I suppose I have a special interest in this topic because I’ve never fit completely into either Gen X or Gen Y. The thread prompted me to Wikipedia, which has, IMHO, one of the best articles describing where people like me (born in '81) fit in:
Some of the highlights have already been mentioned, but I think the following are notable:
We’re the last generation that got old enough to know about the Cold War while it was still going on. Granted, I wasn’t yet 10 when the Soviet Union was broken up, but I do have vivid memories of our school maps and globes saying USSR. Likewise, I remember the wall coming down, and the sheer number of people who bought pieces of it for their desks.
We remember a time before the internet; most of us had home computers when we were children, but they didn’t have modems. Truthfully, I recall being in 7th grade and hearing our teacher talk about the coming “information superhighway” and I laughed. I figured it was a fad and wouldn’t last. Heh.
At a very impressionable age, 10 or 12, we saw the first Gulf War on television (at my house, we were still a few years away from getting our C-band satellite) and, political arguements aside, saw how fast and “easily” we won. I recall my 4th grade class sending care packages to soldiers. More telling, though, is that we all traded Gulf War trading cards. “Do you have the F-117 yet?” “No, but I’ll trade you a Stormin’ Norman card for it.”
By the time we cuspers, or Gen XY, or the MTV Generation, or whatever, reached the “cool years” (which I define as age 14-19) we’d seen Generation X become a brand. We were being forcefed the “Pepsi, generation neXt” commercials, grunge had become a copy of a copy, and Cobain had already died. We watched (with horror) the transition of MTV into a marketer of cool, and I think we have a more innate understanding of the “crass corporate vulture feed[ing] on mass consumer culture.”
We cuspers were in college on 9/11. The point I want to make here is difficult, but I think 9/11 made us more pragmatic. I don’t see the anti-war movement in my generation (certainly not when compared to the boomers) but, at the same time, we’re leery of blind patriotism. To make a broad generalization, my friends in GenY seem to be more apathetic, and my friends in GenX seem to be more extremist. We’re stuck in the middle. Does that make any sense whatsoever?
So, to get to the OP, I think that the differences are real, because those of us between the generations have a difficult time identifying with either. In my experience, I can see differences between my father (The Great Generation), my older friends (GenX), myself (XY), and my younger friends (Y). Maybe I’m just crazy, though.