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Friday, September 24, 2021

The Millennial Age: Shaping Generation Z

JENNIFER WU/ AGGIE
JENNIFER WU/ AGGIE

prokos_opAfter reading a quarter’s worth of columns on the topic, I’m sure you’re just about over anything Millennial. Yet, you can’t help think about the elements and individuals that have defined our generation, from social media innovators like Mark Zuckerberg to courageous education activists such as Malala Yousafzai.

The technological, ideological and cultural revolutions which have taken place thanks to these brilliant figures have defined our society and, more importantly, set a distinct trajectory for the next generation.

Despite being a person who stands, more or less, at the end of the Millennial spectrum and in close proximity to Generation Z, I can tell that there are large and important differences between Millennials and the next generation.

“A 14-year-old in 2015 really does inhabit a substantially different world than one of 2005,” Alex Williams wrote in The New York Times. “Millennials, after all, were raised during the boom times and relative peace of the 1990s, only to see their sunny world dashed by the Sept. 11 attacks and two economic crashes […] Generation Z, by contrast, has had its eyes open from the beginning.”

But who are they, really?

Marketing researchers are scrambling to understand Generation Z, many of whom are now early adolescents. These researchers consider anyone born between the period 1996 and 2011 as members of this new generation.

Since some Generation Z-ers are still in their post-toddler years, it is difficult to form concrete characterizations. Yet, it seems clear that technology has become an integral part of this new generation’s daily life, even more so than Millennials.

In a previous Millennial Age column about why Generation Y may be the smartest generation, I used my goddaughter, a Generation Z-er, as an example of how Millennials are driving the next generation. We have taught Generation Z how to be resourceful with the technology available to them and encourage them to use it for both efficiency and enrichment purposes.

At the same time, we know that both Millennials and Generation Z use technology for so much more.

Even as a late Millennial, I can appreciate how much technology has advanced in recent years. I still have a recollection of dial-up internet and the hype of AOL Instant Messenger as the sole form of digital communication. I remember when texting was a luxury. Today, I embrace advances but recognize the fact that there was a time when they didn’t exist. Personally, this helps me stay grounded.

Yet, as Williams pointed out, this new generation is the first to be raised in an era ruled by smartphones. In fact, many do not remember a time before social media. What’s the result? Speaking generally, Generation Z-ers are a lot like Millennials in that they are accustomed to gathering information instantaneously, and that they are multi-taskers and social media lovers. They also share and intensify the same entrepreneurial, go-getter attitude as Millennials.

The characterization of Generation Z-ers as “Millennials on Steroids” is not inaccurate. They are, and will continue to be, the most complex generation. Aside from demanding everything immediately, their social skills will be far more convoluted. Virtual communication will continue to be their main form of social interaction and a pervasive distraction to face-to-face communication.

I saw a glimpse of this firsthand, through my goddaughter’s then 5-year-old twin brother who sat on a couch for hours playing with his iPad instead of engaging with his peers at a family gathering.

Of course, Generation Z doesn’t (and won’t) see technology and social media as a disruption to their social life. It will continue to be a part of their process.

“People from Generation Z find it easier to talk online than in person,” wrote Laurence Benhamou in Business Insider. “Their friends on social media are as important to them as their friends in real life.”

According to CMO.com, Generation Z-ers utilize five different screens on an average day: a smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop and tablet. This is in comparison to the Millennial average of three screens.

Benhamou also indicated that more than eight out of 10 Generation Z-ers are social media-obsessed and more than half believe that social media platforms are where their real social lives are embedded.

Even to Millennials, this probably sounds a little crazy. But the fact is that Generation Z is the product of Millennial influence. If it weren’t for Millennial figures like Zuckerberg and David Karp, our social media world wouldn’t be what it is today. They created the world for Generation Z to enjoy and expand upon.

When we break it down, each generation naturally influences the next. Sometimes, generations will even bear similarities to generations far before. The Millennial Age was meant to help us understand where we are today as a generation and how we got here. It’s important to look at past journeys and present situations in order to prepare for where we are headed.

More than anything, remaining attentive to and proactive in guiding subsequent generations will be critical in ensuring the success of Generation Z.

You can reach HAYLEY PROKOS at hprokos@ucdavis.edu or @haroulii14.

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