Spotlight on Gen Edge: Liam

One of the most common questions I get asked lately after presentations is, “Who is the generation after Millennials?”

There’s no denying it, Gen Edge (born after 1995) is a hot topic. And for good reason.

For the past couple of years, one of the most fun aspects of my job has been the work I’ve done researching Generation Edge. Born after 1995, Gen Edgers are still in their formative years, which in generational theory are the years when we start to develop our shared generational traits and values. So while the research is not conclusive right now, we’ve been keeping a pulse on trends and patterns that we’re seeing and how they might one day affect the workplace and marketplace.

When we approach our research, we read studies, look at statistics, and even conduct focus groups, but for me, I get most excited about the one-on-one interviews, especially with Gen Edgers. Getting to hear firsthand about how they think, feel, and communicate has been nothing short of fascinating.

Throughout 2015, BridgeWorks will be bringing our research and findings directly to you through several different venues, one of which is a series of interviews we’re calling “Spotlight on Gen Edge.” We've had the privilege of interviewing several Gen Edgers who have spoken candidly to us about everything from family, school, their relationship with technology, and what they see for themselves in the future.

What follows are snippets of my interview with Liam, a 15-year-old high school freshman who loves the Green Bay Packers, his family, and his iPhone.

Liam on Technology + Communication

Q: Your house is on fire. You run in and can only rescue one device, what do you grab?
My iPhone. I love it. I use it all the time. It’s fast, it’s easy. I would grab that over my computer for sure, and I just got a MacBook, so that’s saying something!

Q: How old were you when you got your first cell phone?
Hmmm… I was 10. I had a Verizon flip phone.

Q: In terms of your iPhone and all its capabilities, where does “calling people” rank in terms of the functions you use?
The bottom, for sure. Although, I did call someone today!! (he sounds impressed) I called my dad to come pick me up. Pretty much my whole call history is Billy, mom, mom, Billy, Billy, mom…

Q: Who is Billy?
My dad.

Q: Your dad goes by Billy? I’ve never known him as Billy. (Liam’s dad is named Bill)
(Laughs) I know. He gets so annoyed when I do it. I think it’s funny!

Q: Alright, when you’re not torturing your dad you must be hanging out with friends. Do your friends ever call you?

Q: Do you call your friends?

Q: Text?
Yes. For sure.

Q: Do you FaceTime?
A bit, yeah. A lot of my friends do. It’s getting more and more popular. Instead of texting, a lot of my friends will FaceTime. I think people like to have that face-to-face contact I guess.

This is something that has become very clear in our research on Gen Edge—talking through a screen is often considered “face-to-face.” Millennials grew up in a time where the rate at which technology evolved was greater than any generation before. They watched as the rate of change rapidly increased throughout their adolescence and young adulthood. Gen Edge, on the other hand, has been exposed to rapidly changing technologies since they were very young, and the rate of change is staggering. Communication applications like Skype and FaceTime (things that Gen Xers such as myself were only exposed to on The Jetsons or in Back to the Future II) have become part of mainstream culture today.

Results from studies conducted to determine whether people can develop relationships through a screen have shown that meaningful relationships still thrive through face-to-face encounters. Through touch, smell, and direct eye contact, we are able to connect with one another on a deeper, more meaningful level.

So… will this hold true for Gen Edge?

Some Gen Edgers have been communicating through screens before they could even walk. Parents who travel for work, grandparents who live on the other side of town, friends who move to another state—whatever the circumstance, proximity has never been a barrier for them to see and speak with family and friends. Today, communicating through a screen has changed the way they attend a class, interview for a job, wish someone a happy birthday, or even attend a funeral. (I learned that while speaking to a group of funeral directors.) They do prefer face-to-face communication over texting, calling, and Facebook messenger, but it's all done through a screen.

When you think about the ability this generation may one day have developing and maintaining relationships in the workplace, whether that be with a client in China or running a meeting from their home, it's entirely possible that this generation will shift that standard definition of a “meaningful interaction.”

Liam is a bit apprehensive though…

Q: What’s the biggest problem your generation faces?
Technology. I think it’s good AND I think it’s bad. I’m worried it might be making us lazy. I know people whose lives depend on technology. I know people who will be sitting with a group of friends, but they’ll be on their phone the whole time. It’s hard to say how we’ll be when we grow up, but I think it might be a problem. But – a lot of the games and the things we’re doing on our phones ARE social, so that’s good I guess. Like right now we’re all into a game called Trivia Crack (he pulls out his phone to show me).

Side note: Trivia Crack is essentially an app that allows you to play trivia socially. As a trivia buff, I immediately see the appeal and we, of course, play a few rounds.

During our interview, Liam spoke to me about heavier issues that this generation doesn't seem to be shying away from, even at such a young age—everything from pop culture scandals, gay marriage, and having a black president for most of his life. In the coming months, we will be hearing more from Liam, as well as other Gen Edgers we've had the privilege of interviewing. We’ll continue to share our findings on Gen Edger values, traits, and trends and how these things are all shaping their distinctive generational identity. Stay tuned!