Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Here's a photo from a student Social Studies project showing five generations in one family, the youngest in the photo being the student's mother. It is remarkable to think about the potential of intergenerational wisdom; in fact this idea is what formed the foundation for two kinds of student Heritage projects at my school. Not just wisdom but also humour, purpose, shame, awe, controversy, destiny, grief, and inspiration.

I've worked with our school's teacher-librarian over the years to encourage our students to interview their elders, and to think about how their generation might see things differently than the one(s) that came before. Not everything works along generational lines, but it is a practical way for students to conceptualize the last 150 years.  One of the things my teacher-librarian and I chat about is what to call the next cohort of students in our school -- the generation that follows the so-called Millennials.

Here's a list of the generations previous:
  • Generation Y / The Millennials / The Echo Generation -- c.1982 - c.2006
  • Generation X -- c.1965 - c.1984
  • Baby Boomers -- 1946 - c.1964
  • The Silent Generation / Lucky Few -- c.1925 - c.1945 
  • The Greatest Generation / G.I. Generation -- c.1901 - c.1924
  • The Lost Generation -- c.1883 - c.1900
Here's what we came up with so far for the next generation -- c.2005 - ?:
  • Generation Z
  • The Quantum Gen
  • Hyperconnected Gen / Networked Gen
  • Meme Gen
  • Post-Carbon / Green Gen
Characteristics: Those born after the creation of popular online social networks, after global acceptance of climate change (and the gloom therein) but also after global shift in growth rate from exponential back to linear. Most of the world's poorer nations of the world have transitioned from early expanding, underdeveloped status to become newly industrialized with declining birth rates. China overtakes Japan and Germany to rival the United States in economic status. Globalization and pervasive, hyperconnected mobile technology dominate all aspects of life. Advances in science have given us insight into the cosmos as well as the basic building blocks of life and matter.

Why the name choices?

Gen Z - for Zombie of course - a revived symbol of deathlessness to go along with Vampires, Werewolves and such. These timeless denizens underwent a revival since the publication of Twilight in 2005, but do we really want that event to mark the beginning of a generation?  In 2005, Aubrey de Grey predicted, in a TED talk, that the generation that will live forever has already been born. While he didn't have Zombies in mind, the idea fits -- the focus is on the next 100 years and not the last.  In education it is around 2005 when educational marketers and pundits start pushing the "21st century" learner, teacher, education system and so on.  Better late than never.  The students of the new century are supposed to be less concerned about fixed states of learning (including subject areas) and more about creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking.

Quantum Gen - a quantum is essentially the smallest entity that comprises some larger whole, it is a reduction of complex systems down to the basic parts.  This is a fitting metaphor for the way in which modern sciences (including social sciences) have growing confidence that we can actually understand ideas that were previously immutable, particularly as it relates to the brain, genome research, biotechnology, and different kinds of physics. This is the generation that will see transhuman experimentation (cyborgs), mind control, and perhaps interstellar travel. Read Asimov's Foundation series for the blueprint.

Networked Gen / Hyperconnected - Speaking of 2005, this is also the year that Youtube is created.  A year later it's Twitter.  During these years, Facebook turns from a college online yearbook to a wide-open social network.  These three form the unholy Trinity of Social Media that would shape the existing generations and create new conditions for the one that follows.  Sorry, Myspace.

Meme Gen - This is also the generation that saw the rise of memes, both as a philosophical/psychological/linguistic term about cultural transmission, and of course the popularized meme which is about mimicry, deconstructing (or debasing) cultural detritus, and use of familiar images, catchphrases, and media in order to be witty on the internet.

Post-Carbon / Green Gen - The Earth is witnessing affects of environmental crises, notably as a result of climate, but also the possibility that exponential population growth is turning back to linear.  Nations are finally taking carbon emissions seriously after mixed results of the Kyoto Protocal.  Bali and Copenhagen Summits set new goals, and governments have shown a new willingness to put controls on carbon and seek energy alternatives.  Alas, much wishful thinking here and Greed could stand in for Green often as not.

Please feel free to critique these or suggest some new ones.

Sept 2015 update: just read an interesting article about the extent to which Americans identify with their generational labels:  http://www.people-press.org/2015/09/03/most-millennials-resist-the-millennial-label/