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Generation What?


The people that constitute Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials are all described, at least partially, by their names. The term ‘Baby Boomer’ represents the explosion in birth rates and subsequent liberalisation of the post-World War II Western World.

So far, so good. Arguably, ‘Gen X’ represents a reaction to old-fashioned institutions by a generation inaccurately maligned as disaffected; Gen X challenged and diminished the hegemony of organised religion, political ideologies and even record labels. They boldly drew a cross through the past.

‘Millennials’ invokes a sense of new-millennium optimism, a generation who’d been raised to think that the world is their oyster, that things can only get better, but who subsequently discovered that they’ve been led up the garden path. Regardless, their name is far superior to the adjectively-empty alternative, ‘Gen Y’. X yes, but now Y – what are we talking about here, sex chromosomes? Have we given up trying to describe what we observe? Worse still, we now have ‘Gen Z’ foisted upon us, a meaningless moniker, lazily applied to a generation about whom our understanding is still in its infancy and must continually evolve.

If we’re simply going to apply an alphabetical sequence, what comes next, Gen Ω?

In reality, they are all-too-convenient labels with which to aggregate heterogeneous groups of people who have enormously varied lives. But such things are a necessary evil. They help us to make a little more sense of an increasingly complex and populous world.

At Initiative, we recently described Millennials as being the most creative generation yet, respecting creativity and innovation like no preceding generation. The next cohort, armed with technology since they were toddlers, will soon assume that title. The least we can do, as marketers and researchers, is to create an interesting and descriptive name for them. We might even earn their respect.

So, let’s kick-start the debate. Generation Edge has been proposed in some quarters. Not bad – it succinctly captures the struggles of growing up in a tough economic climate, with an uncertain future. iGeneration is another front-runner. It’s a little vague, but alludes to a world of connected devices. Or does the ‘i’ stand for international, or independent? Or something else, or anything at all?

If anything comes close to defining this generation, as the end of World War II and the Millennium did for its predecessors, it may well be the ubiquity of the internet, and the effect of growing up in this massively inter-connected world. Could they be ‘Connecters’, ‘New Netizens’? Perhaps we need to watch them for longer to be sure.