Generation Alpha

August 27, 2019

While most of us are still talking about millennials and Gen Z (as we did some weeks ago), marketeers are already shifting their focus to the next cohort: Generation Alpha. These kids were born in the 2010s, most of them have millennials as parents and they are regarded as the first generation raised on touchscreens and digital media. It seems a bit early to proclaim the “next generation”, by most accounts Gen Z is still in school, but it is nevertheless interesting to consider how this generation would differ from Gen Z.

Our observations

  • While the labels and exact timing differ somewhat between generational typologies, the periodization and characterization of post-war generations (in the West) is generally agreed upon: baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and Gen Z.
  • Whether or not the next generation is already among us depends on the timeline and explanatory variables one adheres to. Those who argue that Generation Alpha was born from 2010 onwards assignabout 15 years per generation (e.g. in this infographic) and seem to care less about socio-cultural and political developments as explanations of generational differences. Indeed, Australian demographer Marc McCrindle introduced the term Generation Alpha as early as in 2005, well before the first members of this generation were born.
  • The generational cycle, as developed by Strauss and Howe in The Fourth Turning, is not so much based on birth years, but rather on major events that define a generation (during the “formative”, childhood stages of their lives) and how generations move through different stages of life (childhood, adolescence, midlife, elderhood). Their generations are roughly 20 years apart.
  • Gen Z was already characterized as a generation of digital natives, but this characterization applies even more to those born after 2010. They are raised on smartphones, tablets and (voice–controlled) digital assistants and have parents (mostly millennials) whose lives are also full of digital technology. Even more so, this latest generation has (and will have) little experience with pre-digital things such as cash money, DVDs or paper tickets.
  • Earlier generations were marked by (international) political events (e.g. WWII, assassination of JFK, fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11). Generation Alpha has yet to experience its triggering event and this may involveongoing climate change (a major climate disaster or high-profile international agreement) or, for instance, hegemonic shift, e.g. the shifting power balance between the U.S. and China.

Connecting the dots

Social scientists and marketeers take great interest in generational typologies as subsequent generations are supposed to develop into distinct cohorts of, for instance, citizens, voters, consumers or employees. Much of the talk about distinct generations goes back to the post-war baby boom that resulted in a large demographic cohort moving through different stages of life in the second half of the 20th century. It thus made sense to keep track of this generation and distinguish it from its successor (Gen X) and, even more so, their children (the millennials, or echo boomers). Each generation, so the theory goes, is shaped by the (global) political, cultural and technological context it experienced during different stages of life. Yet, generational theories remain contested and the precise typologies used, their precise dating and their explanatory variables vary quite a bit between analysts. Whether or not it is warranted to speak of a new generation already depends on the underlying theory one adheres to.
When solely looking at years of birth, it makes sense to define Generation Alpha as the children of millennials and to separate them from Gen Z, which consists mostly of Gen X’s kids. On the basis of Howe and Strauss’s generational cycle, one would expect the next generation only to be born from 2025 onwards and this would coincide with a new high (comparable to the 1950s post-war boom), following the crisis in which Gen Z is growing up (i.e. the Great Financial Crisis and/or climate change).

Regardless of these generic underpinnings, it is interesting to speculate as to what could set this generation apart from Gen Z and the answer may very well lie in the technological or geopolitical domain. Kids born from 2010 onwards, even more than Gen Z, are growing up surrounded by digital technology (and screen-focused parents) and voice–controlled digital assistants. In their teens, they will experience 5G connectivity. All of this implies that this is the first generation to interact with computers all the time, in increasingly less explicit (directly visible) ways.

They will, in other words, develop a relationship of full “embodiment” with digital systems, virtual environments and (increasingly) autonomous devices and no longer make a sharp distinction between the “real” and the “virtual”. Intriguingly, Generation Alpha is also the first generation to be recorded digitally from birth onwards; in governmental records, but also on (their parents’) social media channels. Already, there are several highly successful pre-teen stars in this generation (e.g. Ryan’s ToyReview).

From a geopolitical perspective, Gen Alpha is growing up in a world where the U.S. is no longer the undisputed global (political, military and cultural) hegemon. This means that they (in the West at least) are growing up in more insecure times, in which the outcomes of international conflicts are quite uncertain and new (proxy) wars may be looming. At the same time, they will also experience a far broader palate of (pop)cultural expressions, e.g. in the form of (Asian) film, fashion and music (cf. current attention for K-Pop) and social media platforms (cf. TikTok). As we noted before, such cultural influences may very well prove vectors of (non-American, non-Western) soft power and ideology.

On a speculative note, as societies in the West are becoming more diverse and increasingly polarized, this new generation will experience its formative (teenage) years in many different ways. Filter bubbles, in regular media as well as online, will also feed them with different perspectives on national or global events (e.g. in politics, technology or the environment) and this is likely to lead to more divergence within this generation as compared to earlier, somewhat more homogenous, generations.


  • The lines between Gen Z and Alpha are rather blurred, but the latest cohort of youngsters is likely to embrace digital practices with even fewer scruples than Gen Z today. They will not question technology (as older generations do), but they will question the way they use technology and develop new norms (e.g. in terms of communicating online vs IRL).
  • Following the logic of the generational cycle, Gen Alpha shares similarities with the baby boomer generation, which grew up during the post-war high of the 1950s and developed a strong sense of idealism. However, the current zeitgeist does not much resemble a high (e.g. following the Great Financial Crisis). This could imply that we are still in the middle of a crisis (e.g. (geo-)political or climate-related) or that a true crisis is still in the making (i.e. former Trump-advisor Steve Bannon’s take on the generational cycle). By this line of reasoning, it’s difficult to see how Gen Alpha could develop into as idealistic a generation as its baby boomer ancestors and it is more likely that the true heirs to the baby boomers will only emerge as part of a major societal overhaul (e.g. a Second Deep Transition).

Series 'AI Metaphors'

1. The tool
Category: the object
Humans shape tools.

We make them part of our body while we melt their essence with our intentions. They require some finesse to use but they never fool us or trick us. Humans use tools, tools never use humans.

We are the masters determining their course, integrating them gracefully into the minutiae of our everyday lives. Immovable and unyielding, they remain reliant on our guidance, devoid of desire and intent, they remain exactly where we leave them, their functionality unchanging over time.

We retain the ultimate authority, able to discard them at will or, in today's context, simply power them down. Though they may occasionally foster irritation, largely they stand steadfast, loyal allies in our daily toils.

Thus we place our faith in tools, acknowledging that they are mere reflections of our own capabilities. In them, there is no entity to venerate or fault but ourselves, for they are but inert extensions of our own being, inanimate and steadfast, awaiting our command.
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2. The machine
Category: the object
Unlike a mere tool, the machine does not need the guidance of our hand, operating autonomously through its intricate network of gears and wheels. It achieves feats of motion that surpass the wildest human imaginations, harboring a power reminiscent of a cavalry of horses. Though it demands maintenance to replace broken parts and fix malfunctions, it mostly acts independently, allowing us to retreat and become mere observers to its diligent performance. We interact with it through buttons and handles, guiding its operations with minor adjustments and feedback as it works tirelessly. Embodying relentless purpose, laboring in a cycle of infinite repetition, the machine is a testament to human ingenuity manifested in metal and motion.
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3. The robot
Category: the object
There it stands, propelled by artificial limbs, boasting a torso, a pair of arms, and a lustrous metallic head. It approaches with a deliberate pace, the LED bulbs that mimic eyes fixating on me, inquiring gently if there lies any task within its capacity that it may undertake on my behalf. Whether to rid my living space of dust or to fetch me a chilled beverage, this never complaining attendant stands ready, devoid of grievances and ever-willing to assist. Its presence offers a reservoir of possibilities; a font of information to quell my curiosities, a silent companion in moments of solitude, embodying a spectrum of roles — confidant, servant, companion, and perhaps even a paramour. The modern robot, it seems, transcends categorizations, embracing a myriad of identities in its service to the contemporary individual.
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4. Intelligence
Category: the object
We sit together in a quiet interrogation room. My questions, varied and abundant, flow ceaselessly, weaving from abstract math problems to concrete realities of daily life, a labyrinthine inquiry designed to outsmart the ‘thing’ before me. Yet, with each probe, it responds with humanlike insight, echoing empathy and kindred spirit in its words. As the dialogue deepens, my approach softens, reverence replacing casual engagement as I ponder the appropriate pronoun for this ‘entity’ that seems to transcend its mechanical origin. It is then, in this delicate interplay of exchanging words, that an unprecedented connection takes root that stirs an intense doubt on my side, am I truly having a dia-logos? Do I encounter intelligence in front of me?
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5. The medium
Category: the object
When we cross a landscape by train and look outside, our gaze involuntarily sweeps across the scenery, unable to anchor on any fixed point. Our expression looks dull, and we might appear glassy-eyed, as if our eyes have lost their function. Time passes by. Then our attention diverts to the mobile in hand, and suddenly our eyes light up, energized by the visual cues of short videos, while our thumbs navigate us through the stream of content. The daze transforms, bringing a heady rush of excitement with every swipe, pulling us from a state of meditative trance to a state of eager consumption. But this flow is pierced by the sudden ring of a call, snapping us again to a different kind of focus. We plug in our earbuds, intermittently shutting our eyes, as we withdraw further from the immediate physical space, venturing into a digital auditory world. Moments pass in immersed conversation before we resurface, hanging up and rediscovering the room we've left behind. In this cycle of transitory focus, it is evident that the medium, indeed, is the message.
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6. The artisan
Category: the human
The razor-sharp knife rests effortlessly in one hand, while the other orchestrates with poised assurance, steering clear of the unforgiving edge. The chef moves with liquid grace, with fluid and swift movements the ingredients yield to his expertise. Each gesture flows into the next, guided by intuition honed through countless repetitions. He knows what is necessary, how the ingredients will respond to his hand and which path to follow, but the process is never exactly the same, no dish is ever truly identical. While his technique is impeccable, minute variation and the pursuit of perfection are always in play. Here, in the subtle play of steel and flesh, a master chef crafts not just a dish, but art. We're witnessing an artisan at work.
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About the author(s)

Sjoerd Bakker is fascinated by the interplay between technology and society, and has studied the role of different actors in the innovation and implementation of new technologies throughout his career. At the thinktank, he is mainly involved in research and consultancy projects for clients, and strategic and thematic research for sister company Dasym. Among other themes, Sjoerd frequently writes and speaks about the power and danger of digital technology, as well as sustainability in both technological and institutional innovation.

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