The Many Faces of The Digital Generation
In an article published in this column last August, I raised the idea that to understand the new digital generation, you have to observe the major social transformations spurred by new digital technologies, every four years, rather than the previously considered 16 year cycles. And in the era of the Web and social media, we could not analyze the new generations in a demographic framework but rather that we should adopt a micro approach.
Looking at the major changes which have escalated in pace since the advent of the World Wide Web in the mid-90s, we are now seeing that in fact that new digital generations contain their own fragments, as new disruptive technologies that emerge. This gives birth to micro-generations, with new concerns, new motivations and new challenges.
The Echo Boomers, The First Micro-Generation
The fragmenting of the new digital generations was first clearly seen in the last Generation Y cohort (1990-1994). Born with the Web, they were the first digital natives who actually grew up with new technology from the cradle. Although they are considered Gen Y, these young people were stranded in a kind of buffer zone, in the passage from one generation to another. This is the first micro-generation of the digital age.
Currently aged between 22 and 27, these young adults exhibit completely different personal motivations to those of their predecessors. Their vision is closer to that of the new Generation Z, while they share a social context apparently more closely aligned with the baby-boomers now aged in their 50’s to 60’s, somewhere between Elvis Presley and the Beatles. It is for this reason called the Echo boomers.
They have known technological change with the rise of Web and mobile technologies, and experienced all of the social changes brought about by the fall of the Berlin Wall. They have also been on the receiving end of successive economic crises, but have to resilience to get by. Today, they remain pragmatic about their future. They have few illusions, understanding that they will often need to swim against the currents of change in order to reach to their place in society.
However, they remain confident and demonstrate an encouraging entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, they were the first to experience the great changes of the transition to the digital era, as were the last of the boomers (1956-1961), a cohort to which I belong, and it gives them a new motivation. As in the days of flower power where we firmly believed he could change the world. In this sense, they echo the boomers paradox.
Generation Z: An Even More Fragmented Generation
Fragmentation of generations continued with the emergence of social media and mobile technologies, and the new ones are even more fragmented – especially Gen Z. Several sociologists and analysts have considered this the first fully digital generation, and concluded, fairly or otherwise, that they are focused on their own needs and that they required instant gratification -a hyper-connected ‘selfie’ generation, attached to smart phones as if they had become extensions of their personalities.
In another article, recently published on The Guardian website, Noreena Hertz, described the first cohort of Generation Z (14-21), who began arriving in the labor market in 2014. For more than 18 months, she interviewed more than 2,000 young people to come to rather pessimistic conclusions about the prospects of this new generation. She called them Generation K, named for Katriss Everdeen, the heroine of the series The Game Hunter, who sees the world she lives in constant dystopia, torn by inequality and poverty.
At first, she generally portrays this first cohort as a generation that no longer believes in equal opportunities, rather concluding that skin color, sex gender, parents’ financial situation and social status will more influential with regard to potential success. A generation that feels the financial difficulties and job insecurity, and, like the majority of the population, has lost confidence in organizations, companies and the media. With little memory of a pre-9/11 world, it is a generation that has constantly lived in a latent existential crisis of terrorism, and who does not expect improvement.
The Rainbow Generation: The Paradoxical Generation
However, in the second part of her article, Noreena Hertz, brings new observations that concur with my thoughts about Generation Z’s fragmentation. Unlike their immediate predecessors, the cohort aged between 14 and 18, that I called Rainbow Generation, have retained some optimism about their future and are concerned about inequality: 92% of respondents believe it is important to help someone in need, and more than 70% say that wealth inequality should be a key issue in our society.
It must also be stated that this generation is perhaps not as selfish it may seem. They look first for authenticity, and clearly prefer PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) or a true friend with whom they can chill 15 minutes a day, rather than the likes of Kim Kardashian or Harry Styles, who they recognize as media creations. And interestingly, despite all their time chatting, texting and sharing pictures on Instagram, Snapchat or elsewhere, they still place very high value on time spent in the company of their friends.
This micro–generation, born between 1998 and 2002, is perhaps not so selfish after all. Although the terrorist threat remains latent, they maintain an optimistic outlook on the future and are confident that they can have a social impact that can influence the world. They want to be treated as individuals, and they still believe in gender and nationalities. They value co-creation, and they want to leave their mark and be part of the process. A new generation that presents several different seemingly conflicting facets: selfies, concern for others, connected yet lonely, anxious yet pragmatic.
What do you think? Do you believe that new generations are fragmented and paradoxical? Express your opinion on this article, and share your comments with our readers.
Image attribution: Copyright: ‘http://www.123rf.com/profile_oksun70‘ / 123RF Stock Photo
(3rd image: multiple sources – original unknown)
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