Gen X, Y, Z Classification: Relevant for India?

I forget! I always forget the timeline and labels for classifying "generations" into X, Y, Z, and Alpha when I give examples to students. Going by textbooks (though I never follow these religiously), I come across many examples of segmentation in strategy and branding based on generations. Last month, while reading about the significance of "context" in a LinkedIn post by Prakash Sharma, Founder of 1001 Stories, I felt relieved. I found an answer to the question surrounding my selective forgetfulness; I remember a thing that makes sense to me based on a "reason", "rationale", or even "intuition", but I forget it if I do not attach a meaning to it.

When I joined teaching, on the very first day, while I was standing outside the class waiting for my colleague to finish, a man came and blasted me for not attending the class. Embarrassed and amused, I softly spoke, "I am the teacher." He apologized and said it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to distinguish between a teacher and a student. I don't know if it was a compliment, but I believed it was. During those days, I wanted to look older, like a teacher with some grey hair, but now, after ten years, I don't want to age at all. I want ageing to stop right now; where I am, with clear dreams, average money, decent energy level, sparsely visible wrinkles, and some wisdom - it's perfect!

As I gained my teeny-weeny bit of wisdom in the last decade, I also saw some change across generations. But I cannot relate to the Gen X, Y, and Z classification; I must google it every time I refer to it. What I relate to is that the current batch gives me a blank look when I give examples from "Dilwale Dulahaniya Le Jayenge" or "Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai." They do not know about Doordarshan's Logo or PCOs. They have neither seen pagers nor understand why Reliance is responsible for promoting long-distance relationships in India. So, it makes a lot of sense for us to create, believe, and explain our contextually relevant classifications for understanding generations. The New Education Policy and stand-up artists in India advocate the same - looking for rooted, grounded, and relevant content fitting into our context.

In this piece, I explain some examples from my experience and observation to classify generations in India to study different business and management problems and research questions. Here it goes.

Through Food: Pizza, Pasta, Samosa, Sushi

Food is an integral part of our lives. It is the heart of any occasion, be it about celebrating happiness or sharing grief. Through generations and the gradual increase in globalization, our food and food habits have changed tremendously. One term often used in north-Indian households by grandparents to refer to youth is "the pizza-pasta" generation. Another instance could be looking at generations through the Sushi lens - a generation that does not know about Sushi, a generation that is aware of it, and a generation that relishes it. Food, indeed, could be a wonderful way to study generations.

Through Films: Bollywood Eras and the advent of OTT

No matter how much one despises Bollywood for its cliche themes and reinforcement of religion or gender stereotypes, one cannot deny its influence on society. Cinema or art influences real lives and gets influenced by it; it works both ways. So, generations in India could be explained through Bollywood eras. One generation has evolved along with Amitabh Bachchan from Anand and Sharaabi to Kaun Banega Crorepati and Bhagban. Another example could be that my mother saw Shahrukh Khan in Fauji; my first theatrical encounter with him was DDLJ, and my daughter did not recognize him. Our movies have changed with generations; the lines between so-called commercial and parallel cinema have blurred, and OTT media services have exploded.

Through Language: Using abbreviations and the "F" word

These days, my students wave at me if they see me at a distance; I wave back. They also drop in a warm "Hello, Mam" as they walk beside me. I never dared to do so with my teachers. I ran in the opposite direction if I saw them coming, and if confronted, I would only use a very formal "good morning." With a transformation in means of communication and infinite connectivity, language has a significant impact across generations. We may classify them as generations before and after TTYL (talk to you later). One generation wouldn't know what TTYL is; one would be aware and use it extensively in conversations. Also, while "yaar" was objected to by my parents if I happened to use it in a sentence, my next generation casually uses "fuck yaar" and not just "yaar", and it must not be taken as an offence because we are supposed to "be chill" about it.

Through Tea: Chai and Cookies

"Chai" can also define generations. Especially in a north Indian context, one generation still prefers boiled tea with milk and sugar. You would come across them referring to a kind they hate - "dip-dip tea", made with a tea bag without boiling it. Then, there is a generation into "green tea." The same generation may refer to "biscuits" as "cookies" because that's the way the globe describes biscuits.

Through Television: From Karamchand to Money Heist

Just like films, the evolution of television may also be a timeline for explaining generational differences. Across generations, we will come across individuals who have seen Hum Log and those who have not; who have seen the 1983 World Cup final and those who have seen it only in 83 (the movie); who know Karamchand and those who get Money Heist memes, who watched movies only on Friday evenings on Doordarshan and those who have always had access to global content; those who saw Potli Baba Ki and those who were born after it stopped being telecast. I am sure the former ones can still hum the title song.

Through Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube

Social media and its usage in India is another dimension that divides generations. There is one who has recently joined Facebook and another who has quit Facebook and shifted to Instagram. YouTube is also a mega-influence. We may consider the pre- and post-influencer eras too. I always tell my students that I still can't believe being an influencer and recording one's daily life are professions. Just like my father did not understand MTV, I fail to understand YouTube algorithms.

Through Advertisements: Jingles over the Years

Ask a teenager if they know, "bol sakhi sakhi bol, teri khushi ka raaz kya hai"; I am sure they would give you a peculiar expression. But ask someone in their late thirties or early forties, and they will provide you with the correct answer, "Mala-D, Mala-D." Mala-D advertisement was one of the rare advertisements of an oral contraceptive pill featuring women in a very Indian set-up. So, a generation knows "Sakhi ki khushi ka raaz", and another is absolutely clueless about it. There is a generation that has never seen advertisements, one that has grown up with popular jingles, and one that considers all the jingles dated.

Through COVID-19: Before and After the Pandemic

Apart from these examples, which have a very Indian or regional flavour, the global pandemic is also a crucial turning point for explaining generations. While several generations lived through the pandemic, one will only vaguely remember what happened during these years; some students graduated online, and some wouldn't know what it felt like to be quarantined for weeks. The other day, my husband was telling me how, after COVID-19, people have drifted towards subjects like philosophy, how conversations in our circles have shifted towards living lives rather than discussing ambitions, and how many of our friends are willing to spend on holidays rather than saving all the money to buy a house. Our priorities may have changed.

While Gen X, Y, and Z classification originated from a Western context, our context is colourful and full of examples defining people across the country. India is a fascinating destination for marketers and businesses; maybe it's time we shed the lenses imposed upon us by external perspectives. It's time to define ourselves through our own lenses and craft our own narratives. Our context is unique, and so are our problems. Only through embracing ourselves we can find suitable solutions. Let's look forward, charting a path onward and upward!

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Assistant Professor, Malaviya National Institute of Technology Jaipur. PhD, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee.