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Generation Z and their Relationship with Technology

Every generation in the U.S. History has been known for major events in the nation’s history. The Lost Generation is known for experiencing the Roaring Twenties and having to provide for a family during the start of The Great Depression. The Greatest Generation is known for fighting in World War II and liberating Europe from Nazi Rule. Baby Boomers of the 1950s and 1960s are known to be one of the first groups of people to live in suburbia and experience modernizations such as the interstate highway system. Each of these groups had major experiences during their young adulthood which shaped their attitudes. What about the current young generation? Who are they and what special experiences define them? Let's explore Generation Z and their Relationship with Technology.

Who is Generation Z?

Many in the older generation today refer to all young people as “millennials”. However, this usually a misnomer for young people. Millennial is a label given to people born in the United States from 1981 to 1996. They were given the term because their formative years were shaped by the turn of the millennium in 2000. Their years were shaped by events such as the September 11th terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 Housing Market Crash. Many people assume that millennials grew up with an iPad in their cribs and cell phones in Kindergarten. This is an error in assumption as there are currently millennials who are 40 who certainly did not grown up in the age of the Internet and may have even grown up with black and white televisions.

So now that we know the misnomer who are today’s young people? Oxford defines Generation Z as “the generation born in the late 1990s or the early 21st century, perceived as being familiar with the use of digital technology, the internet, and social media from a very young age.” The birth range for Generation Z seems to be between 1997 and 2012. These youngsters grew up without any recollection of 9/11 and it seems to be their lives are shaped by technology and interconnected-ness through social media. For many “Gen-Zs” they have never known a time where information was not at the tips of their fingers or that they couldn’t build relationships instantaneously by sending a text message or commenting on someone’s social media post. Even the oldest of Gen Z were only 10 years old when the first iPhone came out in 2007 and 13 years old when Instagram was founded in 2010. When talking about this generation it is very easy to assume that these children and young adults are experts in using technology. Several people in the younger generation are bugged from time to time by older co-workers on how to use new programs introduced by their bosses. While it is definitely clear why people assume that Generation Z is full of “tech wizzes”, like any assumption it has its faults.

Gen Z’s Strengths

One of Gen Z’s biggest strengths of technology is how they use it to constantly have access to information. Information for Gen Z is consistently streamed through a variety of platforms. While older generations may simply Google an answer and stop this younger generation is constantly exposed to topics related to their interests. A study by Google confirms this. “In our studies, something like almost 40 percent of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram,” said Prabhakar Raghavan, a Google senior Vice President. Surely a strength of Gen Z using technology is that they are more able to learn from their peers rather than a search engine.

Speaking of peers Generation Z is also very capable in nurturing and building relationships through the use of social media. A Morning Consult survey revealed 88% of Gen Z had spent time on YouTube, 76% had spent time on Instagram, 68% on TikTok, 67% on SnapChat, 49% on Facebook and 47% on Twitter. This may seem like a waste of time to most employers, but it is important to note that according to Zippia, 94% of recruiters use social media. According to Neal Schaffer 93% of companies use social media to advertise and according to Forbes 73% of companies use social media to sell products. Gen Z has proven that they are familiar with the most popular social media sites and can also use them effectively. In the previous study mentioned by Zippia 73% of people 18-34 used Social Media to find a job. It isn’t just scrolling like a Zombie on a screen. This generation has ability to learn something from the time they put into it.

Finally, Generation Z seems to have a better grasp at using tools such such as spreadsheets, slideshows and word processing applications. This is due to the fact that these tools are now a part of standards in most school curriculums. In 40 states the Common Core has been implemented in public schools. The Common Core lists educational standards that need to be covered in classes by the end of each grade level. The Common Core list standards for subjects such as Math, English/Language Arts, but also technology. Some technology standards for secondary students in Common Core include the ability to:

  • Demonstrate use of intermediate features in word footers, end notes, bullet and numbering, tables).

  • Use spreadsheets to calculate, graph, organize, and present data in a variety of real‐world settings and choose the most appropriate type to represent given data

  • Create presentations for a variety of audiences and animations to add interest.

So as one can see students of this young and upcoming generation already need to display mastery in these skills in order to graduate. They will head into their first job ahead of the the curve with basic programs such as Microsoft Office and Google Tools.

Gen Z’s Weaknesses

One of the biggest weaknesses when it comes to Generation Z’s use of technology is the ability to analyze information from online sources. As discussed above Gen Z has access to a variety of sources of information at their fingertips from their iPhone news app to Twitter to even a sight like TikTok. TikTok, a site in which users can post short videos, is replacing Google as a search engine for many in Generation Z. However the concerning part of that fact is that a study by NewsGuard found that nearly 20 percent of videos returned in a TikTok search contained misinformation. TikTok would be a great starting point to find more information, but according to the New York Times “With videos often less than 60 seconds long, TikTok returns what feels like more relevant answers, many said.” Many have commented that Generation Z seems to be the generation of instant gratification so they may be digesting misinformation as a simple answer and not doing more research to uncover the whole truth of the matter.

Furthermore, being too drawn to technology can also be a negative toward Generation Z’s relationship with technology. In a piece posted by Hofstra University’s Marketing and Communications Department the fallout of Internet addiction was discussed. “Such intense exposure makes this group susceptible to iDisorder, a relatively new condition in which individuals engage in compulsive internet and technology use. Mitus’ presentation pointed out that the average media use of American teens is about nine hours a day, with 54% of them admitting they are on their phones too frequently.” There seems to be an over-reliance of the Internet by Generation Z. It is certainly impacting their physical and mental health, but also this furthers the point of Generation Z only looking at one source of information. To find an answer to a question it would be helpful to consult with a supervisor or an expert in the field, but with this generation’s reliance on the Internet and addiction to find the answer as quick as possible it may be that solutions may be more quick than they are correct.

Finally while Generation Z may have basic skills down pat more advanced skills such as coding. According to print journalist, Nalea Ko, “Coding is the process of transforming computer instructions into a form a computer can understand.” Coding is a key 21st Century skill as websites and computer programs could not exist without coding. One would expect Generation Z, the young adults that grew up with computers by their cribs to be the leading generation in coding by a solid margin. However, they trail their preceding generation. According to a survey by WorldSkills “Millennials (25-34-year-olds) emerged as the most coding enthused generation, with 13% taking it up during lockdown. They slightly edged their younger Gen Z (16-24-year-olds) counterparts in the coding battle 12% of Gen Z claimed to have started learning coding as a result of the pandemic.” There seems to be less interest in Generation Z in learning the more advanced skills in regards to technology.

Is Generation Z Truly the Generation of Tech?

It must be asked whether Generation Z deserves the title of technological champions or whether their technological capabilities are greatly exaggerated. The answer to that question is complex. Generation Z has been given the biggest head start in terms of technology of all generations thus far. The fact that many have been exposed to social media which is so crucial in today’s business world along with being one of if not the first generation to have technology standards in public schools shows that the familiarity with technology is there and could be practical to use once the young adults enter their careers.

However, with all things just because one has a head start at something does not automatically mean that the person will automatically become a master of all things in that sphere. A child could be brought up to play soccer when the child is five years old. He or she may have an advantage over someone who starts at ten years old, but if that child does not nurture, develop or practice those skills they may be left in the dust by someone who starts much later. The same goes for technology. Just because younger generations are exposed to newer and newer technology since infancy does not automatically mean that they will be more proficient than their older counterparts who have maybe explored, practiced and developed those skills. Younger generations certainly have an advantage over older generations, but just because there is greater opportunity does not mean that there will be greater result. So the next time you have a tech question perhaps think harder than asking the fresh 22-year old in the office!

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