August 15, 2015

Gen X and Millennials don't say "Hi" around the neighborhood

Although the climate of cocooning leads most folks to stay inside all day, a decent number still go for a walk around the neighborhood. Whether they acknowledge and greet one another, though, seems to have less to do with being sociable vs. cocooning and more with whether they came of age in an accommodating vs. status-striving climate.

Some of the folks who say "Hi" you can tell are introverts and are simply making their best effort to fulfill the duties of neighborliness, while some who don't acknowledge the other pedestrians give off socially normal rather than spergy vibes. They're just too self-important to acknowledge unknown members of the community.

The strongest demographic predictor of who will initiate a simple "Hi" to strangers, or return the gesture if it's made to them, is generation.

If someone from the Silent Gen is walking around the neighborhood, there's a very good chance they'll act neighborly. Boomers too, especially the older ones. There's an abrupt shift with Gen X, though, who are about 50/50 or less likely to say "Hi" or even exchange a nod and eye contact. And some of those who have acted neighborly may have been very late Boomers who I mistakenly took to be early X-ers. The later-born the X-er, the less neighborly they are. And of course the Millennial adults are guaranteed to either stare straight ahead or down at the ground (or phone) when they pass someone.

I remember my Greatest Gen grandparents and others their age greeting others around the community, so put them in the neighborly group as well.

Silents and Boomers (and Greatest Gen) have always been more automatic to greet people in church or other civic places, whether they already knew the person or were welcoming a newcomer. Gen X and especially the Millennials have to be prodded by the leadership to meet-and-greet.

In fact, Silents and Boomers are more likely to acknowledge and start talking to strangers from the community no matter what the setting is. "What wonderful weather we're having today," said to a stranger at the supermarket parking lot. "My, that's a lovely sweater," said to the person standing in front of them in line at the drug store. And so on and so forth.

The earlier generations imprinted socially during a climate of accommodation rather than status-striving, roughly the Great Compression of 1920-1980. Back then, the norm in public spaces was to humble yourself by acknowledging and getting along with others. You see that even during the cocooning period within the Great Compression, like Mayberry or the world of Father Knows Best, where despite being more introverted they still stopped to say "Hi" to neighbors, ask how their day is going, etc.

This imprinting effect does not get over-written even if they later become more self-centered strivers, like the Me Generation of Silents and Boomers. Striving in their case is an acquired language, not their native tongue.

Gen X and Millennials, who went through adolescence and young adulthood during the '80s and after, imprinted on an environment marked by rising competitiveness and one-upsmanship. You lower your status by having to acknowledge others. For the striver, if others are to be acknowledged, it must come off as deigning to do so — a form of social largesse rather than social duty. In any case, it comes down to individual choice rather than obligation to others.

Mirroring the Me Generation, even those X-ers and Millennials who are acting to reverse the hyper-competitive climate still struggle instinctively when it comes to neighborliness in their own everyday lives.

We may not be able to undo the imprinting of our formative years, but we do have to be aware of it and make a conscious effort to behave more neighborly to our neighbors.

PS: These generational differences cannot be blamed on changes in the racial make-up of the environment that the earlier vs. later groups have imprinted on. Certainly growing up in a minority-white environment is more likely for X-ers and Millennials, and is more corrosive of neighborliness than a mostly-white environment. But you see these generational differences in all-white communities too, where racial changes are not a factor.


  1. I started reading Horror Movies of the 90's (I already own the 70's and 80's books) and maybe because most of the movies suck, the author talks a lot about 90's culture rather than the movies per se. Evidently a lot of 90's movies feature paranoia, "mundane/realistic" psychos who could gain your trust as a babysitter, co-worker, roommate etc. before hurting you, widespread conspiracies, alienated characters (esp. if they're young), and other signs of a rapidly fraying social/psychological fabric. There were some signs of this in 80's movies but it wasn't common. And usually the protagonist in an 80's movie was clean cut, helpful, and upbeat. On the other hand, in the nihilistic 90's it was hard to tell the difference between good and bad. A lot of 90's movies (especially from the 1st half of the decade) specifically reference relativism,

    He puts a lot of these stories and characters into the context of the time. By the early 90's, it was becoming very clear that Americans were drifting apart. We didn't have the Soviet Union as a strong, clear enemy anymore. We were hemorrhaging good blue collar jobs, the economy in general was sputtering. Gen X blacks, the products of horrifically violent and hopeless urban cesspools, were raising lots of hell. There was a boom in "urban" horror movies, probably because so many whites were simultaneously fascinated and repelled by Gen X blacks and their territory. Gen X whites were mostly raised by hypocritical, shallow, and hotheaded buffoons who had shredded so many American institutions by the 90's. Trust No One, as the X-files warned. As if Gen X-ers were not cynical enough to know that already.

    There also was the explosion of tabloid culture. In the 70's and 80's, we weren't interested in sickos. But maybe wanted to see inside them (as you could tell from all of the cop movies and shows dealing with serial killers and all of the daytime TV featuring all manner of wierdos) because of everyone's growing neuroses. There was a perhaps unconscious fear that any one of us was on the edge, just a nudge away from financial, social, and/or psychological ruin, such that you would end up "going postal". Mass murders started to show up in the 80's and then became an epidemic in the 90's.

    Is it really shocking that people who grew up the last 30-40 years would be that aloof? Why be neighborly when you feel like you're surrounded by rootless, selfish, and possibly distressed people?

  2. RetailCrunch8/15/15, 1:47 PM

    I wonder if the size of town someone was raised in makes a difference. Silents and boomers are more likely to have been raised in a small town rather than a large city. Small towns tend to have more neighborly inhabitants, so someone raised there is probably more neighborly than a city raised person.

  3. I normally smile or head nod on the whole. You do see way more of vocal greeting in rural settings as noted in the comments above.

    I think there is something to this, as after all. Although I'm pretty cautious that those who greet others spontaneously are actually more accommodating in general though. The guy I know who is biggest on greeting others and being greeted himself is also the most attention seeking and with the biggest ego (as agreed by pretty much everyone who knows him). Really grinds his gears when others don't "Hi" him. In a lot of ways it's just about ego - needing to be acknowledged and to get attention (a rather pathetic trait). You could probably spin that as still genuinely being other centered, in that the acknowledgement of others is seen as important, but I don't see the guy who's all about being acknowledged as accommodating or humble exactly.

    I think another impact might be from a preference for conventional and "scripted" rather than "genuine" or spontaneous interactions. I don't really mean that in a way that a preference for conventional interactions is totally bad - not everything is going to be deep and meaningful, and sometimes it's good just to have a wholly conventional interaction just for the sake of it interacting (a conventional interaction is better than no interaction). But I expect this might be why urban people for instance do less of these conventional greetings, much less tolerance of simply going through the motions for the sake of the social rules, or at least they'd question whether they should do so and then the moment would pass. Again I suppose you could say being conventional is sort of like being accommodating, but I think not really and conventionality isn't much to do with humility (lots of the biggest arrogant asses are utterly conventional (e.g. striving subcultures aren't any more about dispensing with rules and more than elaborate codes of etiquette).

    A preference for "genuine" interactions as opposed to going through the motions for the sake of getting and giving attention might distinguish M and X from B and S. At least enough that they hesitate when considering whether to "Hi" someone.

  4. I've always gone out of my way to acknowledge people I know with a hi, at college or wherever. I think part of the reason some people don't, though, is low trust and cocooning, not just status-striving. Afraid that the other person might be crazy or whatever.

  5. Acknowledging your neighbors is not about exchanging attention but exchanging signals of respect. You owe it to them, they owe it to you. Neither thinks they're above showing respect to their fellows, and it equalizes the variance in how much or how little respect the community members get -- preventing envy among the lower and haughtiness among the upper levels.

    Your friend's distinction is not in feeling slighted -- everyone feels that way when they acknowledge someone else who refuses to return the gesture. What makes him different is his narcissistic focus on how others have neglected to worship his highness.

    Normal people still get upset, but because they've just witnessed someone break the community's rules, and are displeased to discover that a social retard / snob lives among them. It's not self-focused.

    You know that acknowledging unknown community members is more common in rural and suburban areas, and that it was more common back in the '50s than today. So quit with the clever-silly attempt to spin it as a mark of striving, narcissism, etc.

    You're also equivocating on "conventional" -- adhering to a longstanding convention, which has a pro-social function, is obviously not self-focused, but accommodating others (who are promoting it now, and those past who put it in place). Brushing it aside is self-serving.

    Your second use of "convention" means any old predictable schema for interactions, rather than uncertain spontaneity. Hence, those who eliminate the convention of acknowledging their neighbors out of mutual respect, in favor of a new convention to ignore them or leave it up to individual choice, are conventional after all.

    Folks who are conventional in the first use, which is how I used it, are accommodating rather than self-serving.

    Where did you pick up your clever-silliness, BTW? Genetic (Jewish?), philosophy major, or what?

  6. Cocooning may play a role here, as Feryl pointed out. Everybody thinks everybody else is potentially crazy.

    I've always gone out of my way to say hi to people, good to hear it is associated with equality.

  7. M: So quit with the clever-silly attempt to spin it as a mark of striving, narcissism, etc.

    I don't think it's a mark of narcissism, just probably not as informative either way as you think.

    Where did you pick up your clever-silliness, BTW? Genetic (Jewish?), philosophy major, or what?

    Not Jewish, not philosophy major.

  8. Wow, I notice the same thing. Although I'm introverted, I try to make an effort to say hello. It just feels weird and somehow wrong to act like another person isn't there when you pass by them on the sidewalk. But it does seem like the younger generations don't have as much of a problem with it.

  9. As my neighborhood has transitioned from middle-class Baby Boomers to upper-class Gen Xers, I've noticed a remarkable decrease in friendliness.

    People feel very uneasy around each other and don't want one another in their space. Our annual neighborhood BBQ, which was started by a Boomer family, got cancelled a few years because there was so little interest. What surprises me most of all is that the local neighborhood kids don't even play together, despite being in the same age range.

  10. I think the decreasing friendliness comes from a breakdown in community cohesion. That has several factors:

    1. Increasing racial diversity, as Professor Putnam discovered, fragments communities. People huddle indoors in front of their tv rather than go out and meet each other.
    2. Status striving makes people competitive and agnostic toward one another.
    3. Cocooning creates social awkwardness and anxiety among people.
    4. Technology (social networking, ipod, phones, gaming, tv, net flix) makes it much easier to disengage than before.
    5. Asabiyya has broken down since the late 80s, without a common enemy to unite Americans. People used to feel a sense of camraderie due to the Cold War and WWII, but that's gone.

    Back in the 50s, there was cocooning, but everything else was different. America was a very homogenous nation and economically egalitarian. There was also a lot of goodwill towards your fellow man because America had pulled through and won WWII. Technology was primitive too, so you had to go outside for entertainment.

  11. Hi Agnostic,
    i'm an (occasional) reader from Italy and a sociology student. Do you think that your theory about violent phases - wild social life vs. peaceful phases - tame social life can be applied to other countries as well? Funnily enough 2012 has been the year with the lowest homicide number (528) in 150 years. do you want to know the two peak years after WWII? 1990 (1770) and 1991 (1773) almost identical to US. By the way my father (60 y.o.) believes that the coocoon-ization of society is absolutely obvious - "Today boys and girls are like zombies!always glued to their phones instead of each others!"

  12. This discussion of affable vs. cynical (and modest egalitarianism vs. obnoxious striving)l has made me realize just why so many movies made since about 1989 are so damn awful. Sure, the product of the later 30's-early 60's wasn't that great, but at least there was some aesthetic consideration, respect for the audiences' intellect and taste, and most of all, amiable Greatest Gen actors. When they fought a man in rubber suit, you weren't buying the FX but at least you bought the actor's sincerity.

    Now that we've got such a vulgar climate, every actor and director is crassly trying to scream louder than everyone else. Everybody's got a stick up their butt,. Most movies made in the last 25 years should come with a surgeon general's warning. I know that all generations are affected, but how many actors born after about 1970 are even capable of being amiable and joyful on screen? Actors who grew up in the 20's-70's forged respectful relationships with a lot of people in their lives; if you were born after the early 70's, forget it. It's been a world of shallow, glib, vulgar, busy, and self conscious people.

    There probably is a continuum with Gen X. The one's born in the 60's can effectively convey a lot moods and characters since they developed a lot of bonds at an early age. Meanwhile, the later you were born in the 70's, the tougher it will be to convey something beyond brooding angst, selfish showboating, self-pity, or paranoia and rage. Mid period X-ers were quite capable of playing moody teens in the 80's/early 90's. But since the 90's it's become more and more clear that they may be emotionally arrested by being shaped by a striving climate. God help the Millennials born after about 1989 who don't remember even an outgoing period, besides dealing with post 1980 striving.

    By the way, later X-ers can be just fine to deal with and can be witty casual entertainers. But I think they are too mistrustful of others to ever really be mature and well rounded actors. A Clint Eastwood might have grown up in the nerdy mid century, but at least Silent performers could relax and let a sense of camaraderie and good will guide them towards cultivating a more appealing and developed act. But if you barely or never tasted the pre-striving era, your venom towards the world is going to be hard to keep out.

    I think too that people born from about 1955-1970 are the most physically well developed (at least if you look at them in their young prime).

  13. I've often seen it discussed what the real percentage of gays and lesbians are, that the media dramatically overstates their number. However a poll has found that over 1/3 of millennials consider themselves less than 100% straight:

    While that doesn't mean that 1/3 are gay/bisexual, maybe the typical estimates are too low.

  14. Whenever I read this blog:

    But, yeah, I'm a gen Y, born in '91, and I noticed today a middle aged (50's) woman at my workplace, just walking through the crowd like no one else existed, with a sourpuss look on her face, looking down into her phone or whatever...actually I'm not sure if she even had a phone.

    The "don't talk to me" bitchface thing is not simply a millennial thing. It's an everyone thing.

    When I talk to someone like a normal old-timer silent gen person would back in the 30's or 40's, they light up like they were dying of thirst and I gave them a drink of water. I'm not even a very pleasant person and I say rude things too, but that's what is so amazing...people are incredibly indifferent to each other now.

    Just by talking to someone "normally" (which is SO not normal) you can make a strong connection with them.

    I was at a meeting at work with young millennial girls, and they were asked to talk about their lives, and 75% of them started CRYING right off the bat. People are emotionally starving to death!!!!!

    People are afraid of each other, and emotionally starving.

    My theory is that part of the reason for fear is that the repercussions of social shame are so much greater. They can take your picture, the world can see it, your tweet can go on television, your boss can find out, etc. etc. ad infinitum.

    People stay inside because of the fear that they will be judged. You can't ever start over with new people because Facebook knows you. A loser once will be a loser forever.

    So we stay inside, starving to death from lack of real love and human companionship.

  15. "Do you think that your theory about violent phases - wild social life vs. peaceful phases - tame social life can be applied to other countries as well?"

    Yes, although I don't know enough details from other countries to write in depth on them. But at the very general level, the crime wave from roughly 1960 to 1990 occurred in every Western nation, just as the decline has taken place across all of those countries. It was related to a rise in fertility rates, which made the population much younger and hot-headed, that happened across the West.

    During the peak of the crime rate, horror movies became popular and perfected, not just in America but of course in Italy too. Italodisco music from the '80s sounds fun, sociable, and dance-able. I don't know too much of Italian music from the '90s and after, but compare two popular songs by Mietta -- "Vattene amore" from 1990, which is a romantic ballad, and "Dammi tutto dammi niente" from 1998, which is boring pop-R&B. Pretty similar to the trends in the U.S.

  16. This is an interesting topic you raise and I have often encountered these "Hi" situations when walking my dog in the neighborhood. However, I disagree with your premise regarding the generations. The answer is much simpler, older people generally shrug off the self consciousness that comes with youth. As you get older you drop the pretense and the shyness. Like the old men at the Gym in the locker room that walk around buck naked, they don't give a crap what people think sagging nuts and all.

  17. If Gen X and Milennials are more status-striving, why are they also more likely to support raising taxes and other egalitarian policies?

  18. Because I play lots of tennis on public courts, I have a large sample size for interacting with strangers. Normally when I ask a millenial if he wants to hit a few tennis balls, the response is incomprehension. In fact, I've seen more and more millenials playing tennis with ball machines, which is so sad. I had one millenial on Thursday refuse my offer to play, which has pretty much never happened, especially because I'm a better player. So yeah, the whole idea of meeting strangers and playing tennis is utterly outside the normal range of social behavior of millenials. One loser I saw was wearing headphones, a sweatshirt (it was blistering hot) and playing with a ball machine. He was practically masturbating in public.

  19. One of my favorite things about driving in the country is the two finger "wave" while still gripping the steering wheel. Rural people always return it, though I've never gotten a great look at them; they are most likely of an older generation.

  20. "If Gen X and Milennials are more status-striving, why are they also more likely to support raising taxes and other egalitarian policies?"

    Because Millennial status isn't based on conspicuous consumption or even lifestyle. It's about persona and having the right views to fit that persona. So we'll post something on Instagram or Facebook about how disgusted we are with The Donald or some gay ironic Onion article that shows you we are clever enough and will repent for our privilege.


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