Thoughts on Demographics, Naming, Branding, and STEM Compression.
What will we call the kids after Gen Z (late 1990s to late 2010’s)?
Turns out its Generation Alpha. Several futurists and demographers have been using this phrase to describe the next crop of kids (born from 2010–2025) for over a decade now. My kids (born 2015 and 2019) are alphas.
This name is obvious in retrospect when we realize restarting the count, using Greek letters this time, is the simplest and easiest naming convention. Wikipedia’s Generation Alpha page says foresight consultant Mark McCrindle coined this name in print in 2008. A brief internet search shows that many others independently came to the same conclusion.
I enjoy the implications in the name alpha, that these kids will be superempowered by new machines, platforms, crowds, information, and wealth creation options, and especially, by Personal AIs (see my Medium series on PAIs for more on those). These kids will likely also be superempathic, on a growing range of social justice issues. On the negative side, many will be overly insulated from belief diversity, conflict and debate, and some will be too self-obsessed and entitled. At any rate, they will be the alpha kids of the coming age of AI. Gen Beta, Gamma, etc. will surely follow. Each will also have their own alternative names, like Millennials for Gen Y.
It’s fun trying to predict which name for something new will stick.
Back in the 20th century, I preferred using Centennials, the alternative name for Gen Z, when both were briefly a thing. Centennials nicely summarizes how this cohort straddles the turn of the century. But I also realized Gen Z might end up being more popular, as it is so much shorter and almost as descriptive (technically, Gen Z connotes the end of the 20th century, not the beginning of the next, but no one cares about such details). Gen Z is elegantly short and descriptive. No name is ever perfect. Like evolution itself, Gen Z was Just Good Enough (JGE) to become the favorite phrase.
In my Medium article Our Amazing Aerial Future, on the Future of Air Taxis, I noted there are many names presently being bandied about for the elevated landing zones that air taxis will inevitably require. Among the more popular contenders are vertiports, droneports, and skyports. My current bet is on skyport. We shall see what sticks.
One lesson in naming is not to bet against STEM compression. Any time we learn how to say or do something valuable using less Space, Time, Energy or Matter (STEM) resources, it often wins out out against bigger, slower, more energy- or matter-using alternatives. STEM compression is why shorter names, as long as they are almost as descriptive as longer names, are typically better for brands, and why shorter company names attract more investment capital than longer ones that convey the same information.
Because of STEM compression, the phrase “The elephant in the living room” quickly became “the elephant in the room” after it became a thing, because the word “living” didn’t convey any additional useful information, so we stripped it out. STEM compression is why single syllable names for children, or names that can be nicknamed down to single syllables (Ben, Bob, Don, etc.) have always been far more popular than multisyllabic and noncompressible names (Erik, Derek, etc.). Look it up. There are trillions of examples. Let’s look at one that has just made the news.
Consider why the name Stellantis, the new name for Fiat Chrysler’s merger with Groupe PSA, is such a fail. First, they’ve stayed with three syllables, instead of seizing the opportunity to go from three (Fiat Chrysler, which was as clunky as was Daimler Chrysler) back down two (Chrysler, a great name). Second, the new name kills the previous Just Good Enough brand, eliminating all that STEM efficiency of thinking, aka “mindshare”.
Chrysler is a brand that has survived, so far, against all odds. That alone gives it value. When Americans think of old companies, like IBM, Xerox, and Microsoft, the best we ever expect for them is that they can reinvent themselves to remain relevant to some of their core missions. We never think that they can become a startup again, with a new and different name. That’s nuts.
When I think of Chrysler today, I think of American persistence and grit. I also think of a chrysalis, a hard, protective shell (persistence and grit) that will once again create a butterfly, if we only keep believing in it. Their new entity could have kept their old and best name, or some variant, like Chrysler X. If they’d been really gutsy, they would have adopted Chrysalis as their new brand, and mined its psychology. Americans love second (and more) chances. We love gutsy survivors. We love transformations. Instead, they’ve chosen obscurity. No one wants to say or think about this new name.
As I describe in my online book, The Foresight Guide, STEM compression tells us why our global future is urban, with megacities generating two thirds of new global wealth creation in coming decades. STEM compression is why nano processes continue to substitute for macro processes. It is why digital simulation beats out slow, expensive, risky experiments in the physical world.
STEM compression is a generalization of a principle in physics called least action. The least action principle, tells us why many dynamical processes, including classical mechanics, general relativity, thermodynamics, and quantum mechanics, have the equations they do. Taken together, these principles argue that most dominant complex adaptive systems are always finding ways to do valuable things (metabolism, offensive or defensive action, thinking, etc.) with less action (technically, a shorter path in energy and time, or momentum and length) and less STEM resources.
If we extrapolate STEM compression into the Big Picture Future, where do you think this trend will eventually end? What may happen our civilization after the technological singularity, perhaps later this century?
In 2012, I published a journal article, The Transcension Hypothesis (TH), arguing that universal intelligence is on an accelerating path to “inner space”, a highly miniaturized, dense, complex, and conscious future. I said the same thing ten years earlier, in a 2002 journal article, Answering the Fermi Paradox, but no one was listening then. Since 2012, I’ve been gratified to see a growing number of scholars, books, and lay articles and videos discussing the TH as a Fermi Paradox solution deserving careful research and critique. For example, see Matt Williams’ great article, Beyond Fermi’s Paradox XI: The Transcension Hypothesis, on Universe Today last month.
Here’s a lovely video summarizing the hypothesis in three minutes, by the irrepressible Jason Silva.
What do you think? Does humanity end up going to inner space? Is that why we don’t see signs of intelligence engineering when we look out into our galaxy at sunlike stars which are billions of years older than us? Is that why we haven’t received any visitors? Will we soon discover that we will meet them all shortly, not by venturing out into the stars, but by venturing inward, to something that looks very much like a black hole to outside observers? Are some of the black holes in our universe not just collapsed stars, but engineered objects?
I expect Generation Alpha will grow up wrestling with these and other fascinating questions. I look forward to the answers they find for us. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!
John Smart is a futurist, dedicated to helping folks thrive in a world of disruptive accelerating change. Check out his book, The Foresight Guide, free online at ForesightGuide.com, and at Amazon soon. The Guide aims to be the best single intro to the emerging field of professional foresight, and a Big Picture guide to our ever-faster 21st century future.