Generation Z Defined: Global, Visual, Digital

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Generation Z: 1995-2009With the oldest Generation Zeds turning 18 in 2013, and the youngest a year away from starting school, here’s an analysis of what defines this global, 21st Century generation.

The world is changing at a rapid pace, and has been transformed in the lifetime of our Gen Zeds. Just five years ago if you said “do you have the latest app? “Did you read that tweet?” “Make that your status update”, “Oh you have an android”, people would wonder what planet you are from. Such is the speed of technological change that while it took almost 90 years for there to be one car in Australia for every person, it’s taken just five years for smart phones to have the same reach!

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Generation Z: growing up in shifting times

Generation Z are the children and teenagers growing up in these fast-moving, complex times. Aged 3 to 17 years, the youngest of this cohort are about to enter primary school, while the oldest have just put down their pens and exam papers after finishing their final Year 12 exams. There are currently 4.6 million Gen Zs in Australia, and with this generation the learners of today and the employees of tomorrow, understanding what has shaped them, as well as what motivates them, is critical. In light of that, here 7 top trends shaping Generation Z.

7 trends defining Generation Z

1. Demographically changed

Australia is experiencing both an ageing population and a baby boom, with over 300,000 babies born in the last year. Since 1966 Australia’s population has doubled and is now growing by a new Canberra every year. Not only is the population growing, but our households are changing. The nuclear family (parents and children) is still the most common household form (33% of all households), however within a few years, the couple only household will be the most common and with our ageing population, the lone person household has been the fastest growing.

2. Generationally defined

Generations are comprised of people who share a similar age and lifestage, have been shaped during their formative years by similar conditions and technologies and have lived through the same events and experiences which have impacted them. For Generation Z, coming of age in the 21st Century has created a unique generation from the Global Financial Crisis to growing cultural diversity, from global brands to social media and a digital world. Generation Z are the most materially endowed, technological saturated, formally educated generation our world has ever seen.

3. Digital integrators

While all age groups have embraced the digital technologies of the 21st Century, the age at which first utilise the technology determines how embedded it becomes in our lifestyle. We refer to adults as the digital transactors who use technology in a practical, functional, structural way, using the new technology to achieve tasks that they previously used old technology to achieve. However Generation Z are digital integrators in that they have integrated technology seamlessly into their lives, and having used it from the youngest age, it is almost like the air that they breathe, permeating almost all areas of their lifestyle and relationships. Our recent study showed that more than half of Australian young people don’t wear a wristwatch because the smartphone has become the primary device used to tell the time (in addition to being the primary device for getting directions, checking the weather and taking a photo).

4. Globally Focused

Generation Z is the first generation to be truly a global one. Not only are the music, movies and celebrities global for them as they have been for previous generations, but through technology, globalisation and our culturally diverse times, the fashions, foods, online entertainment, social trends, communications and even the “must watch YouTube videos and memes” are global as never before.

5. Visually engaged

At 4.7 billion searches per day, Google is the number one search engine, but with 4 billion YouTube searches a day, YouTube is a close number two. We have an emerging generation, many of whom are opting to watch for a video summarising an issue rather than read an article discussing it. In an era of information overload, messages have increasingly become image based and signs, logos and brands communicate across the language barriers with colour and picture rather than words and phrases. Our analysis of learning styles has shown the dominance in the visual and hands on learning styles above that which traditionally dominated the classroom; the auditory delivery format.

6. Educationally transformed

While the Federal Government has a target of 90% of students completing year 12 by 2015, many schools have already surpassed this. And while the average young person is spending more years in formal education than ever before, with tertiary education rates similarly increasing, for today’s students, education is no longer life-stage dependant (at the start of life, before the career commences), but a life-long reality. Not only have students changed, but also their schools with a shift from a teacher centred to learner adaptive, from content driven to engagement focused and from formal delivery to more interactive environments.

7. Socially defined

More than any other generation, today’s youth are extensively connected to and shaped by their peers. In a recent study by McCrindle Research, it was found that while nearly all the generations had the same amount of close friends (an average of 13); Generations Y and Z had almost twice as many Facebook friends than the older generations. And so, the network that influences them is greater numerically, geographically and being technology based, is connected 24/7. This technology, while helping to facilitate their relational world can also negatively impact it with our research showing that a third of students having been bullied via social networking websites (such as Facebook), instant messaging, text or email.

Australia’s Generation Z, coming of age in the 21st Century, are alive at an amazing time in human history, are living in one of the most amazing places of the 242 countries in the world and being at the start of their lives, they have amazing opportunities, unimaginable just a generation ago. Understandably, very few Generation Zs would swap their lives with any other generation at any other time and in any other place. The challenge for the older generations is to offer the wisdom, guidance and support so that this emerging generation can make a positive difference in their era and for the generations of the future.

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