Finally a generation is starting to come of age who is going to change the world. I’m not proclaiming something unique. There are plenty of articles floating around the internet which summarize the main characteristics of this cohort. If you are not lucky enough to have one living in your home, go online and find out all the details of what makes generation Z tick. Ironically, that is where my gen Z kids spend a great deal of time, as well. If you run into them online, say hi from me.
My Dad has been saying for a long time, it is my kids who are going to do great things for the world, in the future. When he started with this line of thinking, my children were very young and I was not yet middle-aged. My Dad was still working. I wondered why all the responsibility was being downloaded. It seemed to me, there was plenty of time for baby boomers and gen X to be active and relevant. But, maybe that was not my Dad’s point. Could he sense that this was a different generation, born into a unique set of world circumstances and they would naturally grab hold of that opportunity?
My Dad will chuckle. I’m sure he was far more of a proud Grandpa who could recognize the bright-eyed curiosity and innocence of the young ones who ran around his house on vacation. Who wouldn’t assume they were bound for greatness? It looked like they had the world by the tail. But I was never so sure. Possibly being a worried parent prevented me from seeing their true potential.
I’ve watched my Dad’s four grandchildren become young adults for the last 19 years. Two of those kids are mine and the other two are my sister’s children. All along they were so different from each other, it was hard to lump them into their generational group. We probably knew them too well and didn’t know their peers, in order to see the red thread. Turns out, the way they interact is one of the defining characteristics of their social lives, which is largely lived online. They don’t have just a few close friends with whom they spend all their free time. They have a wide and shallow social net, which is a blessing and a curse.
With the advent of the internet and the resulting explosion to all corners of the world, our family life is dramatically different from the house I grew up in. Even the relationship I have my parents today, has vastly changed from when I first left home. Not only are long distance phone plans a thing of the past, I don’t even have a landline anymore. If I want to communicate with anyone in my social circle it is done on my cadence. This is the world my children were born into.
With the freedom to choose how and when we communicate and socialize with friends and family, there comes a whole new set of societal norms. Those are not set in stone as much as they are evolving with use. This is the ultimate in user-generated content, the backbone of being connected online. The flip side of this innovative way of living is a new set of responsibilities, which are being adapted as we go. Along with all this change is the accelerated speed at which it is all happening.
Humans do not evolve socially, quickly. We are slow to change. It is in our nature to master something first and then move on with confidence. Gen Z does not live that experience. Their social networks are moving at the speed of the internet. The fear of missing out on whatever comes next is intense. Marching to your own drum and having the luxury of time to do deep and meaningful work are scarce resources. It is no longer a treadmill we are running on. We live in a network, with live connections zipping around at the speed of lightning. Unplugging from that mesh is increasingly difficult.
The power of it all needs to be harnessed. I think that is what they will do, generation Z. They have been plugged in from the earliest ages. Their patterns of living are informing the way digitally connected societies are evolving. The power of this young group comes from the approaching tide of their physical size. There are soon to be more people who are in the age bucket of generation Z, than any other. They are literally the future. And they think differently.
While the economic power of generation Z is centered in certain countries, their reach is wide. They view themselves as citizens of the world. They are better informed than most and they don’t like what they see going on, around the world. They aim to change that. The will come of voting age and the shifts will start to occur. The will move through higher education, or not and become employed, maybe. They will start companies and foundations. They will, and to some degree are already travelling. In every sector, their presence will be felt. If governments and industries chose to ignore this group of people, they may not survive to tell the tale.
Maybe because my children are in this generation, I feel hopeful about what is to come. I did not feel that way when the millennials were on the rise. The predictions for the changes in the world due to the millennials were never that grand. They are different from gen X and baby boomers, but not fundamentally so. I find loads of common ground with the millennials I work with. When I try to put myself in the shoes of gen Z, I feel like I am reading a science fiction novel. It is wonderful, strange and scary all at the same time.
There has been a thread of constancy, running through all the generations of people growing up since the 1960’s. A tone of social justice bubbled up with peace protests staged by the baby boomers. Gen X has been left with the task of bridging the corporate divide between baby boomers and millennials. Redefining the way corporations work has started to happen as a result of the millennials demanding to be treated as something better than cogs in a machine. Generation Z takes notice of all that has come before and chooses something else, politely.
The children of both Gen X and millennials, this new cohort of young people are a hybrid. They seem to be incorporating the most desirable characteristics from their parents and reworking themselves according to a whole new set of rules and norms. It doesn’t seem to occur to these kids that they could just copy and paste from what worked best in the past. Almost by their very nature, Gen Z puts their own stamp on every aspect of their lives. The idea of accepting the status quo rubs them the wrong way.
I suppose much of the way Gen Z behaves is common to the struggle of young people coming of age, as it has always been. I think the big difference in the lived experience of these young people is technology. Because all the adults living today were not born into the internet of things, we can’t compare. The notion that a Generation Z person should put their phone away for long stretches of time is completely preposterous. Technology is life. We can judge them and proclaim that this is not a healthy way to live, but Pandora’s box is open.
Personally, I like what the future might bring us. I sense that this group of young people is motivated to clean up the mistakes of the past. They are actively concerned about the environment we live in. They learn about politics, see the flaws and are eager to get involved. They can assimilate information from a vast array of resources, over time and distance. In the blink of an eye, they can form a perspective that took years to arrive at, not so long ago. In all this activity is a thirst for creating a new kind of future.
We are all creating the future as we move through our day. Will we choose to help the world become a better place or will we stay mired in divisive arguments? Will the glass be half empty or half full? Do we remember what it was like to be a teenager coming of age? Can we empathize with what that experience would be like today? Will we support the hopes of generation Z with our wisdom and experience? Or will we dismiss their ideas as the naiveté of youth?
Watch out for generation Z. They are going to be the change, THEY want to see in the world. As with every other large group of people who have dominated society with group think, this cohort is no different. But, because they are born of hybrid parents, have technology to build connections and are thinking big, the results could be fantastic. We can help them accelerate their dreams. It is time to look up from our own self-interests, work together with people of differing opinions and design creative solutions.
Thank you for reading my thoughts on creativity. Each day, I hope to get a little closer to understanding how to design a lifestyle I don’t need a vacation from. I believe that focusing on the importance of creativity in our daily lives is an important aspect of happiness and ultimately wellness.
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