By Jori Hamilton
We are witnessing a profound generational change; perhaps, the end of an era. This isn’t another article about how COVID-19 has changed the trajectory of our lives or the significant and lasting impacts it has had. Rather, the profound change that is happening now is one that many people are welcoming and some have already come to take for granted — it is the arrival of technology.
More specifically, this generational change is about the first generation of true digital natives arriving at adulthood. Gen Z, as it has been dubbed, constitutes people born between approximately 1997 and 2012, the oldest of which are about 22 years old now. What sets this generation apart is, unlike previous generations, they have never known a world without constant and accessible technologies such as cloud data sharing, smartphones, and Bluetooth.
Of course, this natural adeptness with technology leads to a lot of serious questions. For instance, is this generation better suited to capitalize on technical careers that can launch us into a societal change as dramatic as the Industrial Age? And is all this tech helping or harming essential social skills and mental health development?
Developmental Boon or Bust?
Perhaps one of the largest questions looming over Gen Z is whether or not all of this technology has been positive or negative for the development of their social skills. On the one hand, there are more opportunities than ever before to connect globally, and the world has never seemed like a smaller place. But on the other hand, when it becomes so easy to stare at a screen all day, are we preparing our youth for face-to-face conversations and relationship building?
Some research indicates that Gen Z just might be the loneliest generation despite their ability to connect with people globally at the touch of a button. Social media can provide a feeling of connectedness and create an illusion of a perfect and fun life. However, when the rubber hits the road, many of the people liking posts aren’t there to have real conversations or to help when life gets difficult.
On the flip side of this, because of this connectedness, Gen Z has been able to organize and rally for or against certain causes in ways that no other generation has been able to. This has already made them an important voting block and political powerhouse of activists capable of garnering attention to demand changes.
Many people quickly jump to the conclusion that since Gen Z has grown up with technology, they are going to be prepared to dive into high-level, emerging careers right off the bat. This is true to some degree — Gen Zers can learn most technologies far faster than older generations and many are already making waves in improved efficiencies in their chosen fields. However, with this incredible boost comes many opportunities to create a learning gap.
For instance, many people are increasingly concerned about a digital divide ripping across the country. Essentially, this divide is based on the haves and the have nots — those who have computers and access to technology from an early age and those who can’t afford the tech. Over time, those who don’t have the technology from an early age can fall behind and never have a great opportunity to catch up.
Another concern that is hindering many of those in Gen Z is surrounding private online information. We are increasingly living in an era where Facebook photos taken decades ago can come back to hinder or even end careers. Likewise, with so much happening online these days, there is a constant concern of having personally identifiable or financial information stolen. This has been a lesson that Gen Z has had to learn from a very, very early age. Especially with younger members of Gen Z, it’s up to parents to ensure they are safe when using technology and going online. This means teaching Gen Zers to privatize their social media profiles, use strong passwords, and leave sensitive, personal information off posts, among other tips.
Growing up in the digital age has created a profound number of opportunities for Gen Z. It will be years before we have answers to many of the pressing and interesting questions about how this exposure has impacted them. Whether it has helped or hindered has incredible implications across every aspect of our lives.
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of topics but takes a particular interest in topics related to politics, urban living, society, and health. If you’d like to learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.