Generational Gaps and the communication breakdown!

There are constant conversations around the different generational cohorts in social media along with their stereotype driven markers. These generational cohorts start with The Silent Generation those born between 1926 and 1945. The Baby Boomers were the next generational cohort from 1947-1964. Then came the Gen-X cohort of those born between 1966-1980. Followed by my generational cohort the Millennials (generation Y) from 1981-1995. The new taste makers Generation Z popularly known as Gen Z were born between 1996-2010. And the latest cohort of the very young born between 2011-present are known as Gen Alpha. 

This backdrop of the generational cohorts is important as it serves in giving context to the communication breakdown between different generations. The communication breakdown is informed among many things by the technology accessible as each cohort is coming of age. Can that generational cohort be regarded as digital natives leading to technology enthusiasm, or do they experience technology anxiety? 

Another aspect to the communication breakdown comes as a result of social change and progression. Older generations tend to have fewer progressive views and language. While the younger generations acquire progressive and inclusive language easily along with aligning views. This is not an absolute, as young people also can and do embody bigoted views and phobias concerning other groups.


A noteworthy example of how the communication breakdown between generations occurs is through cultural practices having new meaning. In the Eastern Cape the older generation for example has had to accept the street culture aspect of how amakrwala (initiation graduates) express themselves. Their interpretation and expression of that life stage is a new iteration for the older generations and causes a communication breakdown between the generations.

On the eve of Youth Day this year, the Radio 2000 afternoon drive team was hosting Mbongeni Ngema whose artistic contribution precedes him and is symbolic of an artist whose work truly reflected the times of apartheid South Africa. Co-host Lonwabo Nkhohla asked Mr. Ngema if he thinks the youth of today has the same fight as the youth of 1976. That question would bring about a classic generational cohort communication breakdown. Mr. Ngema shared views that were anti-migration into South Africa by fellow Africans. And went on to speak on the social plight of drug use and addiction as a moral failing on the part of the youth who battle addiction. Further expressing his views in a manner that could be interpreted as implying the youth of today are misusing their freewill and the liberties of living in a democratic nation. As a millennial, I was talking back at the radio pointing out the ways his views fail to contextualise issues faced by the youth today. There are structural issues that inform the reality of the youth in South Africa and it’s imperative to know and express that reality when looking to share views on contemporary issues. For those who have a platform to be conversation starters like the afternoon drive team at Radio 2000 it becomes important to ask these questions knowing that the legendary figures they are sharing space with have views that reflect their generational cohort. And therefore, can likely be views that could be objectively dated. Views that deserve some push back, respectfully. Views that do not see the forest for the trees. It was unfortunate that the team did not challenge nor propose some nuance on the issues touched on by Mr. Ngema in his response. Especially because xenophobia and substance addiction issues are major social challenges in South Africa. More care, empathy, insight and a deeper awareness is necessary when in conversation about them.