This comic is making fun of the various names we give "generations" while also predicting some future names. The release of this comic coincides with the Pew Research Center's recent announcement that they have decided where the Millennial generation ends.
Each generation listed is exactly 18 years long, which is the approximate length of each "generation" anyway (given that coincidentally, there are exactly 54 intermediate years between the end of World War II and the New Millennium). A number of the entries are parodies of the terms "Generation X," "Generation Y," etc., by substituting other letters or characters that would seem emblematic of the time period.
|1730 - 1747
|Most of the United States' Founding Fathers were born in this period. (But not all: Benjamin Franklin, for instance, was born two generations prior, in 1706.)
|1748 - 1765
|ƒ was used to represent "long s" in the typography used in Colonial America. It can be seen in many historical documents from the period. It is also the symbol that represented the guilder, the currency of the Netherlands from the 17th century until 2002. It has a notable similarity to letter "esh" ʃ. Depicted symbol is also used in mathematical expressions as in . One of the first and most complete works on both infinitesimal and integral calculus was written in 1748 by Maria Gaetana Agnesi.
|The Adequate Generation
|1766 - 1783
|Randall apparently found nothing notable about this generation, positive or negative. This is a reference to the Greatest Generation, below.
|1784 - 1801
|Æ is the ligature Aesh (Now called ash) - its name sounds like X, though it is pronounced as a long e or IPA /æ/. This character is commonly transcribed differently into British English and American English as ae and e respectively making a difference in spelling in words such as encyclopaedia/encylopedia. One of the key influences on this is Webster's dictionary, first published 1828. The ash symbol is also referenced in this comic.
|The generation we cut a lot of slack because they produced Lincoln
|1802 - 1819
|Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809, and is regarded as one of the best presidents of all time. The comic states that the other people born in this generation were "cut a lot of slack" because of him. As with the Oops, one of us is Hitler generation, it is absurd to define an entire generation by defining its most famous member.
|The Gilded Generation
|1820 - 1837
|So named under the Strauss-Howe generation theory, though they use the time period 1822-1842 instead. This likely refers to the "Gilded Age" of American history, roughly the last three decades of the 19th century.
|The Second-Greatest Generation
|1838 - 1855
This is a reference to the Greatest Generation, below, and could be implying a similarity between the accomplishments and sacrifices of this generation - who fought in the U.S. Civil War and who passed the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution - to those of the Greatest Generation. There is also some humor in the name: what Randall means is that this generation was, supposedly, second best in terms of its greatness. However, the wording could be interpreted to mean that they are chronologically the second generation to be called "greatest", even though they actually were born first.
|Generation – • • –
|1856 - 1873
|– • • – is the letter X in International Morse Code. This is an old-timey version of Gen Xers, mirrored by the later "More Gen-Xers somehow." This is also a reference to the rise of telegraphy, popular during this time period.
|The kids who died in the Gilded Generation's factories and mines
|1874 - 1891
|Child labor had been widely used since before the start of the Industrial Revolution, but this is when people started doing something about it - and also, when the need for an educated workforce arose, applying substantial economic pressure on societies to put children in school instead. It would be more accurate to label this generation, "The kids who stopped dying in the Gilded Generation's factories and mines".
|Oops, one of us is Hitler
|1892 - 1909
|Adolf Hitler, possibly the most hated (and, by most definitions, evil) man in living human memory as of this comic's posting, was born in 1889. Aside from the fact that this places him in the previous generation, it seems beyond silly to blame everyone else who was born during this period for being born in the same generation as him. Among those who eventually heard of him (thus, excluding those in isolated areas or who died before he rose to power), the vast majority of them would not hear of him until well after 1909. In reality, this generation is known as the Lost Generation, though the dates are somewhat skewed.
|The Greatest Generation
|1910 - 1927
|Named by journalist Tom Brokaw in 1998 in a book of the same name, this is the first generation on the list to have a real, commonly accepted name, and was named as such due to being the generation that survived the hardships of the Great Depression immediately before being drafted to fight in World War II.
|The Silent Generation
|1928 - 1945
|Coined by Time Magazine in 1951, the Silent Generation grew up during a time of paranoia and very little activism due to phenomena such as McCarthyism making it dangerous to speak out.
|1946 - 1963
|A spike in births was seen following the return of soldiers to the US from European and Pacific theatres of war. These children enjoyed the benefits of US prosperity whilst the rest of the world rebuilt, lived in fear of nuclear annihilation and watched the Space Race.
|1964 - 1981
|"X" here refers to an unknown or undefined element, not specifically a placement in the alphabet as Y and Z (see below) seem to imply, and was used throughout history to refer to alienated youth in general as early as the 1950s, with the name sticking to this one thanks to Douglas Coupland's 1991 novel. Generation X's time period was one of sweeping societal change and rapid technological advancement.
|1982 - 1999
|The last children born in the 2nd Millennium. Initially called Generation Y, after Generation X.
| Generation 💅
|2000 - 2017
|This begins the hypothetical future generation names, though this generation was already fully born as of this comic's posting. Social media was established and rising during the formative years of this generation, and the widespread adoption of emoji began during this time. The Nail Polish Emoji (U+1F485) is used here. It is currently known in reality as Generation Z, though the comic implies it may change due to emojis ultimately replacing the alphabet entirely.
|2018 - 2035
| Continuing on the above, this may be presuming the dominance of Facebook during the childhoods of this generation, and corresponding social norming as ultimately directed by its leader Mark Zuckerberg.
|The Hovering Ones
|2036 - 2053
|This may posit increased adoption of cybernetics, which (as with any technology) are more easily adopted by the young who do not have to unlearn previous ways. If advances allowed someone to hover all the time, such that one would not need to walk, this generation's name suggests that becoming so widely used among this generation that they became known for it.
|2054 - 2071
|Continuing on the above speculation about cybernetics, this presumes enough apathy or sociopathy among this generation's parents that giving birth (or other means of creating a new human) was often done to create bodies from which organs could be harvested (presumably primarily for the benefit of their elders).
|More Gen-Xers somehow
|2072 - 2089
|As with "Generation – • • –", this may be positing that Generation X like traits pop up about 3/4 of the way through each century.
|The Paperclip Machines
|2090 - 2107
|This, and the title text, are references to the concept of a paperclip maximizer, where an AI might be designed to be helpful, but end up being harmful. The clicker game Universal Paperclips makes this concept playable. Furthering the above speculation of cybernetics, this generation might be primarily artificial intelligences, though of limited ability to set their own priorities (a flaw which would be fixed in later generations).
|The Mixed Bag (produced 4 Lincolns, 1 Napoleon, and 2 Hitlers)
|2108 - 2125
|As with the above examples, a generation may become known for its most famous members, but it is not useful to define an entire generation by them. In this case, the generation may have literally produced 4 Lincolns, 1 Napoleon, and 2 Hitlers via cloning or the like. This also implies that Napoleon's generation was named after him. However, Napoleon's generation is ironically, the Adequate Generation.
|The Procedural Generation
|2126 - 2143
|Procedural generation is a way of creating data automatically, rather than capturing it via sensor (including when the "sensor" is a keyboard and the data is typed in). This confusion of the term "generation" could refer to more artificial intelligences that were created via routines instead of directly coded, which would likely stem from attempts to improve child creation once most children were explicitly manufactured instead of relying on evolution-granted biological means.
|2144 - 2161
|"Omega" is the last letter in the Greek alphabet, and used as a symbol of endings. Given the above generation names implying increasingly artificial children, this may suggest the last generation that is recognizably a generation. This does not necessarily mean the end of children or the end of humanity, just that anything after 2161 is widely recognized to no longer have even notional generational coherence - perhaps because of drift (children born to one group during a given time are wildly different enough from children born to another group at the same time that people give up trying to group them by time), child gestation and maturation times (for example, if it became common for a child to go from conception to adulthood in less than a year), or exceptions to what counts as a "child" (for example, if it becomes possible and common to create clones that are somewhere between free-willed beings and mind-controlled drones, and this sufficiently supplants creation of completely free-willed children, regardless of whether the children are artificial intelligences or old-fashioned biological children).
|Star Trek: The Next Generation
|2360 - 2378
|Star Trek: The Next Generation was a TV show set in the future. The first episode of TNG, "Encounter at Farpoint", takes place in 2364, and it concluded with "All Good Things...", which took place in 2370. The final canonical adventures of the cast of The Next Generation did not occur until the events of Star Trek: Nemesis in 2379.
In the title text Randall suggests that the generation of paperclip-creating superintelligences will be weirded out when their parent generation starts making them too. (A parent generation in AI is the last set of seperate algorithms trained on the sample before the last.) The implication is that their "parents" attempting to join in on converting all matter into paperclips will make the process seem outdated and uncool by association; a comparison could be drawn to, for example, Facebook losing younger users as it gains older users.
- "Generations" are arbitrary. They're just labels we use to obliquely talk about cultural trends.
- But since Pew Research has become the latest to weigh in, and everyone loves a good pointless argument over definitions...
- xkcd presents
- A Definitive Chronology of the Generations
- 1730-1747 The Founders
- 1748-1765 Generation ƒ
- 1766-1783 The Adequate Generation
- 1784-1801 Generation Æ
- 1802-1819 The generation we cut a lot of slack because they produced Lincoln
- 1820-1837 The Gilded Generation
- 1838-1855 The Second-Greatest Generation
- 1856-1873 Generation – • • –
- 1874-1891 The kids who died in the Gilded Generation's factories and mines
- 1892-1909 Oops, one of us is Hitler
- 1910-1927 The Greatest Generation
- 1928-1945 The Silent Generation
- 1946-1963 Baby Boomers
- 1964-1981 Generation X
- 1982-1999 Millennials
- 2000-2017 Generation 💅 [nail polish emoji]
- 2018-2035 Zuckerberg's army
- 2036-2053 The Hovering Ones
- 2054-2071 Spare Parts
- 2072-2089 More Gen-Xers somehow
- 2090-2107 The Paperclip Machines
- 2108-2125 The Mixed Bag (produced 4 Lincolns, 1 Napoleon and 2 Hitlers)
- 2126-2143 The Procedural Generation
- 2144-2161 Generation Ω
- 2360-2378 Star Trek: The Next Generation
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