Every generation is given a name — some more accurate than others. Consider this my nomination for the official name of the emerging generation (those born in 2000 to today):
“What’s in a name?” mused Shakespeare. Demographers create generational groupings to examine economic trends and social changes over time. These groupings take on names, some more accurately framing the generational essence than others. I believe 2020 is a time for the naming turnstile to click anew, galvanizing this emerging generation with an identity not only alphabetical nor suggestive of passive silence.
This emerging generation faces the conflated crisis of global pandemic, political and societal divisiveness, tremors in the global superpower landscape, renewed activism (and emerging hope) for permanent structural change in racial equality, police conduct, women’s rights, and more. Its response — both action and reaction — will set the trajectory for the future of humankind.
This generation has no choice but to take the ‘what is’ and create the ‘what will be’. What’s most certain is this — what got us here will not take us there. For the future to flourish, we must start anew, and that includes the name. This generation will have a lot of ‘RE’ on its hands — hence, my official naming write-in proposal: Generation:RE.
Generation:RE is being passed the baton in the generational relay race. ‘Business as usual’ appears to point towards a brick wall. The conflation of crisis — global pandemic and economic recession, breakdown of US-China relations causing foundational tremors in the world order, and extreme weather from global warming — means that the winning lanes will emerge through the lens of new, provocative, disruptive, and innovative.
We can no longer ‘just be’, we must RE, and we need bold leadership in all-things-re.
To bend the curve of human history towards progress and betterment, this generation must RE in so many ways. To name just a few:
· Repay our nation’s rising debt (not to cripple future generations with impossible burdens)
· Revise laws to accommodate the yet-to-be-defined guardrails of social networks and instant global communication
· Reskill blue-collar workers with digital skills that help our country remain globally competitive
· Reuse energy provided by sunlight and wind to power everything
· Rehab the broken healthcare system with a foundation of transparency, simplicity, and fairness
· Rename the mystical ‘acronym soup’ of our world with more understandable names
· Rethink education, teaching ‘how to learn’ and ‘how to create’ (ending the focus on regurgitation and repetition)
· Reestablish our depleted domestic manufacturing base, creating new jobs, greater flexibility, strengthened independence, and leveraging our advanced manufacturing technology innovations
· Rejoin the Paris climate accord and other global alliances that orient human progress towards ‘us, together’ and not’ me, not you’
· Reform our bureaucracy, mandating the use of the best technology to be more effective (and more wisely spend taxpayer money)
· Reward good behavior, creating a society where the ‘unsqueaky wheel gets the grease’
· Remove barriers created by difference (religions, borders, politics, skin color, and more), orienting humanity towards our shared experience and shared earth
· Repair crumbling infrastructure, enabling smart cities to better leverage government-provided services
· Rewrite laws and regulations to reestablish fully representative democracy (now that we’ve seen the ‘blind spots’ our forefathers and foremothers have created through redistricting, voter suppression, lack of technology leverage, and more).
· Refresh cultural institutions (museums, theater, and other creative endeavors) with technology for more relevant and multi-format experiences that engage the tech-first generation
· Reorient professor-led and university-based innovation, more easily used by entrepreneurs to create new ventures
To frame generational names in historical context, consider their evolution:
The Greatest Generation (or GI Generation) — Born in 1924 or earlier: Lived through the Great Depression and then fought in WWII, defining themselves through service to country and belief in self-sacrifice to provide a better America for future generations.
The Silent Generation — Born 1925–1945: Deemed more cautious than their parents, considered ‘a still, small flame’ in comparison (earning the moniker of silence), notable for deference to elders yet ironically shaping 20th century pop culture (rock, iconic films, tv legends, beat poets, gonzo journalists, and more).
Baby Boomers — Born 1946–1964: Named for an uptick in the post-WWII birth rate, including rapid immigration, creating an entrepreneurial boom through grit and hard work that resulted in the formation of iconic brands and the fortification of corporations as central to American society.
Generation X — Born 1965–1980: A name made popular by novelist Douglas Coupland, this generation both earned more and took on more debt than their parents, creating an existential crisis given the shadow of the drug culture, hippie revolution, and ‘new money’ establishment (leading to pretty, yuppie, and other retro-movements).
Millennials — Born 1981–1996: A generation now one-quarter of the nation’s population, notable for having the highest-ever rates of diversity (44.2% part of a minority race or ethnic group) and education (39% of have a bachelor’s degree or higher), yet lower earnings and the highest-ever rate of living in their parents’ homes.
Generation Z — Born 1997: Gen Z is the placeholder name for those born 1997 and beyond, a 23-year cohort that sets new records for diversity, is the first-ever whose majority live in metro areas (and only 13% in rural areas), and a highest-ever rate (64%) of women enrolled in college.
What’s notable about this lineage is the lack of national or global crisis for over half a century and the resulting lack of ‘definitional reaction’ to frame a generation. Sadly, that winning streak is officially over, hence the siren call for a re-name! The emerging generation will define itself by not fitting in, not looking to the past as a reference to the future, not following the examples set by elders. This generation will be defined by what it must do — the proverbial ‘re’ — and the success it achieves it doing it.
Perhaps, then, it’s fitting to do what is rare in generational naming — to not take the name first given but to instead RE … a rename for this generation, now and forever Generation:RE.