Were Boomers “With” or “Without”?

As we all age, it’s interesting to note how other generations perceive us and our earlier years. For example, boomers had grandparents who were born in the late 1800s, or early 1900s. They grew up in a time when horses and wagons were commonplace, yet many of them lived to see a man walk on the moon. Now the same types of historical references are being said about the Boomer Generation.

For Mister Boomer, it’s hard to imagine that there are now TWO generations born that never knew a world without the internet. Mister B has had some nostalgic fun through the years reminding readers of the Way We Were compared to the Way It Is. Boomers, as we know, did not have internet, cell phones, instant messaging, social media or even personal computers in their heyday. What we did have was our lives in the timeline of history. So, were we a generation “without”? How can you miss something you may have never even imagined?

The Boomer Generation is often termed the TV generation, because we were the first to grow up with television. It’s probably just as hard for boomers to imagine a world without television as it is now for kids to wonder about a world without cell phones. They may find the whole notion to be post-industrial primitive, but it was everyday life for us. Wall phones and phone booths were our conveniences, modern marvels our grandparents did not have.

Commonplace objects are not immune to the march of progress, either. In Mister Boomer’s household, paper towels weren’t used until the late 1960s. Paper towels have been available to consumers since the 1920s, but their use wasn’t a part of Mister B’s childhood. Rags made from old clothing or bed linens were stored in a container in the basement for any and all purposes, from mopping floors to cleaning paint brushes; dusting furniture to polishing the car. In the kitchen, cloth towels were used for everyday spills and the like that today, people think nothing of tearing off a paper towel to handle (the quicker picker-upper!). Cloths and rags were washed and reused. There was not a dryer in Mister Boomer’s house until the 1960s, either. Outdoor clotheslines did the job.

To ask which is better is not the right question. Each has its place in history. Likewise, it seems prudent that we of the Boomer Generation not malign those younger than us for having modern conveniences and communications that we did not. As Bob Dylan so aptly reminded our parents, Don’t criticize what you can’t understand. (The Times They Are a-Changin’, 1964)

Like our ancestors, boomers adapted quickly to technological changes in their lives. It appears humans are hard-wired to both invent ways of improving their surroundings, and master the tools and resources they create. Boomers will recall when the move to home videotape meant helping a parent set up a VCR machine so it didn’t constantly blink 12:00. Now, boomers have embraced social media, according to some sources, more than any other generation.

Nonetheless, the proverbial shoe is now on the other foot. How can I be sure? In a world that’s constantly changing? … is what the Young Rascals sang to us (How Can I Be Sure, 1967). Ok, the song wasn’t about technology, but romance. Still, the phrase seems appropriate in a time when people on Earth control helicopters flying over the Martian surface, and NFTs are a BFD.

Where does that leave boomers? If the past fifty years is any indicator, the world will be vastly different in the coming decades. Our generation’s history proves we’re adaptive beyond belief. Maybe we’ll adapt enough to learn to ask for help when we need it. Or maybe we’ll even feel comfortable enough to ask for one of those autonomous vehicles to drive us to the CVS to pick up a prescription.

What about you, boomers? Did you buy a hoverboard to make up for your childhood, deprived of even a skateboard? Are you tech savvy or tech-challenged? And does that matter to you at this stage of your life?

Boomers Went on Job Interviews

It’s been called the Great Resignation. The last three months of 2021 saw more people quitting their jobs than ever on record. The word is that the pandemic has made people think twice about the time they spend earning a living. A good portion of those resigning, the story continues, have done so to accept better positions that pay more money, and afford more freedom to work when and where they choose.

That got Mister Boomer thinking about how incredibly different job searches are today compared to the boomer days. Even most part-time jobs require online applications these days; there were no personal computers when boomers entered the job market. Though the computer (and subsequently mobile phone) changed everything, there were other differences, too.

When a boomer went looking for work, there were three main resources upon which to draw: walking door-to-door and asking businesses in person whether they were hiring; getting a referral from a family or friend (called “networking” these days); or searching employment ads in the local newspaper Classifieds. In Mister B’s early searches, he tapped all three, with mixed results.

While still in high school, Mister Boomer got his first part-time job by walking into businesses and filling out applications. It took far longer than he had anticipated, trying both larger companies, like Sears or regional supermarkets, to smaller retail stores and burger joints. After two weeks of searching, he landed a job at a regional burger joint. A little more than a year later, he employed the same shoe leather method to find the job where he worked through his college years.

Nearing graduation, Mister B, like every other boomer, dutifully created a resume, and made dozens of copies. A friend gave him a referral for one interview, and his father lined up another through a co-worker. Neither produced employment. Mister B perused the employment ads in the newspaper every day, circling possible prospects. Then, taking to the family’s antique typewriter, he’d compose a cover letter to each one, pairing it with a photocopied resume before tri-folding the pages and sliding them into an envelope. Sometimes the ads requested a SASE; that meant you were to include a “self-addressed, stamped envelope.” The whole process required visits to a stationery store for envelopes and typing paper, a photocopy store to make copies of your resume, and the post office to buy stamps. Once the envelopes were addressed and stamped, they could be dropped into the corner mailbox. Then we waited.

Sometimes, the SASE came back within a week, and you knew you didn’t get the job before opening the envelope. Sometimes it took two or more weeks before there was any word. If you were lucky enough, your fishing expedition got a bite and you landed an interview. Phone calls were rare because there was no voice mail on the telephone secured to the wall in the kitchen.

Then there was the interview. Regardless of the level of the job, if you were seeking full-time employment, it was advisable to look your very best. In the 1960s and ’70s, many boomer males will recall their long hair was a problem for most of the business world. Some places would require trimming before employment. Others did not allow facial hair of any kind. Women were also subject to dress codes and were mainly required to wear dresses or pant suits with dress shoes.

When attending an interview — they were all in person, not conducted by telephone, and no video phones were available — the interviewer, usually male, would greet you from behind a desk, shake your hand and offer you a chair. The person would check out your resume and interrogate you about your life, job experience and general worthiness for the position.

After an interview, it was expected that you would follow up by sending a thank you note in the mail directly to the interviewer (more stamps!). In the note, which was expected to be hand-written, you were encouraged to stress any points you missed or wanted to reiterate to tip the scales in your favor. Then we waited. Sometimes, you would not hear back at all. Other times, two or three weeks later, you might get a form letter telling you there were so many qualified candidates, and thank you for your time, but you just weren’t a good fit for this position. One day, you’d get the envelope with the letter that congratulated you and named the day and time you were expected to report to work. Sometimes, a phone number was given to call and accept the job.

Where the post office was instrumental in boomer-era job searches, these days, it is no longer necessary. The computer (or mobile phone) has replaced the need for stamps, envelopes and typing paper. However, cover letters, and in most cases, resumes, are still necessary, but they now exist in digital form, whisking to their destination at the click of a button. It’s something that was only in the dreams of science fiction writers during the boomer years.

Newspapers are all but irrelevant to a job search as well. Online “classified” and recruitment applications make job searches a much simpler activity. Some will actually sort and deliver job possibilities directly to you, based on criteria you enter. At the same time, searching for information on a company, its officers and industry chatter is all available on personal devices. If company info was wanted in boomer times, it meant a trip to the library and consultation with a librarian to uncover even a tiny morsel of information.

In the boomer years, even George Jetson went to work each day. We could not imagine working from home, even in our wildest dreams. In 1960, one third of all jobs were connected to manufacturing, a statistic that changed dramatically in the two decades following the boomer years of the 1960s and ’70s.

What job search and interview stories come to mind for you, boomers?