Inside the Alpha: the Mind and Times of the Next Generation

Only a decade ago, children were afforded a childhood without technology – more likely to ask for a Barbie dream house for Christmas than an iPhone X. Nowadays, kids share more personal details with their devices than they do with their family; they can bypass questioning their parents and receive answers from the world wide web instantaneously. Even babies know how to work a touch-screen device by the age of two – these techy tots are the children of millennials, or Generation Alpha – born 2010-2025.

Due to these vast differences in their upbringing compared to their predecessors, neuroscientists and psychologists believe that the Alpha’s psyche will fundamentally differ from those of previous generations. Social Chain’s group business director, Alex Ayin, openly admits that while technology has enabled us in many ways, on a psychological level, examples like these demonstrate “a complete overhaul of behavioural habits which have been unchanged for decades.”

Generation Alpha will have three possible parents: Mum, Dad, and Alexa

Take artificial intelligence: AI will be accepted as the norm for Alphas, but when technology behaves like a person and imitates real life, it can warp our view of the real world. The Amazon Echo, for example, is quickly working its way into homes all over the world. A child who grows up conversing with Alexa will learn things from those interactions the same way they would learn through interacting with their parents, grandparents or siblings. The difference is, Alexa doesn’t have the same rules as Mum and Dad. She doesn’t require you to say please and thank-you when you ask for something; she doesn’t have a problem answering questions you’re not ready to hear the answers to.

“Every skill and every ability we have is defined by how we engage our brain in the world,” explains Michael Merzenich, professor of neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco. “That is the basis of the creation of the operational person who we are.”

2025 could see the end of sweeping generation cohorts

It’s this level of psychological hyper-engagement with technology which has people worried – yet while facts such as these appeal to a widespread uneasiness about the fast-changing world of tech, the real-life differentiators of generation cohorts are much more nuanced. Like we’ve seen with millennials and Gen Z, members of the same cohort can still have completely different mentalities, shaped by external factors such as background and life experiences.

For example, it’s important to acknowledge that tech isn’t always equally accessible to everybody; the wealth and beliefs of millennial parents will affect Alpha’s ability to take part in this cognitive shift. Thus, we’ll likely see fairly vast differences between those who were afforded the luxury of their own iPad, and those who were kept out of reach of such items.

As more sophisticated data and AI tools also grow up alongside Alphas, brands will be able to understand future audiences on a much more granular level than ever before, and so will be able to target consumers with much greater specificity than simply a sweeping age range. That being said, tracking these trends can still have broad significance for those wishing to understand our effect on technology – and technology’s effect on us.

You won’t fool the children of the digital revolution

A recent report by Ofcom revealed that 41% of children own a smartphone, and 44% own a tablet. And while many Alphas don’t yet have accounts on social media, many are already experiencing an online world and creating a digital footprint through their parents’ profiles, or even kid-friendly apps such as Messenger Kids. These apps offer the ability to develop certain skills, and Alpha’s early adopting of these skills will likely give them a huge cognitive advantage over others, due to their highly specialised way of thinking and ability to process information at warp speed.

So, total immersion in a digital world doesn’t have to be a bad thing; whilst an alarmist approach feels easier, technology has gifted us with skills beyond what was thought humanly possible. It’s also widely believed that through the introduction and distribution of AI like in home assistants and even retail robots, the brain power we spend on small and manual tasks can be reserved for more high-level problem-solving, making Generation Alpha the smartest generation yet.

It’s not an unsound theory, Alex says: “If you look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs out there, Steve Jobs only ever wore one t-shirt, because the fewer decisions he made, the more brain power he had to focus on his core business decisions.”

For marketers, the implications of Gen Alpha’s newfound level of savviness suggest that we will no longer be able to reach this generation on our own terms, and subtle communication campaigns will be key. Rather than targeting Alphas at the point-of-sale or out-of-home, marketers will have to meet them at their own point-of-need, and on their terms exclusively – for example, when they ask Alexa for a recommendation, or are actively seeking out new recipes on YouTube.

Change can be positive and it can be negative – but it can never be stopped

If you were to ask someone older than you, often they are of the opinion that we’ve lost something through technology. If you were to speak to someone younger than you, they’d argue that we’re able to do things we never dreamed of. Both are right – but regardless of your position, whether you’re an alarmist or an optimist, one thing is clear: tech is already affecting how Generation Alpha experiences the world and is shaping who they are. All we can do is prepare.

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