Millennials this, millennials that. Millennials here, millennials there. Millennials are lazy. Millennials are open-minded. Millennials are substantial consumers. Millennials define passion.
If there was one overused word in the past year or two, "millennials" is the incontestable winner.
There's a chance, however, we'll soon be subject to a new cultural talking point — Generation Z. Haven't heard of it? I hadn't, either, until just recently. I was attending a company-wide meeting, and our CEO had the floor. Discussing societal trends and the rise of tech usage, he referenced the nation's group of fledglings. "Generation Z, born in 1995 or later, came out with an IP address embedded in their heads," he joked into the mic, collecting a round of chuckles from the crowd.
It was sort of an ah-ha! moment for me. With a birth date near the end of 1994, I feel like I can't fully identify with millennials, especially in regards to "the golden days." Yeah, I remember when no one had cell phones — but only till sixth grade. Yeah, I thought Titanic was amazing — in 2005, when I was first allowed to see it. And no, I can't recall a time in my life when there wasn't a computer in my house. In second grade, I learned to use Google.
The true age bracket of Generation Z is up for deliberation among experts. Some believe members were born between 1991 and 2001; Entrepreneur says 1994 and 2010 are the key birth years. Still others say anyone born after 1995 lands squarely within the category. To me, hard dates don't matter as much as life experiences and personality traits, which are key in discerning millennials from Gen Z. Below are 11 characteristics that distinguish us — if you're young, and you identify, welcome to the club.
We're Internet experts.
Because we're always online, we find answers to questions in warp speed. Z members multitask across a few different screens or monitors at once. We make lightning rounds through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Tinder, and Gmail. We know the lingo; we create memes; we make Vines and Periscopes and elaborate Snapchats. We have accounts on dozens, if not hundreds, of platforms. It's a challenge to put down our phones, even for ten minutes to eat lunch. (In fact, I'm usually reading stories on my laptop while chowing down on meals.)
We'd rather message than talk in person.
Along the same lines, Generation Z would rather have a digital conversation than a real-life discussion in many instances. Before rolling your eyes out of your head, think of the benefits. Awkward pauses? None of those. Stick your foot in your mouth? Difficult to accomplish when you're typing rather than talking. Nice flow of language? For sure. Better written skills? I'd argue so. I text paragraphs to my friends, because yes, we have intelligent discussions via SMS or Messenger — and I go back in and edit for grammar, spelling, and sentence structure before sending. Obviously, I'm not revising the way I would an article at work, but I make a solid effort. You may think it strange, but it's simply a way of life for Generation Z.
We look up to YouTubers.
"[Generation Z's] new idols are Internet stars, like PewDiePie," says this Business Insider article — which is, well, spot on. Every single day, I check the YouTube channels I'm subscribed to (about 10) for new content. In fact, it's the first thing I do after getting home from the office. I'll spend up to an hour watching videos from my favorites, which include beauty vloggers and online comedians alike. On the other hand, I also use YouTube for documentaries and self-education . . . which makes me feel a little less guilty for all the time I "waste" on the site. (But I raise you this: is it REALLY considered a waste if it's harmless entertainment?)
9/11 was a huge part of our youth.
I remember exactly where I was when the 9/11 attackers struck — and most other Generation Z's have the same frightening memory, which we'll never forget as long as we live. We grew up in an era where terrorism was a hotly debated topic, where the possibility (and subsequent action) of involvement in the Middle East evoked the strongest of feelings. Bush was always on TV; we sent soldiers care packages in grade school. We didn't understand most of it, but we knew things were troubled.
The Recession affected our outlooks.
Hushed voices behind closed doors; sudden downscaling in lifestyle choices; dying jobs and families packing up and moving far away. I was a mere preteen when the Great Recession reared its ugly head, and it hit my area (Detroit) especially hard. Being so young and born into a relatively well-off family, I was never given a good look at the aftermath, but the tension and sadness in the air was tangible. Between 9/11 and the Recession, Generation Z came of age in a time of uncertainty, and as a result, we've learned to become more resourceful.
We're determined to turn our hobbies into jobs.
Since I was 10, I loved to write . . . and now I'm a journalist. According to Business Insider, this isn't (or won't be) uncommon, with 76 percent of Gen Z members aiming to create jobs out of their hobbies. And why shouldn't we? Though we're grounded in reality, we're better educated on planning, implementing, and excuting our goals and aspirations. With Google at our fingertips all hours of the day, we learn how to make our dreams come true on our own.
We're one step ahead in our careers.
That said, Gen Z is jumping on the (career) ball early on. We're building our brands as adolescents, because we understand the impact social media has on not only our personal lives, but also our pending jobs. I started following and engaging with well-known writers on Twitter when I was 17. I began reporting for various publications at 18, I became an editor for a national platform at 19, and I freelanced for money at 20. At this age, I also graduated from college and landed a full-time gig at POPSUGAR. The early bird catches the worm, and we're well-aware.
We're invested in our careers, yes, but more than that, we seek to invent. The entrepreneurial spirit has grown with each generation, and Z's are beginning to trickle into the work force with lofty plans of impactful start-ups. We think businesses can make a difference, and we're inspired by thriving companies such as Facebook or Uber, which have literally changed the scope of life. Expect us to take over tech — after all, we've pretty much never known a life without it.
We're stressed out, and often.
That's not to say we don't stress about our big ambitions. Generation Z certainly frets, principally over bigger-picture things like the economy and the environment, because ultimately that's how realists operate. On the bright side, we're more willing to do something about these weighty issues. Generation Z is highly involved in activist movements, with a genuine intent to save the world.
We prioritize quality.
Quality over quantity is the name of Generation Z's game. We're incredibly selective in the products we purchase, making it painstakingly tedious for advertising marketers to get through to us. I generally don't buy anything on Amazon that has less than a 4-star rating. Before going out to dinner on Friday nights, you can bet I'm perusing Yelp for the best restaurants that still fall beneath my budget. With abundant cyber reviews from people who've already been there and done that, we'd be hard pressed to misuse our time on a transaction that's just not worth it.
We're more accepting.
Gen Z grew up in an era in which societal standards began to shift dramatically. Norms were flipped upside down — "gay" was no longer taboo; "transgender" wasn't just an urban legend. I distinctly remember bullying to be uncool when I was in high school. It was uncool to make fun of the boy who liked other boys. It was uncool to pick on the quiet African-Chinese twins. Band geeks were mainstream. The nerds were the popular ones. Our prom queen was a girl named Hannah who played on the boys' football team. High school, for the most part, was a safe and amicable culture. And playing both advocate and witness to the many ongoing developments of important social justice campaigns in this country, I have high hopes for an even more secure future with Generation Z commanding the forefront.