We are at that tender time in history that comes around once every 15–20 years or so—the time of generational designation. Ever since Generation X was named, we’ve seen proceeding generations labeled with the mindlessness of a child singing along to the ABCs. What comes after X? Well, Y! What does “Y” have to do with the generation after Gen Xers? Absolutely nothing. Luckily, the term “Millennials”—which at very least gives you a timeframe for when that cohort came of age—won the generational naming game. But now we have a new generation emerging, and… alphabet soup is the name of the game.
To paint the picture of why “Gen Z” is an exercise in mental laziness, let’s take a trip back in time to the name that started it all: Generation X. The term was first coined by a photographer in the early 1950s, who applied it to a photo-essay about people growing up in the wake of WW2. In this photo-essay, “Generation X” stood for agent unknown. Later, this title was adopted by Canadian author Douglas Copeland, who in 1991 published a book called Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture that focused entirely on 1980s young adults and all their mysterious peculiarities. This novel is credited with popularizing “Gen X,” and hey, it made sense. Many of them felt overshadowed by the huge Boomer population that had such a booming (no pun intended) voice and identity. Gen Xers were, and are, the most disparate generation when it came to the distribution of income and wealth. They grew up in a time when the divorce rate spiked and revered institutions crumbled. They were skeptical, some skeptical bordering on apathetic, wary of authoritative figures, and frankly just hard to pin down. “Generation X” seemed apt. As there is no similar rationale behind the terms “Gen Y” and “Gen Z,” they simply do not define their respective cohorts.
But Gen Z hasn’t won out yet in the epic battle/race/quest to see which name will stick. It starts off Hunger Games style, with a bunch of different names thrown into the mix until they, somewhat haphazardly, start falling off the playing field and only two or so remain to fight an ultimate tug of war for generational cohort supremacy. Here’s a sampling (by no means exhaustive) of the potential names that are in the running for the post-Millennials:
It’ll be a while before any one of these rises to the top as the winner. One viral article or magazine cover, and this generation’s name is carved in stone. Which one do we, at BridgeWorks, think should win out? We’re rallying full force behind “Gen Edge.” Why, you ask? Fair question—so glad you asked. Here’s our rationale.
BridgeWorks’ case for “Gen Edge:”
#1 – They’re on the cusp (or edge) of a momentous demographic shift.
Gen Edgers’ world has always looked different. They will be the last generation in the US with a Caucasian majority, and Hispanic youth is currently the largest growing population in the US. Not only are they on the proverbial “edge” or tipping point when it comes to demographics, but also in regards to public opinion on gender, identity, and social justice. They are showing themselves to be more open and accepting of previously taboo topics like sexuality, gender, and marriage rights. Edgers watch (and some even participate) via Twitter and YouTube as the public debate around these controversial issues rages on.
#2 – They’ve become resilient—fast.
Gen Edgers have grown up in a recession-ridden, cyber-violent, and war-stricken country. They’ve seen terrorist attacks both internationally and domestically, and they’ve found little respite from the news as it follows them wherever they go on smartphones and wearable devices. Hacking and cyber-bullying have hardened them to the new reality that home no longer provides the same protective barrier that it did in the past. Virtual attacks know no bounds. From a financial perspective, they saw parents struggle through a crippling recession, and some saw older siblings boomerang back home, unable to find jobs post-college. They’ve seen the mistakes that others have made and aren’t looking to graduate with impractical liberal arts degrees or massive amounts of student debt. Edgers are, at a very young age, steeling themselves for the harsh realities that may lie ahead, and to the extent that they’re able to, they’re planning ahead.
#3 – Generation X raised them.
Edgers are being raised by straight-talking, realistic, no BS Gen X parents. These parents are certainly protective of their children—sometimes earning them the title of “jetfighter parents”—but they’re not sugarcoating anything for their kids. When Millennials came down the stairs on the first day of school dressed as a clique-transcending goth-prep-hipster, their Boomer parents were nothing but complimentary, allowing them to express their individuality. Xer parents, on the other hand, will tell their Edger that first impressions are important, so go back and change if you want to start the year off right. This no-nonsense mentality has transferred to Gen Edge, and they aren’t afraid to say what’s on their minds.
#4 – They prefer it.
Though many Gen Edgers are still in the midst of their formative years, BridgeWorks is tracking their emerging generational personality and traits. By pursuing both qualitative and quantitative data, we’re breaking into the Gen Edge mind and pinpointing trends and preferences. One of these preferences is the title “Gen Edge,” which is the landslide favorite when shown a list of competing names. They like that it isn’t condescending or focused on tech, like “iGen.” They feel that it’s more descriptive than “Gen Z,” which as I’ve already laid out, means nothing at all. But it’s not so descriptive that it’s putting them in a box. They can identify with being on the “edge.” They’re living it. And as far as we’re concerned, previous justifications aside, this last reason alone is worthy of “Generation Edge” earning a top spot in the final debate, and, if we have our druthers, winning the crown.