The millennials—perhaps you may have read about them somewhere along the line—are the largest generation in American history. Roughly speaking, they were born between 1980 and the early 2000s and this wide span, plus the sheer magnitude of their numbers, has created a taxonomy problem: There are so many of them, with such variegated lives, that it’s difficult to make useful generalizations about them.
All of which has lead people to try to segment out the generation. New Yorkmagazine’s Jesse Singal helpfully suggests thinking of the generation as two distinct groups: “Old Millennials” and “Young Millennials.” Singal pegs the main differences between the two to the rise of smartphones and the onset of the global financial crisis. BuzzFeed noticed the same divide and came up with what may be the most BuzzFeedish piece ever: “45 Signs You’re An Old Millennial.” The listicle consists mainly of technological advances—dial-up Internet, flip phones, and CD players—interspersed with pop culture and a bit of politics.
But both pieces miss what I contend is the true dividing line: September 11.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were far more profound and transformative for us “older” millennials than Carson Daly’s TRL or the splintering of NSYNC or the switch from dialup to broadband.