ELEANOR FROM FRANT WONDERS WHETHER GROWING UP IN THE DIGITAL AGE REALLY DESERVES SUCH A BAD REPUTATION…
The other week I found myself a guest in a conversation amongst a more mature crowd, where comments were made about the shortcomings of ‘the younger lot’. You know the type – “the problem with this generation…”etcetera.
Technology dependent, short attention spans, no sense of loyalty – the usual points were regurgitated. Then the topic progressed to the professional environment and the complaint was echoed that newcomers to the world of business are too ready to demand authority without the intention of sticking to more ‘menial tasks’ and earning it.
At this point, my status as the only individual below the age of 40, earned me pointed looks and the all-too-familiar eye-roll. “Millennials” they concluded. Incorrectly.
Similar misuses of the term ‘millennial’ have seen it become confused – with so many using the name to collectively call out youth as irresponsible or whiny, the label has become synonymous with any ‘young people’. Often misspoken about as being in their late teens to early 20s, it is those in their 30s that actually make up the majority of
And for a while, millennials have been the youngest generation of employees. But a shift is on the horizon, and peeking through those millennials is an even larger clan; Generation Z are the new kids on the block, and with the eldest soon to finish education – releasing themselves onto a host of potential employers – they may be proving that their technologically driven upbringing doesn’t deserve all the bad press it attracts.
But who are these social cyborgs? Although exact dates are debated, we can attain that those born in and after 1995 define this new cohort, whose upbringing coincides with the spread of home internet connections and the integration of mobile phones as everyday essentials.
At 21, I may be right on the cusp of this new social-media-focused age bracket, but when you consider that I am too young to remember my parents without mobiles – albeit a flip-top Nokia – then I more than make the grade.
We have always been told that being raised by Facebook is a bad thing. It is so common for people to purse their lips and explain why it was detrimental to our childhood that we had access to mobile phones from such an early age – that we are positively squandering our youth behind our LED screens. But need I remind those people that Television sets had become a staple presence in the family home by the 1950s? And that stacks of research has been conducted, suggesting that watching TV is terrible for you. Why? Because it is unequivocally passive; at least when you are tweeting you are actively engaged.
When it comes to the work place, digital skills are becoming undoubtedly more important, and what may leave some sitting in front of their screens baffled, is all but second nature to the Gen Z’ers, who have been absorbing the map to navigating the online universe from infancy.
There may be some drawbacks of course – an American study put the average attention span in 2015 at 8.25 seconds –officially less than a goldfish. They guzzle up information quickly and move on to the next thing in a heartbeat – a trend that does indeed appear to continue in their attitude to employment; as The Economist points out, surveys conducted on young workers expose ‘their appetite for responsibility and their unwillingness to hang around if they do not get what they want.’ But again I wonder, is this such a bad attribute?
I find it unsurprising that those in their early 20s are so keen to be handed the reins. Generation Z have known uncertainty all their lives: Parents losing their jobs, family homes sold from under their feet, war and social unrest across the globe. They know that nothing can be taken for granted, and that remaining complacent with little progression offers no promises.
Their innate pessimism may have some feeling like hard work is a fool’s errand, but for others it has been channelled into a pragmatic acceptance that they’re going to have to create opportunities for themselves. So perhaps pushing for that responsibility is exactly what they need to be doing…
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