I was never sure which generation I belong to, but I always instinctively shoved myself into the youngest one, the one that marketers are trying to crack. I proudly spoke of my habits and views of the world whenever I found myself in a creative meeting addressing the needs of a younger demographic. I thought of myself as a Millennial, a Digital Native (wrongly might I add), a proud member of Generation Y.
However, with the inevitable passage of time I also age. Surprising, you'll say. Now there are people in the world that are a lot younger than me. So young that they are a different generation all together. They are Generation Z. Their appetite for media consumption seems to be insatiable. They are the ultimate digital natives as they grow up with mobile phones and the internet, whereas my first contact with both was in the mid-nineties. And most of them would probably find that hilarious, just like I laugh when my dad posts upside-down photos onto Facebook.
We seem to think that being a digital native means that you use technology instinctively, that it is an innate part of your life because it's been there your whole life. It can also imply that functioning without it is impossible and that if by chance a digital native were stuck in the middle of nowhere without any gadgets, he or she would not be able to find their way back home. Older people might say that these digital natives also don't know how to socialize or interact with actual human beings because their online presence is so strong.
What we are missing here, however, is what growing up with technology really means in terms of development, knowledge and interaction.
Firstly, there is the question of platforms. Digital natives don't discriminate when it comes platforms. Whether it's a TV, or a phone, or a laptop, or a tablet - they will use it. Windows, or iOs, or Android, or Blackberry - they don't care. In the same way I think that they are more agile than we are and would absolutely be able to think of a way out of middle of nowhere. They are not emotionally attached to a social network, or a brand - they will simply use what fits their needs the best.
This brings me to my next point - knowledge. When I was in school, we had an encyclopedia at home where I could look up things that I was interested in. Of course, the encyclopedia did not contain information about absolutely everything a child might be interested in and often, parents don't have this information either. So at times, a child growing up in the early nineties could be left with their curiosity unsatisfied. This is quite unlikely to happen to digital natives, who can look up anything they're interested in, sometimes even to their own detriment. But, it means that they are more knowledgeable about the world than we were.
When it comes to socializing and human interaction, I believe that the adults have it wrong here as well. We are currently witnessing a trend where a lot of youngsters are actually not even on Facebook, and those that are on it are leaving it. They are finding it all a bit too much and they are put off by the fact that it's a means of communication that their parents get. Teenagers really want a platform where they can connect with their friends, and that is not what Facebook is about any longer. Digital technologies enrich their social interactions, they don't define them.
In the case of Generation Z, the adage that wisdom comes with age simply isn't true. The young ones have it right. They take the best they can get from technology - it is a tool for them, a means to an end rather than the end itself. It is the adults that are wrong here. In our quest to keep up with the latest fad and for the old fear of missing out, we have failed to use digital technology to improve our lives. Rather, we have let digital technology replace our lives.
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