America is a nation of narcissists. As Narcissus was notorious for gazing lovingly at his own reflection, so we now gaze at ourselves. Constantly. And when we are not gazing at ourselves, we’re gazing at others gazing at themselves.

This is actually nothing new; despite the fact that many pundits wish to pin this behavior on the Millennials (those born in or just after 1980), truthfully it started with Baby Boomers (those born 1946 to 1964) who approached life with a sense of their own specialness and continue to do so.

In this era of vast social media and proliferating cell-phone cameras, everyone is or can be an autobiographer in real time, documenting life’s every twist, turn, and grilled cheese sandwich on their Facebook pages. For the optical business, these cultural trends are good news (though tinged with a little bad news).

For years, the industry salivated over the idea of Baby Boomers becoming presbyopes and all that that implied. Feeling special and typically vain, Boomers eschewed the flattop 28s of their parents’ generation in favor of far more cosmetically attractive progressive addition lenses. If they had to wear glasses, they wanted to look good doing it-hence the explosion of fashion and designer eyewear. Tellingly, much of this activity created the most robust period of optical industry growth from the late ’80s to about 2000.

Now comes along the latest “Look at Me” generation, the 20-to-30-somethings social scientists
call Millennials, the biggest generation since the Boomers. They celebrate their self-importance with just about every post and tweet they broadcast. And like the Boomers (their parents), this group has vanity and a sense of entitlement, so they tend to be more receptive to eyewear because glasses, and certainly sunglasses, are now cool.

But (and here’s the bit of bad news), unlike their moms and dads, this group is far less inclined to spend money lavishly. They’re also suspicious of commercial enterprises (especially big ones) and aren’t into status-laden brands. And while they’re most concerned with themselves, they have a more altruistic worldview (if this sounds like the Warby Parker formula, you got it).

The common denominator here for both groups is their strong sense of self. If optical appeals to that character trait, there’s another business boom in the offing.

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