So there’s all this talk about “Millenials” and how we have “the cell phones growing out of our hands,” how social media has taken over our lives, and how we have become narcissistic people who cannot carry an in-person conversation because of it all. I can’t tell you the number of times my mother has told me to put my phone away when I’m actually reading an important news article or doing research. Of course, being in this class, we can all counter each of these arguments and recognize the countless positive ways we can use our obsession with social media and our hyper-connectivity productively.
I want to bring our attention, however, to a group that is shaping up to be even more hyper-connected and even more addicted to social media than we are—“Generation Z,” which I will define as tweens and teens ages 11-19 years old. I was inspired to write this blog post by noticing that, as my younger followers became more active on social media, they had notably different ways of participating online than I do—habits that, in my opinion, are even more obsessive and concerning than our millennial generation’s ways.
Why am I insisting on placing them in a separate category from us? One reason is that research shows that our habits really do differ. Secondly, the reality is that they were born into a world fully immersed in smartphones and social media—they are social media and digital “natives.”
What’s different about Gen Z?
- More of them have access
We were well into high school before the majority of our peers had smartphones. Even then, smartphones had limited capabilities compared to what is. Today, one study found that the average age for receiving one’s first smartphone is 11. The only digital communicating I was doing, as an 11 year old, was AOL Instant Messenger and occasionally sending a quick T9 text from my flip phone. AIM was really the only reason I even used a computer besides SIMs or Roller Coaster Tycoon. Now, with at least 73% (2015) of teens having access to smartphones, most kids are able to connect with each other, the web and the world all the time and in the palm of their hand by age 13.
This is largely related to the fact that more parents are heavily involved with smartphones and social media earlier on in Gen Z’s life. For example, in 2016, 92% of children had a social media presence before they turned 2 and parents had shared an average of 1000 photos of them by the time they go to Kindergarten.
- They’re constantly connected.
Not only do the majority of Generation Z have access, but they’re using it. In 2015, 92% of teens reported that they go online daily, the majority of them going on several times per day, 24% saying they’re on “almost constantly.” While this is not much different from our generation’s online use, I find it notable that their hyper connectivity starts at a much younger age. Many psychologists worry about the mental health implications of the pressure to be always ‘on.’ FOMO from social media can bring extreme anxiety for some tweens and teens and even college-aged kids. The findings to the right illustrate how the importance of always being “on” for Generation Z has been ingrained in them. Their opinion of when it is appropriate to use their phone is much different than mine.
- More of them use Instagram and Snapchat than Facebook.
While this one infographic is of the most recent study I could find (May 2017), even in taking into consideration other studies and articles, Instagram and Snapchat have nearly pulled ahead of Facebook in terms of popularity and users. Younger social media users seem to prefer platforms that allow them to connect instantly and transparently. They also seem to be attracted to platforms that allow them to share content that will eventually go away. Despite Instagram and Snapchat’s growing popularity, Facebook remains the social media of choice for Millennials.
Instagram also allows users the ability to lead secret social media lives that can only be shared with their closest friends. Gen Zer’s are huge fans of having lives that their parents and other authority figures cannot see. More Gen Zer’s have finstas than Millennial Instagram users. In fact, I was sparked to look into this blog topic because one of my younger followers, a female 6th grader, shared on her Instagram story that she now has a “spam” account. I would imagine a “spam” account is something even more revealing/transparent than a finsta. Gen Zers are finding more and more ways to connect and share content with each other and Instagram and giving them the perfect platform to do so.
This fact also makes child psychologists nervous because Instagram is an image-saturated app asking for women, in particular, to compare themselves to other women, whether it is their friends, celebrities, or influencers. On top of that, it takes a certain maturity level to understand that the images shared on Instagram are often largely curated. Only the best photos of people having the best time are shared.
- They feed off of likes.
Yesterday, after posting an Instagram of her and her friend, the aforementioned 6th grader posted a cute selfie boomerang Instagram story with huge letters reading “LMR please!,” which apparently means “Like my recent [photo].” However, I tried to take a screenshot later for this post and she had deleted the Instagram story, I assume because she reached her goal of achieving more likes than her previous Instagram.
While this could be written off as an issue of immaturity, I asked a 17 year old female how important likes are to her and she responded, “Oh yeah I’m embarrassingly dependent on my like per minute ratio the first hour after posting. I like a solid one like per minute.” She said she would delete a post if it did not keep up with her ideal “like per minute” ratio.
Many would even go as far as to say they quantify their self-worth based on number of likes. Gen Zers’ well-being seems to be affected much more by social media than any generation before. 29% of Gen Zers felt that their social media presence even affects their popularity.
In conclusion, Gen Z is participating in, interacting on, and contributing to social media more transparently, more often, and with more pressure than previous generations. Their social media and overall digital presence will definitely be something to watch, especially for marketers as the garner more and more buying power.