Often referred to as the “slacker generation” or “latchkey kids,” Gen Xers have grown up to be anything but slouches. On the contrary, they are arguably the most motivated and ambitious generation. From technology and music to transportation, Gen Xers have quietly led the way to some of the most innovative and revolutionary changes to the life we live today.
Gen X Had A Unique Start
While the definition varies, the Pew Research Center describes Generation X as those born between 1965 and 1980. They account for 65 million people in the United States and are projected to pass Baby Boomers in population by 2028. They are also positioned to become the wealthiest generation within the next few years.
What led to their success? Gen X kids were among the first to grow up in single-parent households or with both parents working. As a result, they learned to be independent and self-reliant at an early age. Having started their careers during the dot-com boom with the introduction to the internet, they are more comfortable using technology as a tool to innovate and turn their dreams into reality.
They have been pegged as the “kids who never grew up” because they were the ones who dialed down the formality of work, wore hoodies instead of ties, and brought their dogs to the office. Here are four Gen X innovators who prove that instead of being labeled the “slacker generation,” Gen Xers should be called the disruptor generation.
Larry Page Disrupted How We Access Information
Gen Xers were the first generation to grow up with access to home computers. Given their tech savvy beginnings, it’s no surprise that Google was founded by Gen Xers Larry Page and fellow graduate student Sergey Brin. Before Google, people had to go to the library and look up information in the encyclopedia or, god forbid, search through microfiche. Thanks to Page and the creation of Google, the way we search for information and news is infinitely different than anyone could have ever predicted.
Jeff Bezos Disrupted The Retail Industry
Before Amazon, shopping used to be hard work. You had to travel to stores, search through aisles hoping they had what you needed, and wait in line to buy things. It was the worst. Thanks in part to Gen Xer Jeff Bezos, you can now shop for almost anything, anytime, anywhere, and have it delivered to you in most cases by the next day.
After experiencing the convenience of shopping on Amazon, customers demanded other retailers to follow, and they did. Today, the vast majority of American consumers shop online—some 80% of the population according to some estimates—and the number only spiked once the pandemic hit. As a result of Jeff Bezos’ dream, Amazon is the fourth-most valuable U.S. company—behind Apple, Microsoft, and Google—with a market capitalization of around $1.7 trillion, greater than the gross domestic product of all but a dozen or so countries. Bezos’ latest focus seems to be using his unimaginable wealth to fund space travel.
Elon Musk Disrupted Transportation
Today, we have a choice on how we fuel our cars and the thought of taking a trip to space doesn’t sound like something out of a sci fi movie anymore, thanks to Gen Xer Elon Musk. Though many may remember him for his early involvement in PayPal, he is perhaps now best known for joining Tesla Motors in 2003 and becoming an immutable part of pop culture. Musk changed the way we get from point A to B by disrupting the automotive, space, and rail businesses. No slacker here, his portfolio of companies includes everything from electric cars and storage batteries to space logistics and a new form of high-speed train.
While Musk did not invent the first electric car or space travel, he is credited with increasing the popularity of both and in turn making them more mainstream. According to Statista, Tesla ranked as the most valuable automotive brand worldwide as of June 2022 and within the fifteen most valuable brands across all industries in 2021. His other major endeavor, SpaceX, has already made history by becoming the first private company to deliver a spacecraft to the International Space Station. To make spaceflight cheaper and more efficient, Musk is also working on a prototype reusable rocket called Grasshopper.
And if driving and space travel aren’t enough, his latest effort, Hyperloop, seeks to transform the way we commute with a high-speed transportation system with tubes for both commuters and companies.
Parker And Fanning Disrupted The Music Industry
Do you remember waiting by the radio so you could record your favorite song or begging your parents to drive you to Record World so you could spend all your money on an entire album, just to get one or two songs? Can you imagine if the only way you could find new music was to listen to your local radio station?
Fortunately, we no longer have to do any of that thanks to Gen Xers Sean Parker and Sean Fanning. The two disrupted the music industry by launching Napster in 1999. Suddenly, every album you ever wanted to hear was at your fingertips and available to download. The service also allowed aspiring artists without a record deal the ability have their music heard without the help of a major label.
It seemed like we were in a golden age of music until record labels and established artists got into an uproar over the public having free, albeit illegal, access to music. Napster caused enough debate, reflection, and innovation to create the current state of music accessibility and paved the way for online stores and streaming services like iTunes, YouTube, Facebook, and Amazon, who are all now reaping the benefits.
As the result of the Recording Industry Association of America’s lawsuit, Napster ended up shutting down in July 2001. Its creators were forced to pay millions of dollars to artists and copyright holders. Since then, Napster has gone through several changes and today is part of the music subscription service Rhapsody. Ironically enough, iTunes started the same year that Napster crashed and is thriving.