October 31, 2019
The Kids Will Be Alright – What Makes Gen Z Different.
Young adults receiving a seemingly never-ending stream of criticism from older cohorts is nothing new. Young people have always been chided by their parents’ and grandparents’ generations for their opinions and behaviours. However, not even in the era of Flower Power did the critics rally against 20-somethings as vehemently as they have against Millennials in the past decade. Along with the advent of the internet came an ease of publishing op-eds, followed by an outpouring of commentary on why Millennials were ruining the world as we knew it.
Millennials are roughly grouped as the generation born between 1980 and 1996, but the term has become shorthand for “anyone who is younger than a baby boomer but didn’t come out of the womb holding an iPhone”. While the group has been receiving flack for things like ruining industries by not buying diamonds and buying avocado toast instead of homes, something has been happening in the background that has gone overlooked: the generation after Millennials, Gen Z, has entered the picture. With this shift, there must be a shift in the way that young people are perceived, because this new generation is a whole new beast.
In 2019, the eldest in Gen Z are 22 years old. They are entering the workforce, taking their rightful place as a purchasing power, and reshaping the way that brands communicate with the public. The narrative that has been used to describe young adults for decades – lazy, narcissistic, spoiled and hyper-sensitive – will be hard to apply to this cohort based on what they’ve shown of themselves so far.
One of the group’s defining factors is that they have never lived in a time that felt secure, most of them not able to remember life before 9/11 and having had to bear witness to the economic crash in 2008. 24-hour news cycles, access to information about international affairs and a weakened economy has been the North American realty for the majority of Gen Z. This reality has resulted in an intensity about the group that cannot be ignored – they are fighting for a world that feels safe. Overall, they are more involved in activism and altruism than the generations that came before them. The Parkland student activists, Greta Thunberg, Autumn Peltier, Kavya Kopparapu, Mari Copeny - If you aren’t familiar with these names, you should be.
The young people belonging to Generation Z are often described as being “digital natives”, most of them unable to recall a time without the internet. They are tech-savvy, better at multitasking than anyone before them, and have had constant access to a wealth of knowledge that has left them resourceful, well-informed and wildly passionate. With the onset of this group entering the work force, businesses will have to make an extra effort to keep up with the times. These young people know a lot, particularly about what they want, and they’ve shown us that they are capable of using their voices in the fight to achieve it. They are deserving of their nickname “iGen” – the information generation.
It isn’t fair to say that Gen Z is better than their predecessors, but it goes without saying that the way the world interacts with them will have to change. No longer can young people be looked at with the sweeping generalization that they are slothful, selfish, coddled or ingenuine. It will be interesting to watch the changes unfold as the world makes space for the minds, voices and personalities of Generation Z. Whatever changes they cause to move throughout the societal landscape, it’s probably safe to say that the kids will be alright.