Y Gen Z Should Be The Last Of The Letter Generations

23/03/2016 11:33 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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A young girl uses a tablet computer late at night with the glow from the screen on her face.

The emerging generations these days sound a bit like alphabet soup.

After the Baby Boomers we had Generations X, then Y and Z. But what comes next? A few years ago when I was researching my book, it became apparent that a new generation was about to commence and there was no name for them. So I conducted a survey (we're researchers after all) to find out what people think the generation after Z should be called. While many names emerged, and Generation A was the most mentioned, I settled on Generation Alpha.

Generation Alpha made sense as it is in keeping with scientific nomenclature of using the Greek alphabet in lieu of the Latin, and it didn't make sense to go back to A -- after all, they are the first generation wholly born in the 21st Century and so they are the start of something new not a return to the old.

From generational research I have found that generic labels rather than descriptive ones are likely to last. Names such as the Baby Boomers, which describe a unique demographic phenomenon at the birth of a generation, or even Millennials, based on the timing when the leading edge were coming of age, are aberrations.

A label such as Gen X, Gen Z and Gen Alpha provide a blank canvas on which a generation can create their own identity, rather than having a descriptive label, relevant for just a segment of the cohort or for a period of time, pinned on them. And while some Gen Xers bemoan their label, other such as 'latch-key kids' and 'the MTV generation', as they were also called, now seem ridiculous for this generation who are entering their fifties. Similarly, for the Millennials or Gen Y, labels such as 'the dot com kids' and 'the iPod generation' have proved to be short-sighted.

Larger, living longer and older younger

There are more than 2.5 million Gen Alphas born globally every week. When they have all been born (2025) they will number almost 2 billion. Even though the first of them were born at the start of this decade, there are already 2 million of them in Australia alone. The oldest of them began school this year and they will be the most formally educated generation ever, the most technology supplied generation ever, and, globally, the wealthiest generation ever. They will comprise the largest generation of middle-class consumers our world has ever seen and they are also 'upagers' -- more mature at younger ages and influencing parental purchasing earlier -- and so it is no surprise that marketers, not just parents and teachers, are trying to better understand and prepare for this generation.

The Alphas are largely the children of Generation Y, and so parents are older, having fewer children, more culturally diverse and earning more (generally two-income earning) than their parent's generation. This generation of children will be shaped in households that move more frequently, change careers more often and increasingly live in urban not just suburban environments. This generation will stay in education longer, start their earning years later and stay at home with their parents longer than was previously the case. The role of parents therefore will span a longer age range, with many of these Gen Alphas likely to be still living at home into their late twenties.

Generation Glass

Generation Alpha are part of an unintentional global experiment where screens are placed in front of them from the youngest age as pacifiers, entertainers and educational aids. This great screenage in which we are all living has bigger impacts on the generation exposed to such screen saturation during their formative years. From shorter attention spans to the gamification of education, increased digital literacy to impaired social formation, these times impact us all but transform those in their formative years.

Generation Alpha began being born in 2010, the year the iPad was launched, Instagram was created and App was the word of the year. They will be raised as screenagers to a greater extent than the fixed screens of the past could facilitate. For this reason, we also call them Generation Glass, because the glass that they interact on now, on a screen in their hand, on their wrist, as glasses, on the Head Up Display of the car they learn to drive on or on the interactive school desk where they learn, will transform how they work, shop, learn, connect and play.

We were raised in a world where glass was something you looked through, but for them, it is something you look at. For us it was "hands off the glass" but for this kinaesthetic generation, glass is a hands-on medium. Not since Gutenberg transformed the utility of paper with his printing press in the 15th Century has a medium been so transformed for learning and communication purposes as glass -- and it has happened in the lifetime of Generation Alpha.

What comes after Alpha?

Generational definitions are most useful when they span a set age range and so allow meaningful comparisons across generations. That is why the generations today each span 15 years with Generation Y (Millennials) born from 1980 to 1994; Generation Z from 1995 to 2009 and Generation Alpha from 2010 to 2024. And so it follows that Generation Beta will be born from 2025 to 2039.

If the nomenclature sticks then we will afterwards have Generation Gamma and Generation Delta, but we won't be getting there until the second half of the 21st Century, so there is plenty of time to reflect on the labels.

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