Old timers. New timers. 2016.

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone of another generation and found yourself feeling the gap in life experience? It happens when you mention an old reference point. It happened to me this week.

In the midst of a conversation with someone at work, I looked up and said, “I don’t want to sound like Jed Clampett but …” The employee gave me a look like I was from Mars. She had absolutely no idea who I was talking about. Why? Because we didn’t share the same knowledge about a reference in time.

Jed Clampett, character on the TV comedy The Beverly Hillbillies.

Jed Clampett, character on the TV comedy The Beverly Hillbillies.

Points of reference are starbursts of memory that make up who we are. They create a constellation of personal experience and are a defining gauge for our age—such as Jed Clampett, from the 60’s CBS comedy “The Beverly Hillbillies”.  He was the backwoods guy made rich when he struck oil and moved to swanky California.

Personal knowledge about reference points in pop culture reveals commonalities too. They reveal young people with “old souls” such as the teen who loves Frank Sinatra. Or they can define an older person as “hip” if they’re using Snapchat and Instagram instead of mailing a postcard.

But sadly, the older we get, the fewer we may share. Do you share these with me?

  • Where you were when JFK was killed?
  • Do you have a favorite Beatle?
  • Do you remember “Bazooka” bubble gum?
  • Have you ever heard what dial-up internet actually sounded like?
  • Remember when AOL was all we had?
  • Do you bother to pick up a penny because someone said it brings good luck?
  • Do you remember standing in line to see the first Star Wars movie?

As far as my Generation X colleague who didn’t know Jed Clampett, what is obvious is that we are building new reference points with all those living in the present.

Living in 2015 means knowing what it’s like to experience watching the ISIS-led attacks in Paris on television, witnessing the horror of a news reporter shot during a live broadcast and we watched Black Lives Matter protests nationwide. In pop culture we saw David Letterman sign off air and 50 Shades of Grey hit the big screen.

Years from now, we will all say, We remember when gas was below three dollars; when Barack Obama was president; and when drones were one of the hottest selling Christmas gifts. It’s the natural writing that occurs in the story book of our personal lives.

But real insight comes in sharing these points of reference in cross generational conversations.

As we head into 2016, I would urge you to talk with your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents — if you are lucky enough to have them. Ask the question, “What was it like when….”   You may find perspective on the New Year—by hearing more about years past.

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