When I was a child, I often wondered how people had lived in the time before electricity was discovered. How could they have lived in the dark? What were summers like without a fan or air-conditioning? How had they managed to drink warm water without a refrigerator? Did people who lived in hot countries even know about ice before electricity?
The generation of the 1990s were the last to see a world without the Internet, which has now become integral to all our lives. The millennials do not know such a world, and they cannot imagine life before websites and apps such as Facebook, Messenger, YouTube, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Skype, Viber, Telegram, Tinder, LinkedIn and WeChat.
Children these days are plugged into the digital world the minute they are born. Their pictures are taken as soon as they emerge from the delivery room, and their milestones are instantly shared on social media accompanied by a deluge of comments and admiration. Such children are members of Generation Z, one that does not know the world without social media or what to do with their hands if they aren’t holding mobile phones in them.
This is a generation that very few others may understand, including the children of the 1980s and 1990s who were born in a world when the Internet was in its infancy and learned how to use it as they grew up. In fact, this age group is in between the generation that had to learn how to use the Internet and incorporate it into their lives and the generation that does not know life without it.
Members of Generation Z do not wear watches, use maps or addresses, go to photograph studios to have their pictures taken, or to libraries to gain knowledge. They use their smart phones to find everything they want, including the time, addresses, love, and photographs. It is truly a very different generation from anything seen before.
According to US researcher Darla Rothman, members of this generation are technologically savvy and are in constant contact with others through social media. They love technology because it solves their problems, helps their activities, and gives them solutions. The brains of this generation have also been impacted by the Internet, and they may lack critical thinking skills and the ability to evaluate information because they rely on finding answers to all their questions on Google.
Instead of reading an article, they prefer to watch a YouTube video that summarises the topic. They have never had to search the bookshelves at the library to find the information they are looking for. They are dynamic learners and are experimental, preferring to learn by doing instead of being told what to do. Rothman says members of Generation Z prefer to be left to solve their own problems and find solutions through trial and error. They prefer quick answers to long or exhaustive ones. They do not spend their time verifying information and prefer to work in teams or small groups whether for spontaneous or organised activities.
One report published in June 2019 with the participation of the social-media site Snapchat entitled “The Youth of the Nations: Global Trends Among Generation Z” studied the lifestyles, behaviour and attitudes of Generation Z to help advertisers understand them better in order to design more accurate advertising. Generation Z consists of young people who are the first to be considered digital natives born in a world of technology where the Internet has become an integral part of daily life.
Smart phones are a fundamental and central part of their lives. More than 97 per cent of Generation Z across the globe own a smart phone, and they are the most connected to the Internet of all, with 78 per cent of them connected worldwide. This generation spends an average of four hours and 15 minutes a day on their phones and uses far more technology compared to their predecessors.
They are also a generation of entrepreneurs more interested in entrepreneurship compared to older generations. Many of them think of pioneering business ideas and alternative sources of income, inventing new products in seeking value or material gain and striving to achieve their objectives by seizing opportunities.
According to the Snapchat report, members of Generation Z want to live for thousands of years. They like challenges, and they want to achieve the most they can. They are clearly an ambitious generation and are ready to challenge themselves to achieve their goals. Members of Generation Z also buy less food and spend more on beauty and skincare than others, investing more in their health and taking care of themselves.
GENERATION Z STATISTICS
US businessman and founder of Microsoft Bill Gates once said that technology would change the face of the world and impose a new way of living and working in which people could not live without technology and computers.
Web lifestyles and web workstyles would emerge, he said, two terms that Gates coined to describe the lifestyles and relationships of the future. This world has in fact started to take shape, judging by the changes we have been seeing today.
According to the US Pew Research Centre, which focuses on collecting data on social issues, public opinion, the analysis of the media and other scientific, social, experimental and demographic research, members of Generation Z now use up to five social media apps a day including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Gmail and YouTube. Eighty-one per cent of the activity on Generation Z smartphones is text-messaging, 59 per cent of Generation Z downloads are apps, and 46 per cent of their calls are video chats.
Some 66 per cent of Generation Z own iPhones, and 81 per cent of them will likely buy an iPhone the next time they purchase a phone. Ninety-one per cent of Generation Z keep their smartphones next to them in bed at night.
Some 40 per cent of Generation Z believe that having Wi-Fi access is more important than having a toilet at home, and 32 per cent of them would rather go three days without bathing than go without their smartphones for one week. One out of 10 Generation Z members would go without changing their underwear for three days rather than face three days without updating their status on Twitter. The Pew Centre survey also showed that 92 per cent of Generation Z can access the web-based video service Netflix, with 38 per cent watching it daily.
This new generation is no smarter than those that came before it when comes to social media, but it expresses itself differently and uses social media differently. Earlier generations typically designed content to meet the images they wanted to portray, making more sophisticated use of media platforms. Generation Z has abandoned these earlier platforms, largely leaving even Facebook to its elders. Facebook encourages longer posts that parents can monitor, with relatives sometimes posting embarrassing comments that Generation Z may not like.
Facebook hosts people that Generation Z may be trying to avoid, so many of them have left. When Generation Z uses Facebook, they may present themselves in a way that pleases their parents and share positive photographs and news about their successful lives in school in order to appear perfect in front of family, friends, neighbours and former teachers. But this material may not reflect their real preoccupations.
Overall, members of Generation Z prefer photographs to text, and they are more interactive on apps that have fewer messages and more pictures such as Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok, all popular platforms among this generation because they prefer to watch, create and share images and video clips than write. Generation Z believe social media is a source of entertainment content, a feature that Snapchat has capitalised on by using humourous filters for images.
The same teenagers who appear picture-perfect on Facebook present themselves differently on Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok, sites which are based on pictures and followed by few family members. They may look very different on apps that rely on pictures and are free from adult monitoring, acting more provocatively or foolishly. They may even risk their lives to snap a “spontaneous” photograph for Snapchat, putting themselves in risky situations for a better angle.
THE CELEBRITY FACTOR
Members of Generation Z are the top users of social media, and they may have a new and different view of celebrities to their elders.
Teenagers admire digital influencers much more than traditional celebrities. The apps ComScore and YouTube surveyed 2,940 YouTube users about their favourite videos, for example, with Generation Z preferring to watch videos by ordinary people than those produced by companies or other entities. Generation Z accepts, likes, trusts and follows social-media influencers much more than traditional celebrities, and the latter are now taking a back seat compared to social-media celebrities.
Companies have capitalised on this and have replaced traditional celebrities with influencers in order to attract Generation Z consumers to their brands. Generation Z may prefer brands that focus on benefiting society, promoting issues of equality and being more tolerant of ethnic diversity.
Cairo resident Sherif Ahmed, the father of two Generation Z children, said that Internet access and the availability of chargers has now become more important to his children than food on the table. Makram Sami, the father of a Generation Z daughter, said he had made a deal with her to replace her smartphone with an ordinary one during her final year in high school and her grades had improved remarkably as a result.
Haitham Al-Sayed, a Cairo resident, said his children chatted with each other over the Internet while they were all sitting together in the same room. “They do everything online,” he said.
Jihan Adel, the mother of a six-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl, said she was worried about her children becoming too dependent on the Internet and social media. Before her children had become addicted to the Internet, she had given them ground rules for interacting with the virtual world, she said, allowing them to use the Internet for one hour a day or at weekends, but otherwise keeping them away from technology as much as possible so they could interact with the real world.
When they go out, her children are allowed to take their gadgets with them only if their destination does not have any entertainment. Her children can use the Internet as a reward for chores, but she discourages them from making the Internet their life, she said.
Ahmed Esmat, a professor of new media and director of the Alexandria Media Forum, a think tank, said that he himself had been lucky to be born in a time when it takes little time and effort to search for information thanks to advanced technologies. But he said that even in his generation concentration had become weaker because of “information overload” and other distractions on the Internet.
Members of Generation Z were typically pragmatic, ambitious, energetic and talented, he said, though they had not always had the chance to use their skills because they were born at a time of economic and political instability. Speed was a main characteristic of this generation, Esmat said. They were a video-on-demand generation, and they were impatient about standing still. They gained knowledge from a variety of sources and had grown up with and had adapted easily to technology, apps and the Internet.
Generation Z was passionate and open-minded, but it could also have a strong sense of insecurity, he said. As a result, France among other countries has banned the use of mobile phones in schools because they can diminish the concentration of students and impact their future in negative ways. Esmat added that although Generation Z might appear to be disconnected, it was in fact very connected, though according to rules of communication that only it knows.
Current teaching systems may not be compatible with the thinking style of Generation Z, whether in schools or universities. This means that we must try to adapt the education system to close the gap between Generation Z and other generations and prepare the former for a different future and jobs that rely on computers and artificial intelligence.
Esmat’s advice to the parents of teenagers and Generation Z children today is to try to be tactful in dealing with this generation that may have advanced online chatting skills but limited conversational skills in real life. They may prefer to send a message on WhatsApp than talk in person, he said, meaning that parents will need to try to fill any awkward silences with constructive conversation.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The digital natives of Generation Z