedom and wish that others would conform to our topsy-turvy way of life. Unfortunately for us, all too often they do.

But when, for example, my father wants to leave right at 7:30 a.m. because I told him that time yesterday night, I am riled because my freedom seems infringed upon. But of course, to the 90s’ mind, why can’t 7:30 mean 7:35? Because the clock says 7:30.

Perhaps the hardest lesson for 90s kids is that having your own style isn’t going to get you anywhere unless you have the basics down first. Your peers may admire your strong personality, but your boss and co-workers want a dependable colleague.

We’re annoyed when for the first time outside of kindergarten someone tells us no, because we’re so accustomed to thinking we’re the best at everything. Because of our technological experience, we can often do things faster and better than our elders, and so we think we are better than them. We want everything to be efficient (in name) but in realty we want it done our way (which we think is the best way).

And yet we say we have to love ourselves more, we 90s kids, because we and others say we place too high an expectation on ourselves. Tumblr quotes and Sina Weibo microblogs list thousands of feel-good statements. You tried your best, they say; take a break and enjoy life’s simple pleasures like TV and hot chocolate. But doing that all the time means we’ve forgotten what hard work truly means. As ZhaoXing often reminds us, now is the time for hard work, to be brave and venture into new fields.

But obviously, many of these flaws have been common to humans since day one. And we’re only noticing them in the 90s generation because these kids are growing up in the first stage of heightened data-gathering.

Yes, the very ones who want to break out of the box are a statistic.

(In Chinese):

Read ZhaoXing’s letter.

Read this blogger’s take on 90s kids in the workplace.

Watch the movie 80后.

Watch “Very 90s Generation.”


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