After Gen X, Millennials, what should next generation be?
— -- A frantic race to name the next generation of American consumers may be nearing the finish line.
The winner could walk off with fame, fortune — and way cool bragging rights.
But exactly what do you call a generation of techno-junkies? How about Generation Wii — after the wildly popular home video game console? Or, perhaps, the iGeneration — with a wink and nod to Apple's iPod and iPhone? Both are in the running. So are a bunch of other tech-drenched monikers, including Gen Tech, Digital Natives and, of course, Net Gen.
"Everyone wants to be the first to come up with the name," says Cheryl Russell, dubbed the goddess of demography at New Strategist Publications, who is one of several with claims to have coined the term iGeneration, which she says she created three years ago. "It's cool — and you gain credibility."
The more important question: What does one generation have to gain — or lose — from the name with which it's tagged? Certainly, no one wants to be linked to a generation of deadbeats or lowlifes. Little wonder those names have never risen to the top of any generational list. None officially dubbed Pathetic Generation — at least, not yet. But some might call Gen Z — a term still in-the-running for the next generation — rather off-putting. If Boomers felt a sense of common strength, Millennials may have felt a sense of shared destination. Ultimately, a generational name reflects its hope or pessimism.
"Generational labels don't always reflect reality," says psychology professor and generational writer Jean Twenge. "Often, they reflect the hopes of what people want a generation to be."
Those positioning themselves to crown the next generation with its name include everything from marketing specialists to demographic experts to trade publications to trend gurus. Since the early 1900s, we've gone in roughly two-decade-long socio-groupings, from the GI Generation to the Silent Generation to Baby Boomers to Gen Xers to Millennials. Whatever you call it, the still-forming generation of young folks whose birth dates roughly begin around 1995, will be the technically savviest ever.
Naming it, however, will require an unusual combination of science, art and, perhaps, luck.
"You don't wear a lab coat to name a generation," says Scott Hess, vice president of insight at Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU). "You wear a barrette."
And, perhaps, hold a crystal ball.
"No one knows who will name the next generation," says Neil Howe, who, along with his deceased co-author and business partner, William Strauss, is widely credited with naming the Millennials, a generation he figures spans from about 1982 to 2004. Millennials, he says, lived during a huge cultural change in how to nurture children. It was the era of the Baby on Board stickers. Cocooning. Over-protected kids.
And, arguably, he's got early dibs in to name the next generation, as well. His company sponsored a website contest in 2005, and folks voted overwhelmingly for the "Homeland Generation." That was not long after 9/11, and one fallout of the disaster was a nation that felt more safe staying home.
But he's not set on that name. "We're not totally wed to it," he says. "We've resisted the temptation to name the next generation until we think the Millennial Generation has run its course." That will be a while, he says, because the heart of the next generation is still mostly in nursery school.