One of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. is the business of decoding Generation Z, the 12 to 20-year-old cohort following fast on the heels of Millennials. Hardly a week goes by without some group or another declaring that it has cracked the code of what makes Gen Z tick. As a card-carrying member of Gen Z, I appreciate the attention, even if many of the observations and characterizations strike me as comical. With so many people trying to define what our generation means and stands for, it is about time that we offer our own perspective, or at least get behind the definitions that make sense. Here are my top five ways that Gen Z differs from Millennials and is already changing the world.
1.Gen Z is a cult of culture creators
The brand solutions firm Wildness, born out of AwesomenessTV, conducted a study that surveyed 3,000 youth and interviewed teens in eight U.S. cities. The most significant finding was that Gen Z kids are "Culture Creators" and catalysts of a burgeoning cultural revolution. In the words of Wildness, Gen Z is "redefining entertainment, consumption, the workplace and marketing." Wildness nailed it. Growing up with the internet has freed our generation from the confines of traditional cultural expression, and we are fomenting a renaissance of collaborative creativity unencumbered by adult supervision or arbitrary limits. I like the way Wildness is helping companies connect to the torrent of ingenuity flowing from Gen Z's emerging thought leaders.
2. Gen Z is America's first entrepreneurial generation
While other generations looked up to sports or music icons, Gen Z emulates founders of America's exciting growth companies. Treating the founders of Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat like rock idols, members of Gen Z are sprinting to follow in their footsteps, launching their own YouTube channels and apps that capture huge numbers of users. I'm among them. Denied the chance to write for my high school paper as a freshman, I started WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in teen writing from high school newspapers and teen bloggers worldwide (www.wantnewsforteens.com) -- news for teens by teens with no adult editing, ownership, or input.
3. Gen Z is the first post-race, post-gender generation
Our life experience has driven a whole new outlook on race and gender. We've had a black president for more than half our lives. White children will be a minority in this country by 2020. Race doesn't matter when so many of us are mixed race. Marriage equality, gender-neutral bathrooms, and Caitlyn Jenner are the norm for us, not the exception. Every school has gender dysphoric kids. Institutional racism, sexism, and religion-fueled, narrow-minded thinking about gender continue to plague our country, but as Gen Z graduates to adulthood, much of the fear and mistrust that has held our country back will dissipate.
4. Gen Z are culture consumers
Another insight from the Wildness study is that teens consume media in an entirely new way, with 70% preferring streaming over television and 0% choosing TV if they could only keep one device. I can relate. I don't even know how to turn on our TV at home and consume all of my "television" content on my laptop. The majority of our Gen Z web content comes via social media from our peers, with each teen curating a unique flow of news from Twitter and Snapchat, videos from Vine, experiences on Instagram, recipes on Pinterest, and clothes on Wanelo. No network executive programs our cultural experience - we decide what kind of content we want to experience and set our own parameters for how we experience it.
5. Gen Z will be America's greatest giving generation
Ours is the first generation for which schooling was twinned with community service. Working for the public good is at the core of the Gen Z ethos. Malala Yousafzai is another Gen Z idol, combining courage and social entrepreneurship. Yes, we seem superficial when we slavishly follow certain fashion and social media trends, but commitment to community is a common denominator across our generation. Whether we "feel the Bern" or are turned on by the prospect of electing America's first female president, the sliver of my Gen Z cohorts who will vote this fall agree that government can and should play a role in addressing America's challenges.
Wildness calls us "Culture Creators," MTV says we're the "Founders," while another group termed us "Gen Edge." I don't mind Gen Z - it makes us the heirs to Gen X and Gen Y and the last in the line of alphabet-inspired generations. What matters more to me is that we stand for something different and significant, that we are characterized by optimism about the future (unlike our pathetically pessimistic Millennial friends), possessing a belief in the possible and a commitment to the ideals of leaving our community and the planet better places than we found them.
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