Recently, I was talking to a coworker who also has small children, and we were joking about this young generation and what they’ll be like as they grow older. You know… what kind of snarky jokes will we old-timers be making about these youngins and their weird characteristics in 15 years?
Oh, and I plan to be crotchety about it, because that’s how I picture myself as an old lady whose teenagers will have to teach her how to send a text message using only brain power, because in my day, using our thumbs was GOOD ENOUGH, DAMNIT!
In my current position, I do a lot of research and writing about the different generations, so I’m fairly well-versed on what makes us terrible millennials and how Generation Z is going to save the world if they manage to pull themselves away from their 18 electronic devices.
What we haven’t heard much about is Generation Alpha. It’s the next group of kiddos who follow Generation Z, most commonly cited as being born after 2010.
As with most generational studies, information about these up-and-comers won’t really be fully fleshed out until they’ve lived through a few big world events and scientists can study how these occurrences shape their mindsets.
But I have some theories of my own after living with a 5-year-old. So here’s my take on Generation Alpha.
They Need Immediate Gratification
As a “bridge” millennial, I’m part of a special breed of ’90s kids who remember a world before Google – when using microfiche was how you found news articles and you still referred to a map when lost.
The younger millennials have less recollection of these memories, and Gen Z legit has no idea the five minutes of praying that went along with the sound AOL made to boot up.
But even the youngest of us soon-to-be old farts won’t be able to comprehend the impatience Generation Alpha will have for anything less than 5G speed.
On any given day, you’ll hear my kid yell “Hey Siri” while he’s doing his business in the bathroom. Why? Because a thought just dawned on him that he doesn’t know how fast foxes can run and now has an alarmingly immediate need to know the answer.
It doesn’t matter where Siri is in the house because a little impish voice will still bark out random questions, and she’ll still answer back from some faraway bedroom and give some jumbled answer about finding something about it on the Internet.
He also knows Amazon Prime will deliver all the worldly goods in 2 days.
Point being, these kids will have no idea how tormented I was to wait for a VHS tape to rewind. Or that I needed to reference Encarta to learn about woodland creatures.
So, how does this fare for their future? I’m not sure, but I’m sure we could ask Alexa.
No Sense of Scheduling
We’re living in a Netflix world, my friends.
My early childhood memories involve flying off the school bus and timing my after-school snack just right so that I didn’t miss the opening credits of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”
Now, my wee child wakes up on a Saturday morning, grabs the remote, navigates his way to Netflix, and browses the playlist until he finds his next binge-worthy show.
And, oh, does he suddenly decide he wants to watch American Ninja Warrior? Well, we better check the cable to see if they have it on OnDemand. He’s seen those episodes, so let’s check if Netflix has it. No? Amazon Prime? No? Damnit, could someone please tell his tightwad parents to spring for Hulu already, Jeeeesuz?
It all ties back closely to the instant gratification desire, of course. But this time it’s instant access.
How many of you remember listening for hours to the radio in order to record your favorite song on cassette? Fox will never know that struggle because we have iTunes and Spotify and Pandora. And that random guy on YouTube who is kind enough to post a video with a weird backdrop that shows all the lyrics to a song.
I’m waiting for iTunes to release a microchip for our brains that houses our “Car Tunes” playlist.
The Strange Entertainment
I’ll admit it. The ’80s were a strange decade in itself. It only takes one episode of Zoobilee Zoo to realize we kids had some weird programming.
But you’ve never seen an acid trip played out on television until you’ve seen today’s Yo Gabba Gabba. I’m trying to picture a production meeting for that show, and the only thing I can imagine is a lot of marijuana.
Go figure, my kid freakin’ loved that show as a toddler. DJ Lance Rock and his bold choice of tight leotard along with his goofy large puppet friends on opium rocked his mini world every morning.
You know what else blew his damn mind? Watching people open eggs on YouTube. That’s a thing you know. There are people who exist on the Interwebz and open foreign chocolate Kinder eggs with hidden choking hazard toys on YouTube and make MILLIONS. OF. DOLLARS.
Because children like my son spend 45 minutes watching these videos without ever blinking once.
Not because they get the chocolate. Or the prize. In fact, I’m not sure of the appeal, but I’m also not part of this generation obsessed with strange shit, so I’m only an observer in this weird new world.
Digitally-Native to the Extreme
The term digitally-native is often thrown around when referencing Millennials and Gen Z, but Generation Alpha really embodies the cliché .
I can’t turn on the Nintendo Switch. Like, I legitimately have no idea how to make it appear on the TV, where the power button is and why there are 34 handheld controllers that go along with it. Why is it, then, that this small child, who has spent only 5 years Earth-side mind you, can get the whole 10-part system set up and can build a Mario Kart that is built for speed and agility based on the complicated task of choosing tires, parachutes, and the car body?
He can also navigate his way to YouTube with only a limited ability to read.
I’m in the Twilight Zone, surrounded by a generation of small, electronic-adept children who can program my universal remote. Accompanied with an exasperated sigh and possible eye roll.
It’s not a far stretch to recognize Generation Alpha members are the next digitally-savvy, social media connoisseurs of the future, but I’m also looking forward to their impact on society.
We Millennials get a ton of flak for just about everything. I get it. We’re lazy, we’ve had everything handed to us, and we want to make 100 grand right out of college. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But I’m giving us a few props. Namely, we tend to be pretty progressive as a whole, especially when it comes to letting others live and let live. In sum, we’re not phased by your sexual orientation, think your tattoo sleeve is artistic, and we care about big brands being on the right side of history. Of course, I’m generalizing a bit, but you get the picture.
Gen Z? They’re even more concerned with individualization and carving out personalized experiences in the world. Those students from Parkland are the true embodiment of that generation, forcing conglomerate corporations to reevaluate their ethical agendas and scaring politicians who can be swayed by a lobbyist’s large check.
What does this mean for Generation Alpha? They have some pretty fantastic teachers leading the way.
I took my son to a little music fest the other night where he met up with his best buddy and another little boy who we see every once in awhile. The three were playing animatedly, like little boys tend to do. Another little boy from a neighboring family bravely walked up and introduced himself, looking to join the fun.
The mom in me started to form a sentence that involved reminding the group of boys to be nice and make sure to include this new kid, but before I could get it out, Fox’s best friend puts his arm around the little boy and shouts, “Look guys! We have a new mate who wants to play! Everyone, meet Ian.”
In those words, people. I died.
My hope for this next generation is exactly what my hope is for my own specific little member (and future member) of this group. That kindness is the driving factor behind every action. That they stand behind their convictions. That they celebrate people’s differences.
And, at the end of the day, they recognize the entire world as one big group of friends.