George Jacob FRCGS is the President & CEO of Bay Ecotarium- the largest non-profit watershed conservation group in San Francisco Bay Area with seven branches, including Aquarium of the Bay, Sea Lion Center, Bay Academy, Studio Aqua, Bay Model, Eco-Xpeditions and the Bay Institute, celebrating its 40th year in environmental advocacy.
GENERATION ALPHA is a privileged generation born the year ipads were introduced and Instagram was created in 2010 and screens were used as pacifiers for babies. Mark McCrindle suggested coining the next generation of screenagers as “Generation Alpha”, noting that scientific disciplines often move to the Greek alphabet after exhausting the Roman alphabets X, Y, Z. McCrindle has predicted that this next generation will be “the most formally educated generation ever, the most technology-supplied generation ever, and globally the wealthiest generation ever.
With an estimated birthrate of 100 million each year globally (perhaps reaching a billion by 2025), Generation Alpha faces twin existential challenges, ahead. First, being genetic modification or designer creation based on pre-determined selection criteria and medical code. The second, a looming possibility of embedded bionics as a routine procedure akin to a wearable nano- AI device of today.
The metaphoric world scape is changing. Clouds are synonymous with data, netscape with landscape, facebook with community centers, superhighways are enabling transit or access paths and engines are drivers of curated information. The i-pad and iphones are lifestyle devices for the adaptive gen-alpha. They have never lived in a world devoid of these enabling devices. Their homes and environment is punctuated with conversations and commands to Siri, Alexa and Google Assist. Bio foot-prints, e-signatures and digital trails are as common as iris/ retinal scans and facial recognition for this generation. While this will be the most technologically advanced, intelligent and wealthy generation of all-times, it will also be the most connected and disconnected from human contact of all times. This generation will experience a much faster pace of innovation and technological advancement. There will be an ever-increasing dependence on technology to guide and dictate life’s mundane aspects and seek information without the burden of remembering, recalling or recollecting memory as we have previously felt necessary.
The irony, however, is that while the alpha physical being feels that a data-spewing device is an extension of their being and that when the screen is on, it holds their entire attention, this generation is unable to focus on a single strand of thought. While the animated screen is alive with text, visuals, animations, graphics, video content laced with pop-ups and banners, the distraction levels they offer has been the highest in recorded or experiential history of computation devices. Add to this mix the new dimensions of commands issued by the Gen Alphas- voice, haptics, iris, pen-tabs and rapidly diminishing abilities to type text or full sentences. This faculty is being compromised by “emojis” and symbols that are forming the new hieroglyphics of the new generation. This cryptic code is infiltrating all walks of life, dumbing down nuanced communication. App driven content that provides binary swipes to the left or right is yet another enabler of cryptic communication that is here to stay.
The interesting phenome that Gen Alpha is exhibiting is excessive use of non-verbal communication and an extreme dependence on-screen adaptations for all walks of life including stimulation, distraction, peaks and troughs of emotions, games, animations to the future of the Internet of Toys. Inter-connected toys will become the norm for this genre and this will lead to children expecting toys to not only respond to their commands but to show emotional intelligence of their own. As the paradigm of play shifts significantly, so will the platforms of learning. The change will happen so quickly, that many museums will be left scrambling to tackle one of the biggest challenges of the coming decades on audience engagement, visitor engagement, cyber-learning and the significance of material culture and the physical experience.
This highly advanced, tech-charged generation, will change and experience the world in unimaginable ways. Yet, when one visits educational institutions, schools, museums, science centers and other mixed-use learning environments, the subjects and the fundamental modes of learning have not changed all that much. New subjects have been added to the curriculum which still revolves around the classifications of math, science, history, geography and the like. Gen Alpha will be largely inter and multi-disciplinary as they will mind-map overlaps, dependencies and adjacencies to the levels previously thought impossible. The notion of usage and applicability strengthens the purpose of learning. With the blurring of the Real and Virtual worlds punctuated by virtual AI and EAI companions, the very definition of museums as repositories of material evidence will undergo a fundamental shift This generation will glean interconnected content or seek potential and unexplored intersects- making it the most tech-savvy and sophisticated human race of all times.
In order to be relevant to Gen Alpha and beyond, museums of the future have to disband and de-construct incremental or fractal thinking replacing it with innovative or disruptive synthesis catalyzed with a lifestyle driven by tech far more permeable and adaptable than previously imagined. Museums of the Gen-Alpha will seek new definitions, new methodologies of self-creation and destruction, herald new disruptors, and operate with new assumptions riding on new realities, at an unprecedented pace. The point to ponder is – are museum professionals and museum studies programs actively preparing to lead pro-active change or complacent with external forces paving the way, as they continue to remain passive absorbers of curation of comfort.