Who is Gen Z?
While it is rather easy to lump groups into overly generic demographics particularly those surrounding age, it is important to remember that the circumstances of every generation’s upbringing are drastically different. Baby Boomers grew up in the World War era and suburbanization, whereas Millennials experienced the financial boom of the 1990’s and the bust of the early 2000’s and housing collapse, which turned into the Great Recession. These starkly different situations translate into the culture, attitudes, consumption habits, and more that whole age demographics internalize as they come of age. This shapes different thought processes which need to be accounted for particularly as generations transition into consumer markets.
People born roughly between 1996 and 2011 are characterized as “Generation Z.” These individuals were largely too young to remember the high-times of the 1990’s and saw an upbringing defined by two major events: financial crises and technology expansion. Much Gen Z saw their childhoods affected for foreclosed homes, unemployed parents, and lack of surplus, in addition to never knowing a world without social media, digital relationships, and a massive content industry.
So how are these societal effects influencing the next wave of workers and consumers?
1) Technology Natives
Gen Z is truly the first generation to be technology natives. Cell phones rose in prominence in the early 2000’s leading to everyone in the age range becoming accustomed to ease of communication, a smaller more connected world, and fluency in digital interaction. Furthermore, with the explosion of smart phones in the mid 2000’s and most of Generation Z gaining access to smart phones, the Internet, and apps at an extraordinarily young age, there is no question that Gen Z is more comfortable with technology than any generation before it and to a fault more comfortable with digital interaction over real life interaction.
2) Content Consumers
The status of technology native leads to much more instantaneous and data-filled lifestyle. No longer does learning about pop stars, current events, or personal acquaintances have to be limited to newspapers, 30-minute news segments, or interactions at school or the workplace. Gen Z is truly a content consumption generation. These young people are more aware of trends, in every sense of the word, and are scared of losing track of this cultural pulse, leading to increased time dedicated to content consumption. A common occurrence is to see Gen Z simply scroll on social media apps, waiting to see some content worthy of ingesting and committing to memory. Additionally, Gen Z checks social media and their phones more than a dozen times an hour. In short, image matters.
Not only does Gen Z hold an awareness of the images around them, but also a fascination with success, branding, and happiness, particularly due to the fact that social media reduces people largely to their best moments and edits out the bloopers of everyday life and the emotions there-in. Gen Z not only thinks about life in the perspective of garnering “likes” but even more so their level of “likes” and image in relation to others. Subjective standards of life, such as success, wealth, happiness, social standing, trendiness, etc. all lend themselves to a “Halo Effect” and confirmation bias, where things can never quite be good enough since others will always have it better off in some form.
3) Short Attention Spans
Massive content consumption and the need to be on top of cutting-edge trends has by far influenced the ability of Generation Z to hold a long term thought. Due to the overwhelming demands for individuals’ attention, the absurdity which has overrun social media, and the rapid frame changes in television, movies, and digital devices, Gen Z gives content, apps, and most immediate prospects about 5 seconds before clocking out of intense attention. Furthermore, in a personal sense, a plethora of options for careers, hobbies, significant relationships, and other major life decisions often leads to a “Fear Of Missing Out” or FOMO, making Gen Z opt to waiver on choices and never settle on a single prospect out of fear of making the wrong choice. Overall, Gen Z cannot keep their attention focused on most tasks making it the job of anyone who demands their attention to surpass a high-bar in capturing their attention span.
Growing up in an era of hard times and extreme technology booms, Generation Z has witnessed and become inundated with information about the massive fortunes and success surrounding those who created startups, art and music careers, and internet stardom. Just as image creation is vital and success/wealth/fame are idolized, dreams are abundant, as these dreams are often opportunities of achieving such status. However, as Prof. Laura Huang of the Wharton School discusses, far too often these dreams are rooted in a lack of risk-awareness and so the lofty ambitions typically stay dreams.
Figures such as Mark Zuckerberg, Evan Spiegel, and Steve Jobs, who achieved enormous success at young ages, combined with social content such as Shark Tank and The Social Network, which simplify the requirements of success, and a parenting culture emphasizing the need to reward effort over results have all played together to make a forward-thinking Generation Z eager to jump into action. Adding to this eagerness, Gen Z desires to overcome their personal strife, which stems from a rotten economy for most of their childhood. Generation Z has plenty of examples of youthful actions and plenty of desire for success that they are more than willing to work for personal betterment in the hopes of attaining huge success.
6) Challenge Status Quo
One of the most uttered phrases by members of Gen Z is “Why not?” Associated with their entrepreneurial and dreamer nature, a lack of experience often creates an echo chamber in which status quo does not play a role. Having a stubborn nature and intense desire to attain their level of status, Gen Z often requires an abundance of information and pragmatism before they will concede on any given point. Furthermore, being able to “think different” is rewarded and seen as an asset whereas previous generations often tend to focus on industry standards and working within the confines of the status quo. All of this taken into account together means being able to defy the status quo, even if it is not the best course of action, is typically the path Gen Z adopts.
7) Relationships Run Shallow
Living in a digital world and being able to interact with people around the world instantly has led to a much smaller world for Gen Z than any of the past, but it has come with a lack of need for personal interaction. Rather than talking to a friend, Generation Z pushes a screen. If a fight happens or a relationship breaks up, unfollowing and personal angst is typically the result rather than face-to-face discourse. Also, in line with the rampant FOMO, most of Gen Z will freely admit that if better plans pop-up they will cancel on a friend. Loyalty runs low in both friendships and even more so with brands and companies. On balance, digital skills have created a world where individuals in Gen Z live in individual worlds and relationships run incredibly shallow.