Heinen: Who’s running this show?

Time to embrace the generational shift
Heinen: Who’s running this show?

The boss stopped by my office recently after the annual news department legal briefing and said, “today marks the end of a generation.” Now, that would have struck me as a dramatic if not audacious declaration, but I realized he was on to something, and I think it’s important. This whole defining generations thing has intrigued me lately. WISC-TV and Madison Magazine Vice President and General Manager Tom Keeler has been watching it pretty carefully as well from a different perspective, and I’ve been really thinking about his statement.

Keeler had just overseen this year’s session with station attorneys that has a mandatory attendance requirement for all news department employees. I’ve always valued the company’s proactive efforts to keep news staff up to speed on both established case law on journalism and ethics issues, and on new legal matters like drones and social media. These are very interactive sessions and Keeler was impressed with the engagement of the newer, younger reporters, producers and editors, and with their questions and comments. I’ve been watching the average age in general of the building (and in the city it seems) drop over the last year or so as Keeler hires new staff to replace retiring or departing employees. He’s given some thought to this. I’ve been fascinated by the growing influence of the millennial generation in this city, to the point where I now believe we would be well-served to relinquish some of the leadership responsibilities those of us of a certain age have clung to for a long time. I’m not subscribing to sentiments expressed on the cover of Philadelphia Magazine a couple of years ago, (“Dear Boomers: Die Already!”). Attention grabbing, and clever, but slightly premature in my not-quite-ready-to-die opinion. Still, I think some of us old hippies might consider gracefully transitioning into wise elder status and let the kids start to run things.

The issue has been the characteristics of each generation and how they complement or conflict with each other. I leave defining my generation to others. But the latchkey, individualists of tumultuous Generation X, and the overachieving, close to their parents, flexible work schedule-loving millennials, have joined us boomers in creating the world we live in today, for better or for worse; a globally-connected world of breathtaking technological change and cultural upheaval in a new, knowledge economy. But with the millennials now pretty much fully integrated into our world, it’s time we turn our attention to “next.” I know some sociologists and others have already begun this work on the tentatively, but far from agreed-upon, named Generation Z. But I haven’t. So Keeler’s comment intrigued me.

First, I think what Keeler was saying is that this is the millennials’ world right now. Their ideas and instincts and habits are driving social change, new cultural norms, policy creation and the economy. In four years, millennials will constitute the majority of America’s voting age population. They’re currently filling Madison’s new apartments, bars and restaurants and East Washington Avenue workspaces. They are the future and they are our hope for a better world. I read all of that into Tom’s declaration.

But who is this Generation Z? A generation that, so far, has never known a president who wasn’t African American. A generation whose parents were very tight with their parents. A generation whose grandparents screwed up the environment big time. The drone generation.

We have indeed begun to create the world in which this new generation will make its mark. As much as I’d like to credit Tom with nailing the day of generational change, we both know the exact start date is the subject of some debate. But it likely extends back enough years to include his three kids. So, a word of advice Caitlin, Cooper and Carin: your dad’s way ahead of you.

Side notes

Cora’s Cafe
Congratulations to long-time community activist, foster parent and fostering champion, Cora White, who is a Community Shares of Wisconsin Change Maker Award winner and founding director of the Badger Rock Neighborhood Center, on her retirement. In typical White style, Cora’s “retirement” consists of transitioning to volunteer fundraiser for the Center, which renamed their coffee shop Cora’s Cafe.

Class acts
John Gadau and Phillip Hurley celebrated the 10th anniversary of their restaurant Sardine recently, and it was one of the best parties in recent memory. A lot of really happy and appreciative people on hand to congratulate two class acts at one of Madison’s best, and newly remodeled, restaurants.

Half century
It’s the end of the line for the East Madison Community Center’s title as “best kept secret on Madison’s east side.” You can’t be a secret anymore when you’ve celebrated your 50th anniversary as one of Madison’s best and
most beloved neighborhood centers. Happy anniversary, Tom Moen and team.