Simon Sinek makes a great point about those of us ‘stuck’ in Gen X – how inconsequential the ‘X’ is for our generation. A non-descript place-marker. Sure, it might mark the treasure trove on our fantasy pirate map but just as frequently it’s a warning. Don’t trust these people. Danger.

Gen Y didn’t fare much better. Not only were they subjected to the lack of creativity of getting a letter after the previous generation, they’re frequently labelled as the ‘Why?’ generation too. As in, why bother with them? We’re told they have short attention spans, high expectations and trade their loyalty for the biggest pay packet and the most exciting perks.

So next up is Gen Z, who turned 16 this year. 2012 marks the first point when they’ll have their own money, jobs, ideas on careers and start thinking about higher education. Gen Z have also been called Generation M, the Net Generation or the internet Generation. None of those are particularly inspiring and frankly none of us can remember not having the internet anymore, so there’s little reason to let them hold that label themselves. The US media have called them Homeland Generation or Generation 9/11. Both incredibly depressing tags and not a name that would apply to the same generation outside of the US.

So rather than trying to rename the previous generations, it’s now worth thinking about the next generation, those who are starting to be born right now. Will it be a defining moment that labels them? Or a massive shift in attitude? We can’t revert back to the start of the alphabet just because we’ve run out of ideas. That makes us look as lazy as we were when we defined X, Y and Z. We need something that will sum them up perfectly. Something that shows how different they’ll be.

So I propose: The Touch Generation. And here’s why.

Those being born today will walk into a world where not only will their lives be spent consistently interacting with digital screens but they’ll have no comprehension of a screen that isn’t operated by touch. Phones, TVs, computers, tables – even menus outside restaurants – everything they’ll encounter as they navigate the world, will operate on touch. Sure we use touch now, significantly with keyboards, but life is moving to the point where we’ll be able to touch the front of our fridge to order our groceries, touch our car to turn it on and touch the bus-stop to see what time the bus is arriving.

Children born from today will have that fully integrated into their lives; they’ll place their hands on a screen and expect it to react to them.

My other alternative is an elaboration of the original name: Generation 2T. The two ‘T’s stand for ‘touch’ and ‘talk’.

As touch screens become more ingrained in the way we interact with the world around us, so will voice activation. With Siri, Apple brings a new dimension to how we find information, as well as an American company already using Siri and their iPad to show how we can control the devices in our home. The future that bad 80s sci-fi used to show us where our cars would talk back to us, find the way to our destination for us, take over driving when we fell asleep and use booster rockets to help us clear ravines is here. Well, maybe all except the booster rockets.

But media like their buzz words, and I think the Touch Generation will work for a headline when Gen X or Gen Z want to write a piece complaining about the poor job Gen Y did raising their kids. We’ll remember a day when we used to have to visit Coles, when we used to have keys to operate our homes and cars and when TV shows like Today Tonight used to have people watching them. Ahhh, those were the days. Bloody kids today.

Cisco estimated in their 2011 report that by 2020 there will be an internet of ‘things’ that will total some 50 billion devices – six for every person on the planet. A Dutch startup is using wireless on their cattle with the cows transmitting health information back to the farmer. Look at some of the objects that surround you in your daily life. It was estimated that in 2011, just 20 households generated more traffic than the entire internet in 2008. In just three years, the basics of how we receive information has changed drastically.

And the Touch Generation will be ready and willing to process this information through their finger tips on any surface that can be converted into a screen. And best of all, those technological limitations that we take for granted as walls blocking our path will be gone. Touch, voice, brainwaves, 3D printing, holograms. The children of the Touch Generation aren’t going to understand what’s reality and what’s artificial. Probably because what is artificial to us is normality to them.

X, Y and Z seem like just letters to define our generations. Static, solitary and end of the alphabet. The only thing that makes them stand out against the other 23 letters is their lack of use. Gen X learnt by reading. Gen Z still read, albeit on a device rather than off paper. The Touch Generation are being born this instant and may end up learning and developing in the same way. As the speed of transition of information increases, our capacity to digest it also needs to increase.

CEOs, marketing managers, brand managers – anyone in a company who takes it upon themselves to understand how their consumers engage need to understand the fundamental shift in this consumption of information. The Touch Generation will become a model for those that have preceded it. Any statement about information being at our finger tips is now no longer just a metaphor.

Simon Dell
BY Simon Dell ON 27 January 2012
Simon is a former full-service agency managing director that ran for seven years and delivered for clients across Australia. He now runs his own digital consultancy working with Australian businesses helping with online communication and creative strategies. Find Simon on Twitter at @IAmSimonDell, on LinkedIn at IAmSimonDell and Facebook at SwitchYourBusiness.