Gen Z? IGen? Generation Me? The Selfie Generation?
A lot of names have been thrown around, but when it comes to the teens and tweens of today — the youngsters who aren’t old enough to be considered millennials — the official generational title is still up for grabs. So MTV made a move to claim it Wednesday with an announcement that the post-millennial generation will be known as the Founders Generation.
The general response: Oh, really? Why that name? And founders of . . . what, exactly?
According to MTV, a focus group of more than 1,000 13- and 14-year-olds chose the name, saying it reflects their place in a rapidly evolving world. These spunky adolescents are convinced that they must create “a new social order” (let’s hope it won’t involve a conch, a la “Lord of the Flies”) as the first generation of true digital natives — kids who never knew life before smartphones and YouTube and self-made social media celebrities.
This generation was in need of a name that conveyed a “sense of identity,” Jane Gould, a senior vice president of MTV Insights, said in the announcement. “So we thought, ‘Why not ask them to name themselves?’ ”
But the real issue is less about the generation’s name than its deeper identity, demographic and generational experts say. As the post-millennials inch closer to adulthood, everyone — advertisers, future employers, the media, society at large — is watching them with the same mix of anticipation, hope and anxiety once directed toward millennials: Who are these kids? Who are they going to become? And what are they going to do to us?
That’s what MTV’s announcement is really about, says Jason Dorsey, chief strategy officer at the Center for Generational Kinetics, which conducts generational research and offers corporate consulting services. The end goal isn’t really about coming up with a pithy name, but about convincing advertisers that the network — which has suffered from plummeting ratings in recent years — is still an effective way to reach the post-millennial population.
“MTV has to come out and prove that somehow they know this new generation, in spite of the fact that the new generation has not chosen MTV as their most trusted source of content,” Dorsey says. “That’s a big shift, because historically nobody needed MTV to demonstrate that they knew a new generation — everyone just assumed they did.”
Not anymore. These kids are an entirely different breed, and they represent a profound cultural shift.
Millennials may be technologically savvy, Dorsey says, “but they still came to a lot of this technology. The reality is that these are learned behaviors for millennials — [technology] is something that enhances life. It’s almost optional in a way.”
But the new cohort — the Center for Generational Kinetics refers to them as “iGen” — “doesn’t see it that way,” Dorsey says. “Technology is core to how they operate in the world.”
So what do we know about this generation? Depending on whom you ask, they top out at ages 18 to 20 (the Pew Research Center says they’re 18 and younger; others say that 20 is the dividing line between millennials and post-millennials). They grew up in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Many had their births announced on social media. They’re by far the most diverse generation yet. They communicate almost entirely online, and often with emojis. (You can thank/curse them for the tears-of-joy emoji that was anointed the Oxford Dictionaries’ 2015 Word of the Year.) They’re less idealistic and more frugal than millennials, as a result of the Great Recession and the student debt crisis. They use their phones for everything but talking.
Despite MTV’s triumphant declaration, it’ll probably be a while before there’s a cultural consensus on what to call them. After all, it took some time for Americans to settle on “millennials,” who also were referred to as “Gen Y” and “echo boomers.”
Peter Francese, an expert on demographics and consumer markets, says that generational names are largely driven by advertising and the media, so a winning moniker must be both descriptive and catchy. That’s why “echo boomers” ultimately flunked, he says: “It doesn’t fall off the tongue.”
Dorsey and his colleagues aren’t necessarily wedded to the iGen tag, “because historically, the names change as the generation grows up and expresses more of its characteristics,” he says. “Picking the name of a generation more often is either organic — it just happens — or it’s reflective of something.”
Most of the established generational names are considered “trailing names,” Dorsey says. “It’s looking back at the generation in context and giving it a name. It’s not the generation naming itself, especially at 13 years old.”
That’s why the Pew Research Center is holding off on adding post-millennials to its list of defined generations. Last year, Pew started an unofficial contest to name the generation after the center’s Paul Taylor appeared on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (“Tweennials” and “Screeners” were among the resulting suggestions), but researchers said it was still too soon for a definite designation.
Whenever a name is ultimately decided upon, Francese and Dorsey are certain of one thing: It won’t be the Founders.
So who will they be?
“All I can say,” Francese says, “is stay tuned.”