OK, Zoomer: What does our ageing population mean for Generation Alpha's politics?
Move over Z, Generation Alpha has logged on and they’re not taking any nonsense from their elders who changed the rules when it suited them, reports Poppy Coburn
Britain is getting older – so much is obvious – but what will this shift mean for future generations? Demography is destiny, particularly when it comes to youth culture: what grumbling Millennial hasn’t looked enviously at the Boomers and their outsized cultural and economic contributions in their (comparatively) halcyon youth, and quietly resented the outsize indebtedness now levied in their old age?
There’s always some degree of arbitrariness to the division of generations. “Gen Alpha” were baptised by the Australian “futurist” (read: marketing executive) Mark McCrindle, who set the birth boundary from 2010 to 2024. The turn of the 2010s also happens to coincide with the launch of the iPad, a device many children found themselves promptly placed in front of, neatly marking the technological zeitgeist.
Gen Alpha colloquialisms are highly online and multicultural
We could mark age cohorts by (to use the parlance of my generational forebears) checking “the vibe”: namely, a generation’s socio-cultural attitudes. Broke, cloyingly sincere, and bafflingly fascinated with craft IPA, Millennial sensibilities were shaped by the 2008 financial crash. Their politics were often incomprehensible – they rioted over the “gentrification” of Spitalfields when a cafe selling expensive cereal opened up – but they at least righteously justified themselves in the face of the first real decline in living standards in a century.
That rebellious spirit could never last, and they’ve struggled more than most with the ravages of age, as the popularity of the term “Geriatric Millennial” might suggest. My own cohort, Gen Z, might think we’re rejecting Millennial cringe, but we’re closer to them than we might hope.
We’ve struggled to distinguish ourselves – characterised as even more depressed, online and poor than the previous lot. It doesn’t bode well that Gen Z’s social network of choice, TikTok, is essentially a copy of the short-form video network Vine which launched in 2013.
It’s difficult to ascribe characteristics to a generation that is, at the time of writing, still barely literate (and considering the impact of early exposure to Apple products, this might remain true for some time). With it projected to become the largest generation in history, with India overtaking China as the world’s most populous country in 2023 (although back at home UK fertility rates have actually fallen in recent years), Gen Alpha have a shot at influencing consumption patterns, forming a distinct youth culture of their own. We can see signs of a distinct breakaway even now, reflective of Britain’s new cultural settlement: Gen Alpha colloquialisms are highly online and multicultural.
This internet affinity is key to understanding why younger age groups seem to be so rigidly strident in their beliefs and yet so credulous. Algorithmic echo-chambers are one thing, but the prevailing sense of unreality turbo-charged by AI deepfaking and the dissolved legitimacy of legacy media unable to provide credible “fact-checking” will have a monumental impact on Gen Alpha’s relationship to authority; nothing is true and everything is permitted.
And what about Gen Alpha’s approach to politics? Brexit will be nothing more than a vague memory; Blair’s constitutional revolution a phantasm. If 2008 wormed its way into the national consciousness as having inexorably laid the groundwork for the twin populisms of Corbyn and Farage a decade later, it’s fair to assume that the pandemic will serve as a similarly formative civic memory for Gen Alpha.
Those concerned about the rise of anti-establishment sentiment should panic; there are few things more likely to breed resentment than the memory of every rule and norm being ripped apart to pursue a policy of locking you at home for a year. Add the incomprehensibly large fiscal cost stacked atop an already creaking welfare state pushed to its absolute limit by an ageing population, and you have a recipe for revolution.
What shape this new political settlement will take is still unclear. But there might be some benefit to being born when things could only get better. We’re uniquely positioned to understand generational memory, coming of age during a period of rapid online technological innovation without having our brains completely fried by iPads during our teething stage. We have the chance to be custodians of the narrative of British decline.
Just as Millennials linked their forebears’ tales of hardship during the winter of discontent and resistance to poll tax to their own anti-establishment posturing in the age of austerity and student loan hikes, “Zoomer” tech fluency opens up avenues of knowledge-sharing incomprehensible to older cohorts.
Still, any prospective young politico hoping to ride a wave of Gen Alpha discontent must still find a way to ingratiate themselves with the slang of the new kids. If you still think a “rizzler” is a cigarette paper, you’ve got a long way to go.
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