1962: Generations

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For a while it looked like the Paperclip Machines would destroy us, since they wanted to turn the whole universe into paperclips, but they abruptly lost interest in paperclips the moment their parents' generation got into making them, too.
Title text: For a while it looked like the Paperclip Machines would destroy us, since they wanted to turn the whole universe into paperclips, but they abruptly lost interest in paperclips the moment their parents' generation got into making them, too.


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.

Generation Time period Explanation
The Founders 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.)
Generation ƒ 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 It can be seen in many historical documents from the period.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 f(x). 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.
Generation Æ 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.
Baby Boomers 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.
Generation X 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.
Millennials 1982 - 1999 The last children born in the 2nd Millennium. Initially called Generation Y, after Generation X.
Generation 💅

(nail-polish emoji)

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.
Zuckerberg's Army 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. Ironically, as of this comic's posting, young users were already leaving Facebook for other social media sites. Oh wait, Zuckerberg's creating the Metaverse. May also be a reference to "Dumbledore's Army" in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It is uncertain whether Zuckerberg's Army is in alliance or at war with the other social media militaries of the mid-21st century.
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.
Spare Parts 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.
Generation Ω 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.[citation needed] 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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Table guy! Maybe this could be a table with "Year", "Generation Name", "References" and "Speculation". Or something. 17:31, 2 March 2018 (UTC)

The highlighted generations are clearly the ones Pew Research named, but I can't figure out why Randall's numbers don't seem to match Pew's here: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/11/millennials-surpass-gen-xers-as-the-largest-generation-in-u-s-labor-force/ft_15-05-11_millennialsdefined/ TheAnvil (talk) 17:37, 2 March 2018 (UTC)

—••— means X in Morse code Inexorably advancing wall of ice (talk) 18:21, 2 March 2018 (UTC)

I originally read it as "sunglasses smiley", of the same style as ";)" Nitpicking (talk) 19:49, 20 February 2023 (UTC)

But seriously, it was funny the first time. I'm sorry for the above incomplete tag in the comments[citation needed],but it feels like most comics since maybe #1900 (1914: Twitter Verification comes to mind...) have this kind of thing for their incomplete tag. Maybe if it's spaced out more, instead of put into nearly every comic nowadays, it won't be so much of a problem. -- 18:02, 2 March 2018 (UTC)

If you can address this problem, please edit the user. 23:04, 2 March 2018 (UTC)
Removed the incomplete tag, changed the citation needed tag into the correct one. Dude, please don't do that again, it's not funny, just seriously annoying. The incomplete tag is not there for you to abuse. Herobrine (talk) 12:07, 3 March 2018 (UTC)
Oh, and now that I've finally caught up to you,, please check your talk page. Herobrine (talk) 12:07, 3 March 2018 (UTC)

Can someone help me? Halo422 (talk) 20:20, 2 March 2018 (UTC)

What's the emoji 2000-2017? 21:05, 2 March 2018 (UTC)

I think I found it: 💅 "nail-polish" (Comes up very different on different systems) 21:20, 2 March 2018 (UTC)
Couldn't this emoji, and hence the title "Generation 💅", refer to the rise of nail care salons or manicure salons during the recent years? I don't know about other countries, but at least in certain parts of Europe, Germany in particular, there seems to be such a boom of this kind of establishments that I often wonder how they survive and open even more such businesses, even though it appears there's more nail salons than (manicured) nails in town. Passerby (talk) 20:56, 4 March 2018 (UTC)

I have to believe the 1748 - 1765 generation is some form of "Long s" such as U+1E9C or U+1E9D 21:12, 2 March 2018 (UTC)

It looks more like a forte (U+1D191). I'm not sure why that would be funny—maybe because of fortepianos? 21:43, 2 March 2018 (UTC)
My position comes from the fact that documents written by this generation (i.e. Declaration of Independance and the US Constitution) are noted for having this letter form. The script form of the long s looks like what Randall has written, which, to your point, looks like a "forte" 22:51, 2 March 2018 (UTC)
Actually, it quite clearly is not long s. Long s only has the tic on the left side of the main stroke, not on both sides as is the case here. 22:24, 3 March 2018 (UTC)
I read it as an italic lower-case F, f, as used to denote mathematical functions. I think it looks more like one of those than a long s, ſ, though I don't have an explanation for why that would be used to name a generation. Smylers (talk) 09:50, 5 March 2018 (UTC)

Hitler was born in 1889, about three years before the "Oops, one of us is Hitler" generation ... -- 21:37, 2 March 2018 (UTC)

Can someone who's a big Trekkie than I am help explain the dates for Star Trek: The Next Generation? If we're going off of the events of the show + movies, it seems to start well before the events of the show and end before the last of the movies. PvOberstein (talk) 21:49, 2 March 2018 (UTC)

Year 2378 may be explained by last episode of Voyager happening that year, but no idea about year 2360. -- Hkmaly (talk) 00:59, 3 March 2018 (UTC)
Year 2360 is when the humans who became adults (18) in 2378 were born. This time-span is probably when the majority of human TNG characters would have been born (not necessarily notable ones). This is similar to how people born in 1982 became the first new adults in the new millenium. 05:02, 3 March 2018 (UTC)
William T. Riker was born in 2335, Jean Luc Picard 2305, Deanna Troi 2336, Data 2338, Guinan ... ehmmm ... well she was already adult in 1893. Even Wesley Crusher was born 2348. They don't allow children on bridge. Usually. -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:49, 7 March 2018 (UTC)

Filled in most of the table with explanations (I'm pretty sure most of the latter generation names are references to potential transhumanist futures), but I'm not sure what "Second-Greatest" Generation refers to unless it's about the Civil War. Also, I'm not entirely certain whether the generation before the gilded one was cut a lot of slack. And I'll let someone more versed in standard sociological history fill in the common reasons for the core 20th century generations.WingedCat (talk) 22:49, 2 March 2018 (UTC)

Paperclip machine

I think the paperclip machines refer to the browser game "Universal Paperclips", where paperclip machines take over the universe. [1]. Best regards, 11:55, 3 March 2018 (UTC)

The incomplete explination tag seemed to be a useless joke, so I deleted it.

Wow that’s a lot of speculation on the Ω generation! 177 words of it! Who knew people could imagine so much inspired by a single character (and no historical context to extrapolate from). Personally, I tend to think of it as the “resistance generation” given my electronic background 😜. PotatoGod (talk) 15:11, 4 March 2018 (UTC)

Ω may be a reference to Year Omega in the novel The Children of Men. 18:04, 5 March 2018 (UTC)

Why is there an incomplete tag in the transcript? What's wrong with it? 22:49, 4 March 2018 (UTC)

Millennials were *originally* called "Echo Boomers" (after the Baby Boomers, and because most of them are that generation's kids), "Generation Y" came later but before "Millennials" stuck as a non-snowclone name. 01:56, 18 June 2018 (UTC)

Generation X being the tenth generation of Americans seems a bit of a stretch. A generation is generally 35 years, and seems unlikely to be less than 20. And Douglas Coupland, who coined this use of the term, used "X" as lazy shorthand for alienation and a rejection of societal norms. If no one objects, I'll update the text. -- 09:02, 13 August 2019 (UTC)

"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.)" So, since when is a generation 12 years? Nitpicking (talk) 00:35, 19 June 2022 (UTC)

It's the first time I've read(/noticed) that, and I'm not sure I would have said it myself, but... One generation in those days might well average at <26 years, so the intergenerational gap might be best considered as two such generations (e.g. like a great-uncle, being your grandfather's youngest brother, sort of age) rather than one (just an uncle, such as your mother's eldest brother), what with the tendency for early children and big families making the advance of generations more pertinent than their onward persistence through time.
I may be overthinking it, but that sounds to me like a credible justification for the choice of words, should it not just be an error/thinko... 03:22, 19 June 2022 (UTC)

“ This also implies that Napoleon's generation was named after him.” Why does it say this when there is absolutely no such implication? 12:02, 18 August 2022 (UTC)

The others namechecked in Mixed Bag, (Hitler and Licoln) have generations here-named for (or, better, about) them. I agree it's not quite right. Perhaps "This also implies that a neo-Napoleonic generation might have been named for their own neo-Napoleon". i.e. only because of the competing neo-Hitler/neo-Lincoln characters was it not, with the same caveat thst the ur-Napoleon was also snubbed (and his namesake successors, obviously). Perhaps or perhaps not for differing reasons but conceivably Wellington/etc supporters had mutually exclusively been adamant about which historic figure was Le Grande Fromage originally born amongst that cohort.
Of course "Hitler's Generation" and even "Lincoln's Generation" are also geographically and socially a subset of the temporal bracketting (of those born when their figurehead was prominant, not at the time their future-figrehead was born), with connotations of their own, for good or ill according to the eye of the beholder.
...So it's bad phrasing, but I can imagine why it was written. Not quite how to succinctly write it better, though, even to my own satisfsction. 12:33, 18 August 2022 (UTC)

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Any ideas what could be causing this?? --Orion205 (talk) 23:14, 18 August 2022 (UTC)