georgia10 wrote a great essay on our generation (20s - 30s), but in truth I think she only really scraped a decent-sized hole in the surface of this topic, and there is much more to be teased out. (I'm 30 btw, but Australian, so there are some subtle differences.)
I'd like to offer some thoughts back, mainly in the spirit of continuing what I see to be a vital conversation.
please read on.....
First, I think it's important to recognise that we are not talking about a generation, but a sub-set of a generation, ie the middle / upper classes who are in their 20s and 30s. I think that little has changed for the poor, no matter what country they live in; they are still radically underpaid, overworked, and more pre-occupied with day to day survival. There are few who have the luxury, as I do, as a middle-class well-paid white woman, to contemplate the state of our generation.
To my mind, we are the consumer generation. We are the first generation for which capitalist consumerism is unquestionably the dominant world paradigm. All opposition has been quashed (communism, the third world non-aligned movement etc.), and while different countries and cultures flavour that consumer capitalism slightly differently, a consumerist, materialistic culture and economy dominates.
Whether this culture / economic model is starting to finally peak remains to be seen, but one defining characteristic I perceive is that our generation were the first to unquestioningly see experiences as simply another item that can be purchased, and have them marketed to us as such (although of course that sentence should be the other way `round). Everything can be bought and sold and that's the way it should be, for our generation, in terms of perception. (eg My generation generally cannot perceive what is wrong with purchasing a trip to see the last mountain gorillas in Uganda, which is not possible for the local people, and considerably harms their local environment and community.)
As a result, we are probably the shallowest, most lost and dangerously soul-less and selfish generation in some time. So while I know why, Georgia10, you thought of war as a defining generation- shaper, I think you were much closer when you wrote about sacrifice: our generation desperately needs meaning, and sacrifice to greater cause gave meaning and purpose to previous generations.
I don't think this yearning for meaning and purpose is unique to us, but other generations were provided with `simple' answers by wars, depression, famine etc. We don't have an easily recognisable source, such as a war, to turn to for meaning / purpose. But it's not true to say that we are not shaped by war, it's just happening in a far more insidious way. The truth is that our governments have never stopped waging, abetting, funding war all over the world, it just hasn't involved a direct sacrifice from us, and the overall repercussions for us have been overwhelmingly positive - more consumerables, rare metals to drive our technological societies (eg for mobile phones and faster computer chips), cheap clothes, exotic foods from the world over, household goods& cars sold at ridiculous prices because they are all made with sweatshop labour for us... All this has resulted from wars we have been trained to ignore.
But it's not just that. Other generations have been formed and left a legacy in decidedly philosophical paradigms, such as radical feminism, environmentalism. Our problem is that our generation has witnessed and indeed absorbed the co-option of both these ideas (to pick on just two big ones), and the process of creating and promulgating such ideas, by the corporate market. As a result they have lost their intrinsic meaning and value for us (witness the Spice Girls being hailed as feminists!)- we think we know them and that they have all be implemented, but it's a lie - and even worse, we have, I fear, lost the intuitive understanding of how to generate such paradigm shifts ourselves.
Coming full-circle, much of this relates to the entirely materialistic milieu we have imbibed from day 1 (remember, we were all in our formative years in the "me" 80s), which has worked to radically break down community as a fundamental underlier to our societies. We are highly individualistic (the closest thing we have to meaning for many - ignoring all the conformity of course) in terms of being self-possessed, self-motivated, and entirely out for number one. And this isn't even really seen as selfish, it's seen as `the way things are'. It also makes sense, because despite all the consumerist wealth surrounding us, we are also the first generation since the 1950s that probably can't afford to buy land and property in the way generations before could; our tail end (the early 20 year olds) are tipped to be the first generation that goes backwards in terms of net wealth. Competition is incredibly fierce as the middle class radically expands in other more populous nations. We are under real but insidious pressure. And aside from wealth, it has much broader implications, that Georgia10 began the conversation on.
If all your focus is on number one, increasing your experiences, wealth - your security - you're not very good at helping foster community. My generation think purchasing an experience of community equates to being part of one. We also live in societies that tell us there is no need for community - witness the constant progressive dismantling of social services, public capital, public ownership etc etc. in our countries, as we move to the `free' market and `globalisation' (which really means corporate hegemony') that began in the 1980s.
As a result, my generation is being succesfully pushed to undermine, abandon and denigrate all the concepts, ideals and ways of life that saved other generations from the fate we are facing. The bitter irony is as we become more individually obsessed with our economic security and consuming experiences to give us meaning, in the process we are dismantling the environment, our community, eording rights and gains from generations before. Until all that will be left standing is individuals who cannot cope alone.
But I do think there is hope, and I think the time to harness it and what is motivating it is now.
I think all of this above is why higher than average percentages of our generation are volunteering for community service, are purchasing experiences (eg overseas travel to exotic locations as part of `eco tours') - we are looking for meaning and purpose. The problem is also that we have been programmed with extremely short attention spans ("instant gratification is not quick enough" - Carrie Fisher), so previously we overall just haven't been able to be bothered picking up and pursuing the age-old fights against human rights abuses, to protect the environment, to secure equal rights for minorities, women and homosexuals etc. We have the material equivalent of these things being ok, so there's no real need right? But why do I feel so empty? Surely there's more to life than this....
I have little doubt that the Iraqi war and the human rights abuses of the Bush administration at home and abroad are going to be that `answer', that event that powerfully motivates my generation in the USA. It's affecting you all personally, increasingly, radically, frighteningly. Even without a draft, it demands a response.
I worry about my own country. We are on the same slippery slope, but our neo-conservative leadership is not entirely comprised of fundamentalist wack-jobs, so they are making far fewer mistakes - yet the profound moral decline of Australians, and the pervasive selfish ennui of my generation in this country is unmistakable, and I have less idea how to crack it. I'm not going to stop trying though, and forming links, through sites like Kos, to others of my generation trying to come to grips with the same thing, is definitely helpful.
So to end, I think this is the only gift available to America from the horror of Iraq; that it will awaken my generation in your country to fight, to say no, to oppose, to lead the country back towards becoming an ethical community. This is not a new fight, and it's an unending one. The generations before us have done their time, and many are tired or simply worn out now. We need to learn from those astonishing older individuals around us who are leading this fight once again; we have to gain what we can from their experience, and then we have to take over. Those of us in our prime, in our 20s and 30s have no excuse; this is our fight.