"I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
- Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
- Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
- Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things."
-Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
In March I went to London in order to take a week long course about Design Thinking and Innovation which was run by the Future London Academy. It was a very inspiring week as you can see from some of the content which we have published over the last few weeks.
I was very much influenced by the seminar by Costas Papaikonomou (aka Grumpy Innovator) of Happen which looked at the topic of Innovation and Generation Z. Not only did we get a pretty inspiring seminar but I also read an insightful short book which was published by Happen: Generation Z: The New Kids on the Block have Arrived.
It may seem like I am stating the obvious but each generation of humans is not a new species. They may seem like it to some, and they certainly may look like it to others. But, whether we like it or not we are the product of our parents' generation as they were the product of theirs.
The big difference between this generation and others is the fact that kids today carry personalized computers around with them in their pockets all the time, they can exchange information, communicate and share ideas, and companies and brands have 24/7 access to provide them with opportunities to shop.
There are seven defining characteristics of Gen Z'ers. To begin with they are overprotected to the extent that they are know in Denmark as 'the curling generation' owing to way in which the ice is swept out of their way by their parents. They are also worldly.
The average Gen Z child will have travelled to 11 countries by the time they are 16 years of age.
Unlike the previous generation who embraced the internet with all the enthusiasm of a new toy and shared their lives on social media without a thought to consequences. There is a pragmatic side to those of Generation Z. They have become more accustomed to the vagaries of internet searches and so have come to be more discerning when it comes to what they select and what they believe.
It goes, almost without saying, that they are connected to the point that their smartphone is an extension of their body.
This is the first time in history when children are an authority about something really important,” he says. “I was an authority about model trains when I was 11. And now you’ve got this 11 year old at the breakfast table who’s an authority on this mobile revolution that’s changing commerce, government, publishing, entertainment, every institution in society.
Given the mass of media which the average Gen Z child is exposed to in their most formative years, it is little surprise that another characteristic of this generation is that they are pressured. Parents have much higher expectations of their children and as a result are devoting more time to scheduled activities. Whereas past generations would have spent this time running around fields, Generation Z children are doing extra classes, extra sports and extra travelling which leave very little time for, at times, growing up.
Gen Z kids may also be a little misunderstood. They have become so at home with social media that they are no longer passive consumers of content; they are actively creating their own content. In other words this is a very creative generation.
One 9 year old we met hacked into his school website and hosted an identical version announcing that school had been cancelled for the day.
Gen Z do have some things in common with previous generations. Like the rest of the human race, they are communitarian. The main distinction with previous generations is that they are a more tightly knitted community with the result that those on the outside are even more excluded than they may have been in previous generations.
As I said earlier Generation Z are not a new species but they are certainly evolving. And some are further along that spectrum than others. The factors which determine this are in general the two g's: geography and gender. Where you live in the world will determine the level of education you receive, the speed of your internet connection and the salary you will get for most of your life. Gender is a little different but it is clear that there is still a gender gap in terms of the number of CEOs and founders of tech companies and start-ups and the investment that these companies attract.
Data, data, everywhere
It is not information overload, it is filter failure. - Clay Shirky
It has been estimated that 90% of all the information produced has been created in the last two years. That is a pretty amazing statistic and sums up the world of the Gen Z very well. Data overload is a problem.
The age of open
Unlike the previous generation who were thrust into a brave new digital world, Gen Z'ers have been born into a digital world and they are digital natives. While this has a lot of immediate advantages: for example, they do not have the same learning curve as digital immigrants. It can have downsides as well. Much of the practical and tacit knowledge acquired by earlier generations during their childhood explorations are being skipped over.
Crisis of trust
Close to 80% of Americans say that they’d throw out the entire Congress and start over.
The crisis of trust in national institutions and corporations which followed the global recession and a spate of scandals has potentially opened the way for a new form of government in some countries and for a new way of doing business.
While earlier generations may still be very sceptical about the nature of tomorrow's world, for Generation Z it is an opportunity to create a new world.
From unipolar to multi-polar
Rising powers cannot rule the world on their own; they cannot expect recognition without contribution.
The world of Generation Z must be a lot more communitarian than previous iterations of the human evolutionary model. In today's world corporations such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have as much influence as the leading nations of the world.
If an event does not happen on Twitter, does it really happen? If an event is wiped from Google search, did it ever happen?
Following a recent report it became necessary for Facebook to change some of its own internal guidelines as it was accused of political bias as a result of the way in which stories appeared in the trending topics section. Similarly, Twitter has been bedevilled by claims of censorship since the return of Jack Dorsey to his role as CEO.
For the rest of us, this is hard to get our heads around but for Generation Z this is the world into which they were born.
Us versus Them
Given current trends the world of Generation Z will be the most unequal one that the human race has even seen. The gap between the top 1% and the other 99% has continued to lengthen despite the recession.
“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler , Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.”
Because they have different tools generation Z are forced to think differently about the problems they encounter. They have tools to organise themselves quickly and communicate across continents instantly. They have access to more information than any other generation before. They are self thought, questioning, individualistic, innovative and powerfully connected. Assumptions that we have made about the world and modes of living which are viewed as the norm will be challenged as a new world is created by Generation Z.