At BridgeWorks, we’re continuously thinking about how teenage years (formative years) impact each generation’s worldview. These early experiences frame how each generation thinks about institutions, politics, and societal issues such as gender and social justice. In turn, these issues influence how each generation engages and communicates in the workplace and the marketplace. The global events of recent years up through today’s happenings will comprise the basis of Generation Edge’s (born 1996–TBD) formative years.
So what exactly IS this generation experiencing? The first thing that comes to mind is technology. Gen Edgers (also known as Gen Z) have never known a world in which advanced technology hasn’t existed. It’s not uncommon to see a teenager talking on the phone with one ear, listening to music with the other, all while scrolling through their Twitter feed on their laptop. Gen Edge is taking technological multitasking to a new, never-before-seen level, startling some and impressing others. The most common question we get asked about Gen Edge is, “How will technology impact this generation?” Although answers to this question are yet to be fully solidified, here are a few examples of how technology for Edgers differs from that of generations prior.
#1 – YouTube is the new formal education
While past generations went to school and took what they were told as gold, Edgers argue that there is no right or wrong way to look at or solve a problem. They have access to massive amounts of information and are not willing to accept only one source as the end all, be all perspective of how they learn or make a decision. Consequently, they’re not looking to a formal, classroom-based teacher or tutor to inform their opinions—80% of teens use YouTube and have sited YouTube as a source to seek advice, research for school, or understand their homework (eMarketer). But it doesn’t stop there. They also use it to learn how to bake, put on make-up, and change a tire. This independent form of knowledge consumption has earned them the title, the “DIY Generation.” For Edgers, the name of the game is choosing which video has the most views—that will qualify how much of an expert someone is. You can see this by the growing popularity of YouTube stars teens are turning to.
#2 – Creep First, Meet Later…
For generations past, making new friends or meeting a potential love interest meant approaching someone face-to-face (or IRL, “in real life”, in Edger lingo) and starting up a conversation. Gen Edgers have been technologically equipped to be e-detectives, understanding dating and meeting new people in a completely different way. They have access to almost every person in the world—as long as they’ve left some kind of digital footprint. Gen Edgers may never experience the horrendously awkward blind date that other generations so vividly recall. Once they have a person’s name, (or any number of even less specific details) they have the ability to do their virtual “research” through social media. They can learn of that person’s hobbies, favorite quotes, political opinions, music taste, even places they have visited. Once they meet their virtual friend in-person, they’re already briefed on the basics and can surpass the polite small talk
#3 – An Emoji is Worth 1,000 Texts
For Millennials, the technological revolution involved the “dumb” cell phone and figuring out how to T9 text on your Sidekick. But just when you thought you were getting the hang of the Millennial “g2g” and “brb,” Gen Edgers step in, relying on actual text even less. They are sending pictures that disappear within 10 seconds on Snapchat or tweeting with a mere 140 characters. Their Instagram profiles are full of filtered selfies and scenic views—and the captions for said photos? Mainly emojis. As this visual medium continues to grow, Edgers are, in essence, reinventing the written language. And as they start to enter the workforce, they’ll be tasked with decoding communication in the workplace that will most likely be based on the written and spoken word—gasp!
Using constantly evolving technology is standard for Generation Edge, and they are the generation pushing this evolution even further. It would be an understatement to say that this demographic has had a vastly different understanding of how to use technology in comparison to generations that came before them. Being aware of these experiences is crucial, as they make up the very fabric of how Edgers will continue to navigate technology in their personal and professional lives.