Many factors shape a generation – the economy, the political scene, parenting trends, educational methods and big turning-point events like the Kennedy and King assassinations, 9/11 or The Great Depression.
A new generation is created when several elements like those above come together and create a clear shift in the national mood—from passionate to cynical maybe or, more recently, from cynical to urgent.
Right now, we’re watching those factors shape a new gen -- young people under 23 who are your family, your co-workers and your customers. Born after 9/11, they witnessed the 2008 financial crisis and Obama’s election. They’ve never known a world without terrorism, climate change or the internet. More than digital natives, they're cloud natives. In short, they are something new.
What will we call them? Edgers, iGen, Homelanders?
It takes a while to name each new generation. For example, ten years ago we were still calling Millennials everything from Gen Y and Gen Why to Echo Boomers, Gen Now, Boomerangs and Gen Next. But the name that finally took hold was the most meaningful -- Millennials.
And for this new group? Sooooooooo many names. Gen Z is a convenient placeholder, but for a decade we’ve seen names proposed — everything from Gen Alpha to Founders, Plurals, Post-Millennials, Homelanders, Gen Edge and iGen. Those last three have my attention. I think one of them will be the name we eventually settle on for this group.
Why does it matter what we call them? Because the names we give generations help us understand ourselves, our history and our future.
Right now the name "iGen," with its obvious reference to the the iPhone, is getting lots of attention. Generations researcher Jason Dorsey originated the name about six years ago. More recently, author Jean Twenge has written extensively about the isolation of Gen Z teens who seldom hang out with friends, drive or date because they stay at home with their iPhones. Twenge can be alarmist (note her dire predictions about “Me Generation” Millennials a decade ago), but her research is sound. She tracks distinct trends toward isolation and less social behavior in 'tweens and teens after the introduction of the iPhone. If the iPhone shapes Zs (and all of us) so profoundly, this may be the first generation ever named for their technology.
On the other hand, any generation that grows up on during a 4th Turning is living on the edge of change and disruption—social, economic, technological and political. The visionary marketing firm The Sound first introduced the name Gen Edge, and I am really drawn to it. The Sound describes "Edgers" (has a ring, doesn't it?) as a tough bunch, resourceful, resilient and realistic, in short a generation with an edge. Gen Edge works well with generational theory as well, reflecting a 4th Turning urgency.
Then there’s Homelanders. Think about the salient marker of this generation's beginning – “born after 9/11.” Gen Zs were born after the country recognized its vulnerability, born after large-scale terror visited US shores for the first time, born as the country came to terms with new-found vulnerability. Growing up during a period of virulent nationalism, Gen Z has never known a world with out Homeland Security, the Patriot Act and increasing surveillance. Given a few more years, this gen may emerge as defenders of the homeland, and the name may stick. That would be interesting in that Homelanders was the first name ever proposed for this group. Before the first Gen Zs were born, the founders of generational studies, William Strauss and Neil Howe, dubbed the group Homelanders.
Why does all this matter? Because the names we give generations help us understand ourselves, our history and our future. Those names, no matter how controversial or uncomfortable, reveal something about who we are.
Do you have a fav name for Gen Z? Join the conversation. Tweet us @AmyLynchGenEdge, and don't forget to add your #Generation.