My daughter is part of the generation after millennials, which I suppose we've agreed to call Generation Z. She's just on the leading edge, as she's a senior in high school (The problem with the “Gen Z” nomenclature is what to call the one after that. We'll have to head into the cyrillic alphabet, presumably.)
My daughter read a New York Times article this past weekend all about her generation. She was buoyed by the news that her demographic cohort is grounded, realistic, socially conscious, and oriented toward doing good in the world. The article makes the interesting point that millennials were born during good times in the ’90s and then watched some of that optimism vanish with the Twin Towers, the beginning or an Orwellian entanglement in the Middle East, and the recession. Gen Zers, though, were born with their eyes open, and totally digitally savvy. Marketers, take note. The article also points out that Gen Z is relatively flush, more ethnically diverse than any demo before them, and a gold mine for the right brands.
The Z's were born around 9/11 and after. My daughter was in kindergarten on 9/11, and her cousin was born that very day in Manhattan; her mom, in labor, walked 30 blocks to a hospital. Her husband was at work, as I recall. In New Jersey.
The Times points out that if millennials were born into the digital age, the younger Z generation subgroups were born annealed into it; they hit the deck with smart phones and social media. For them, Facebook and Twitter are for old people. They're on newer channels like Whisper. And they are on Snapchat, of course. If the millennial attention span has been shaped by digital media, Gen Z is even more a reflective of quick bites and messages that dissolve within seconds of having been sent.
A Z blogger quoted in the article makes that point: “Generation Z takes in information instantly and forgets it just as fast.” I can attest to this. We went to dinner with in- laws. My daughter's cousin is an early teen; she didn't once lift her eyes from Snapchat during the entire meal, yet somehow managed to sent her friend various photos and little notes and emoticons, while eating. That's reality for them, and when they finally come out of the digital, social realm, they may not have even aged, like the kids in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
The 60 million or so Gen Z and the generations that follow will go even further, digitally, assuming the next digital revolution — super-immersive visual and haptic technology — is as incipient as they say it is. Think full-body Oculus Rift. You will be your avatar. Next up, will people live pretty much entirely in a virtual world where they buy experiences with virtual credits? In a time where a walk through a lovely forest is more realistic in an unreal world than in the actual one, in a weird, grape soda kind of way? Grape soda does taste better than an actual grape, somehow.
I refer you to a recent work of speculative fiction, Ready Player One, that delves, in extremis, into how an entire society exists in a virtual universe, because the real one is lost and featureless, and pretty much intolerable. Like most science fiction speculation, it explores just how far this can go. Yet, besides being hugely entertaining, it is also a pretty trenchant look at the extent to which the next generation and the ones after that will be plugged in. The technology is already well on its way. Brands, put on your goggles.