What is a “Generation”

Apr 17, 2023

When I was growing up, people referred in the news media to “Gen-X” as the next generation. Knowing marketing, I understand that the term “Baby Boomer” was simply a way of defining a target demographic. The idea behind labeling a group of people who are of a similar age was to identify similar traits and life experiences. This terminology has gotten a little out of hand since the labeling of Gen-X. Because it’s really the job of future generations to label past generations, but we have gotten ahead of ourselves in a desire to create tribes and pigeon hole everyone else into categories. It’s not a healthy way of viewing yourself or those around you. Because obviously, we are all unique creatures with very diverse histories. For example, I had my first computer when I was probably 9 years old. It was a 386 with big old 5.25″ floppy drives. I knew a woman who was almost exactly the same age as me didn’t get her first computer until college. People’s socio-economic and regional experiences will dictate a lot of what their shared generational experience is. So using birth dates as a way to define generations is the first mis-step if you want to identify audiences with shared experiences and perspectives.

Understanding those differences is helpful. Labeling people as this or that is not. For example, people who experienced times when refugees were fleeing communist countries tend to have a better understanding of the outcomes of communism. Where as a younger generation today is amped up to give communism a try. They only read the pretty words of Marxist teachings and are able to ignore the history they have not studied. Now this doesn’t mean that every young person is going to have this same perspective and in fact there are old people out there who didn’t meet a single refugee and don’t trust the narrative of some sources and still lean towards communism. So these categories don’t define the people, but they are helpful in identifying possible interventions in education and communication.

So, thinking about this, I would like to endeavor to identify generational categories that are not defined specifically by age, but instead by specific shared life experiences. I feel like this does a better job of understanding how an and audience’s shared life experiences can effect their view of the current times, especially in regards to their views on government and technology.

Let’s start with Baby Boomers, since them and the “Greatest Generation” came into definition around the same time with the beginnings of multi-media marketing. And you will notice, technology is a big driving force into all of this. It was radio and television technology that defined the need to target audiences based on the media they consumed. Before that technology, advertising was billboards and news papers. The demographics were very simple. As technology developed in media the ability to target specific demographics narrowed it’s focus, until today, where you can target ads on a nearly individual basis. Which may be why the “generational” labels have gotten out of hand as of late.

  • The Greatest Generation: Lived through WWII, and possibly the great depression. We don’t need to go back beyond this, cause most of this generation is gone at this point.
  • Bunny Ear Antenna Generation: This generation grew up when television was a new thing. As children, they might have had a black and white television in their home. They listened to vinyl records and went to movie theaters if that wanted to see a movie.
  • The Space Age Generation: This generation grew up with color television during the space race and the cold war. They lived under a strange mix of dreamy optimism about the future and a constant fear of nuclear Armageddon. They might remember watching the Moon landing on live television during their youth. They shot photos on film and might have been more likely to develop slides than prints.
  • The Video Generation: This generation grew up in a new era of home entertainment. They had VHS movie rentals and could go to a place called an arcade to play video games but also might have had an early home video game console like the Atari.
  • The Internet 1.0 generation: These kids grew up accessing the internet. It was a little wild west back then with WebCrawler and Yahoo. Getting AOL online disks in the mail. Most users were on Dialup but upgraded to DSL or cable internet before they moved out of the house. Might be one of the reasons this generation delayed so much on moving out of their parents house.
  • The Social Media Generation: This generation grew up heavily using social media. Parents were ill prepared to oversee the dangers and influences of these networks.
  • The Disconnected Generation: These kids were taught the dangers of the internet from a young age. They also so the effects of it on their parents and friends. They opted for systems like snapchat, which didn’t keep a running social score of likes and history. Some just avoided creating any accounts on any platform in pursuit of more authentic relationships.
  • The AI Generation: This generation is just now in their infancy. They will grow up with access to incredible tools and also a strange and sometimes toxic world of individualized marketing and public programming. This generation will struggle to look for truth in a world full of AI generated information.