Perhaps you’ve seen a young person wearing a T-shirt that says “OK Boomer” and thought, “That’s nice. They’re honoring their elders!”
No, not at all.
“OK Boomer” sounds like something someone would say to a dog on a show about two guys who drive a car around the South. But, as we learned this week from a New York Times story, it is something the Whippersnapper-American community says to The Olds.
It’s a flat, affectless response to boomers being typical out-of-touch, unhip, willfully ignorant people who still think it should be 1979 and anything called a “phone” should be bolted to a wall and have a gnarled, knotted 12-foot beige cord.
An example of how the phrase is used: “What you kids call a phone isn’t a phone at all! It’s just a time-wasting toy.”
Are you at risk for this withering retort? Possibly. Let’s see if you qualify.
First, are you a boomer? This is the group that was born between 1946 and 1964. It’s a ridiculously large group. I have little in common with anyone who was 18 in 1964, sitting in a dorm room leading a hootenanny singalong with a Kingston Trio album, or some other folk record. “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning!” Well, what’s stopping you? They’re $14.99 at the hardware store. Set an alarm clock and get to it.
If you grew up in the mid-’70s, boomer music was their music, not yours, and it’s only been the last few years when you could walk into a grocery store and not hear boomer anthems playing on the sound system. If I seem a bit testy about it, blame too many days in the frozen foods aisle hearing “Four dead in Oh-hio” trickling from above while I select my ice cream.
Granted, boomer culture had its moments, but just because you were 20 when an album came out, doesn’t mean it was great.
“ ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is the modern day equivalent of a Handel oratorio.”
Second: How you use the internet is critical. If you use the web only to go on Facebook and post pictures of Minions giving something the side-eye with the caption “I don’t do Mondays,” fine. People lead rich, productive, fulfilling lives without hanging out on Twitter for seven hours a day.
But there are advantages to modern tech that some boomers not only reject, but get a bit angry about.
Boomer to Millennial: “I need to get to my book club, it’s in Eden Prairie. Can you help me?”
Millennial (looking at phone): “Sure. Just tell Siri where you want to go, and it will give you a route. Then press ‘go’ for turn-by-turn directions.”
Boomer: “No, I need to know where I’m going. I need a map.”
Millennial (not looking up from phone because eye contact feels invasive, and also people are mad on Twitter about something and it’s terribly important): “Why?”
Boomer: “So I know where to turn.”
Millennial (looking up, blinking with confusion at the sudden imperative of a real-world interaction): “Siri will tell you.”
Boomer: “But I just want to print off a map!”
Millennial: “OK Boomer.”
It’s not the inability to adapt to tech. It’s the angry refusal to learn the basics that gets you the “OK Boomer” retort. And boomers should be able to relate to that. They felt the same thing when their parents wouldn’t get a VCR.
“But, Dad, you can record shows!”
“Don’t need it, I sit here with a pad of paper and a pencil and write down the dialogue. I can reconstruct it with my imagination. Your generation has to have everything spelled out for it.”
Some of you don’t think anything that happened before the internet matters much, and you think all this meaningless stuff on the internet matters a lot. Some of you join online mobs with glee to cancel out people who said something that was fine last week but pure hot sin today. Some of you live in a world of limitless vistas and behold it through a glass slab 3 inches wide.
Some of you are mad about the preceding assertions even though I took pains to say “some.”
Note: I asked my daughter, who is 19, if she or her friends had ever encountered this phrase. They shrugged. They’d heard it as an online thing that other people were saying, but it hadn’t made much of an impression on them.
Which makes “OK Boomer” just another tiny blip inflated to zeppelin-size proportions, puffed up by people who need something silly to fill the maw of contention, outrage, division and tribal alliances. Altogether now: “OK internet.”
firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks