The next generation is in the starting blocks: Gen Alpha follows Y and Z. Their representatives are currently still children under 13, babies or not even born. What influence does our digitalised world have on these young people? How will they influence our world? And how will "alphas" deal with artificial intelligence? Social research provides the first indications of this.
Generation Alpha includes all those who were born or will be born between 2010 and 2024. They are the children of the Millennials, Generation Y, born between 1980 and 1994, and are therefore also referred to as "mini-Millennials".
The Millennials belonged to the first generation to grow up as "digital natives" - in other words, they first came into contact with computers and smartphones as children or, at the latest, in their teens. In contrast to their parents of the baby boomer generation (born between 1955 and 1964), who were only able to acquire digital skills in later adulthood, Millennials have already learned to use digital devices intuitively and playfully. For Generation Alpha, digital devices and voice assistants have been present since birth: many can already swipe and zoom on smartphones and tablets before they can walk or talk.
So what are the characteristics of a generation whose parents have already grown up with digitalisation, and what are they likely to be like as young adults? The Australian social scientist Mark McCrindle describes Generation Alpha by the following five attributes:
In the following, we will take a closer look at these five characteristics.
“Mobile phones off! No smartphone at the table!” This sentence is familiar to almost all parents in the 21st century. Young people are addicted to their digital and mobile devices, especially smartphones and tablets. Even laptops already play a minor role in the youngest generation because smaller devices are simply handier and can be used on the go from anywhere. Added to this is the fact that many social media and gaming apps can only be used to their full extent on mobile devices.
These are also the two main use cases for which alphas use their digital devices: for communication with friends and for entertainment. Compared to previous non-digital ages, the smartphone or tablet is, among other things, a phone, letter, TV, radio and more – combined into a single device.
In the podcast “Story-Radar: This is what makes Generation Alpha tick”, Swiss marketing expert Ferris Bühler interviews his 12-year-old daughter Emilia and talks to her about which apps she uses. Strictly speaking, she just barely belongs to Generation Z, but is very close to the border of Generation Alpha. Therefore, her answers are very interesting: Emilia tells us that she uses WhatsApp, Snapchat, YouTube and TikTok. She also plays a “funny chicken game”, as she says herself – by which she oﬀenibly means the gaming app “Chicken Scream”. This may sound banal at first glance, but the way this game works is exciting: Similar to a 2D jump-and-run game like Super Mario, you have to navigate a small chicken from plateau to plateau. The special thing: The chicken is not controlled by tapping or swiping, but by talking, singing or even shouting at its mobile phone. The louder you shout, the further and higher the chicken jumps. In the self-test, millennials find that the game is unfamiliar and requires a lot of skill and practice, so that the game figure does not jump much too high or low. Generation Alpha, on the other hand, is very familiar with controlling digital devices through voice commands.
“My son never wanted to eat cereals,” social scientist McCrindle quotes the mother of a 7-year-old. “But because Ryan from the YouTube channel 'Ryan's World' ate cereals in a video, my son now wants to eat cereals too!”
Ten-year-old Ryan Kaji runs the most successful unboxing channel in the world, according to Dutch influencer experts top-x.nl. Unboxing videos, are clips in which influencers unbox products on camera to promote them. In 2019, the then eight-year-old was one of the top earners among YouTubers: he earned 26 million euros with his channel in the year in question. On his channel, which is managed by his parents and on which the comment function is exhibited, there are of course many entertainment videos, but not only. In one video, for example, Ryan has someone explain to him why and how one should brush one's teeth properly.
Through social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube, young people are influenced by a network that is connected 24 hours a day across geographical and social boundaries, McCrindle analyses. The social world unites close friends and family with social media influencers as the primary source of recommendations, information and opinion, he says.
But social networks also have a dark side: according to a survey by McCrindle, a quarter of students have experienced bullying at school via social media, text messages or emails. In Germany, according to a recent study, almost one in five young people has been affected by cyberbullying.
Generation Alpha is also referred to as the first truly global generation. McCrindle sees evidence of this in the various “Words of the Year” published annually by the Oxford English dictionaries.
In the lifetime of Generation Alpha, words of the year included the following:
2011 – App
2012 – Cloud
2013 – Hashtag
2014 – Selfie
2015 – Face with tears of joy (emoji)
2016 – Post truth (German: Postfaktisch)
2017 – Fake news (Engl. Falschmeldung)
2018 – Toxic
2019 – Climate emergency
With the exception of the universal emoji, these are English-language terms. In our globalised and digital world, however, the “alphas” come into contact with English expressions at an early age, especially online, and use them in their everyday language. Emojis are also an important indicator of our globally networked world.
Through the influence of films, music, celebrities and influencers, trends are spreading worldwide faster than ever before. One of these global trends was the app “Pokémon Go”, which was released in 2016. The aim of the game is to find and catch different Pokémon characters outside. This involves augmented reality (AR), i.e. virtual characters that are in a real environment. The game went viral within a very short time: only 19 days after its release, 50 million users were already using the app. By comparison, it took Facebook three years to reach the same number of users, and the phone even 50.
“Alphas” are influenced by their peers all over the world. There are no longer any limits to the technology and vocabulary they use and the friendships they make.
The fourth characteristic of Generation Alpha is mobility: this is related to where, how and when they will work and how they will study, travel and live. The world of work in particular will (have to) become increasingly flexible, also due to the growing shortage of skilled workers in many industries. According to an Australian study, workers Down Under already stay in a job or professional role for less than three years. The professional future of the “Alphas” is strongly shaped by the digital transformation: The World Economic Forum predicts that 65 per cent of “Gen Alphas” just entering primary school will work in jobs that do not currently exist.
The “Alphas” are a visual generation. This explains why YouTube is now the second most popular search engine after Google. For Generation Alpha, the video platform is even the most popular search engine. Why should “digital natives” read through something when they can watch it as a video? TikTok is also frequently used as a search engine by Generations Z and Alpha.
The five characteristics mentioned show that “Gen Alpha” is extremely intuitive in its approach to digital trends. The chatbot ChatGPT from the US company OpenAI, was only released in November 2022. By using artificial intelligence (AI), users can interact with a chatbot and, for example, have texts written for them on any topic. It took just six months for pupils in Hamburg to be caught using ChatGPT to cheat in their written Abitur exams. It is not only in the German education system that the opportunities and risks of AI tools are being critically discussed: The city of New York banned ChatGPT from öﬀentlich schools in January 2023. This rapid digital development will probably only be stopped in the short term. For Generation Alpha, it should become a matter of course.
Hybrid daily routine: Generation Alpha could completely overcome the separation between analogue and digital