Digital Generations

Generational Theory is a concept developed by William Strauss and Neil Howe suggesting that each generation has a defining event in their early (often teenage) lives that set the worldview and general characteristics of that particular age group. 

Although there are disagreements as to what year each generation begins and end, their is definitive agreement that: 

  • The generational characteristics are sweeping statements about those who are born within the allocated years
  • Those who are born into a generation do not always fit neatly within those generational characteristics
  • Individuals in one generation can easily identify with the characteristics associated with those in another generation, rather than those within their ‘designated’ generation.

 Generational Theory has been promoted and adopted predominantly in the USA. Although some in the UK use this theory, it is not as widely recognised or accepted.

A summary of each generation is described below:

Digital Generations

Baby Boomers

Generally born between 1940 to 1960, they are currently (2020) around 60 to 80 years old.

The WOW generation. The wealthiest generation ever, healthier and living to be older than those before them and due to their life experience tend to be wiser than younger generations.

Defining events in their youth:

  • The Beatles, Woodstock and the moon landing
  • Enjoying cradle to grave wealth fare
  • The cold wall was a reality – until they smashed down the Berlin Wall.

Characteristics:

  • It is said of them that ‘never has a generation had it so good’
  • They are ‘change makers’ – their youth was characterised by protests and activism
  • They were experimental and idealistic which rejecting or redefining the traditional values their parents held
  • They are wise, marketing savvy, tending towards consumerism and tend to brand hop.

There are 21 million adults aged 50+ in the UK market, with 15,000 people turning 50 every week. This group of individuals owns over 80% of the UK’s wealth and controls about £270 billion disposable income and they feel invisible, ignored and patronised.

Generation X

Generally born between 1961 to 1982, they are currently (2020) around 38 to 59 years old.

The ‘Sandwich Generation’ are financially and physically looking after both their parents and their children.

They make up 35% of the UK’s employed workforce.

Defining events in their youth:

  • Unprecedented change: end of the Cold War, fall of the Berlin Wall and the unravelling of Socialism
  • HIV/Aids becomes a major desease
  • The PC becomes a household item
  • Career-mindedness, rather than job-mindedness becomes a norm
  • Anti-consumerism dominates – transient tastes and lack of identity

Characteristics:

  • Grew up in an analogue world and had to learn to be digital savvy
  • Rebellious and independent
  • Sceptical, cynical and anxious – trying to set the world to rights and make a difference
  • Self-help fanatics.

Millennials (Gen Y)

Generally born between 1983 to 1995, they are currently (2020) around 25 to 37 years old.

Sometimes referred to as Generation Me.

Defining events in their youth:

  • Post-modernism
  • The technology revolution – with technology as a lifestyle rather than a privilege
  • Global warming/climate change
  • ‘Environmental Devastation’ – wildlife preservation and diminishing natural resources on the agenda

Characteristics:

  • Tech dependent (rather than tech savvy)
  • Unapologetically focussed on the individual – selfish and self-regarding
  • ‘That doesn’t work for me’ mindset
  • Everything is a choice – in the goal of ‘achieving my own happiness’
  • Confident, assertive, entitled and miserable
  • Narcissistic

Gen Z (iGen)

Generally born between 1996 to 2015, they are currently (2020) around 5 to 24 years old.

Defining events in their youth:

  • War on Terror: although most do not remember 9/11 in the USA or 7/7 in London.
  • Covid-19 Global Pandemic, lockdown and home-schooling
  • Do not remember a world before FaceBook or smartphones
  • Technology and ubiquitous computing is the norm
  • No delineation between online and offline friendships merge into one
  • Mental health awareness 

A great book that gives some interesting insight into the iGen in Jean Twenge’s book of the same name, which you can purchase here and you can visit her website here.

 

Characteristics:

  • Less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy and less prepared for adulthood.
  • Will likely have characteristics more similar to those in their own age, than an other generations in their own country.  

‘Technology is only new if you remember it the way it was before’ (Jason Dorsey). 

You can watch a bit more about the generations that come after Millennials in his Ted Talk.

Alpha Generation

Generally born after 2016, they are currently (2020) under 5 years old.

Defining events in their youth:

  • Covid-19 Global Pandemic and lockdown
  • Virtual meetings
  • Ubiquitous technology
  • Parented mostly by Millennials

Characteristics:

  • Diversity is a norm, rather than an issue
  • Technology is the experience