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Three Lessons for the Digital Age from Gen Z

Three Lessons for the Digital Age from Gen Z
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Generations are often associated with the technology they adopted while growing up , whether that was the introduction of the transistor, the personal computer, the beginning of the Internet, the iPhone or now wearables and AI . But unlike Boomers, Gen X and Millennials, Gen Z (born between 1996 and 2015) is the first to have entered a world where everyone was already fully online. 

As members of Gen Z grow up through a generation-defining pandemic, perhaps graduating from university or kick-starting their careers, this generation is already transforming the relationship between society and the internet. For businesses and brands building engaging and entertaining new digital experiences, here’s the guidance from Gen Z.

The default is digital

In a new study from The Center for Generational Kinetics and WP Engine, Gen Z’s dependency on the internet is made clear. Incredibly, 60% of Gen Z are unable to be without the internet for four or more hours. This contrasts with the majority of Boomers who can easily go more than twelve hours without the internet.

There’s a shift in how this connectivity is used, with Gen Z showing a preference towards entertainment and access to friends. This is hugely different to Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers, who rely on the internet for information: 59% of Gen Z primarily use the internet for entertainment, while 67% of Boomers use the internet for access to information.

In fact, 51% of Gen Z is friends with someone they only know online and have never met in person, and almost a quarter of Gen Z (22%) trusts someone they meet online more than someone they meet in person. With schools and universities now comfortably virtual and large public gatherings potentially a thing of the past, the social lives of Gen Z, which have always largely been online — are only online. For Gen Z, and indeed for all generations, this state of digital dependency looks set only to grow.

The creative spirit lives online

Gen Zers are extremely accomplished and proficient content creators. They’ve been raised on a variety of social media platforms that offer multiple ways to channel creativity and personal expression. Whether that’s coding for their blog posts, video editing for YouTube or drawing for Snapchat, their creative juices are running constantly. They always have their finger on the pulse due to the fast-paced changes within social media platforms. Complacency within this space means they could get left behind when the next TikTok dance arrives.

Digital experiences need to accommodate Gen Z’s desire to share their creativity - whether that’s on public or private channels. From sharing GIFs and memes to videos, playlists and news articles, Gen Z is more open and transparent with their online presence than every other generation. Some of the digital assets that Gen Z are far more likely to create and share online compared to its generational counterparts include: games (35%), photo edits (31%), vlogs (28%) and podcasts (18%).

Importantly, Gen Z is open about both sharing their own content, as well as content from other sources. Marketers need to imagine ways to give Gen Z an opportunity to co-create alongside them. Support Gen Z’s tech-savviness for creating and sharing content and it can significantly, and authentically, amplify a brand.

The internet can be good

Much of Gen Z’s openness towards the web is rooted in their view of the internet as a force for good. 78% of Gen Z believe the internet has made people more connected - far outweighing Millennials (64%), Gen X (64%) and Boomers (64%). Furthermore, 74% of Gen Z believe they can be part of a social movement even if they only participate through social media.

Gen Z and Boomers diverge on the role of politicians vs. technologists. By a 58% majority, Gen Zers say the people who manage/build the Internet are more important than political leaders around the world. Boomers take the opposite position with a 56% majority saying political leaders are more important. And when it comes to brands taking a stand on global issues, 76% of Gen Z say they would buy from a company that contributes to social causes and non-profits, with 37% saying they would stop buying from a company contributing to causes they disagree with.

Finally, despite traditional privacy and security concerns shared by all generations, 51% of Gen Z believe the use of artificial intelligence (AI) will have a positive impact on the world. This trust in emerging technologies is affirmed with Gen Z almost twice as likely (40%) as Boomers to prefer an internet or web apps that could predict what they need at all times and provide that to them.

Gen Z is leading new behavioral shifts during a time of global upheaval, and will continue to set a new paradigm for what digital experiences should be. At the core of this is a set of values around connectivity, creativity and a desire to engage positively with the world through technology. Whether it’s remote working, online shopping, distance learning, or the next great change, Gen Z will be leading from the front.

  • Fabio Torlini, Managing Director of WP Engine.