“An idea should not be invalidated by the age of its creator”, a 17-year-old centennial.
Some call them centennials, in the US they are called iGen for their excessive use of iPhones, but more commonly in the world they are called generation Z or Gen Z for short. The name might be different, but it is not the name that matters but who they are and what they want to be.
According to a centennial parent, Nathaniel Turner, Gen Zs are impatient, easily distracted, surprisingly apathetic to family traditions, and feel confident that they are entitled to all the rights promised to a human being regardless of the age, gender, place of origin, and of course race.
These are the famous characteristics of a group of young individuals all over the world who were born from the mid 1990s to 2010. This commonality is surprising to many because we expect that a child in South Africa is different from a child in the US. That is not entirely correct as these children, the South African and the American ones, share one key element in common: the digital world.
From the birth perspective, generation Z are those born between 1995 and 2010. They came after generation Y (1980 to 1995) also known as the millennials who, in turn, came after generation X (1965 - 1979). But a year bracket is not what truly differentiates between gen Z and their predecessors; it is the different circumstances they have been struggling with that defined them.
Do centennials behave the same?
When asked, more than 70 percent of centennials want to open their own businesses and surprisingly around 15% of them do that before finishing high school. With the digital world, they can build their business around their ideas much easier with much lower risks than a business scheme decades ago. The cost of failing in an idea now is 10 times cheaper than that in the past. This allows many young centennials all over the world to take this opportunity and put their ideas to test.
Key points such as the ease of doing business online, the low cost of opening an online business, being globally connected to the world, and having direct access to customers globally gave rise to many startups and businesses in other areas of the world, including African startups. It’s true that the young continent is still struggling with infrastructure and the high cost of some online services, but there is hope. Njeri Wangari, a Kenian artist and marketer believes that Gen Z in Africa is not the way we see it in the US. Unlike the US, Africa as a whole is Gen Z. She believes on an age scale, in comparison to the Americas or Europe or Asia, Africa is like a 19-year-old who is trying to find its rightful place among other players. Therefore, the whole continent is welcoming the digitized world for their young centennials to enter local and global markets.
Two generations before, Gen X sought good education and well-paid jobs; worked hard to pay off their student loans, then their mortgage, and finally became a pensioner. Here is an illustration:
Their parents are fed up with their lack of patience. A Gen Z’s average attention span is only 8 seconds! That is the behaviour they show on Instagram; if something is not eye-catchy, they simply swipe down. From the child’s perspective, they easily differentiate between something valuable and worthy versus a normal, routine content. If it is a beautiful house by the beach advertising its interior design, a Gen Z might find it boring, but if it is an eco-friendly house powered by solar panels and is made of recycled wood, now that’s interesting for Gen Z. They know the time to act to save the planet from global warming is now. The previous generations failed to act upon such an obvious yet vital matter. They know time is running out for all humanity, so they intelligently choose the matters which are hitting multiple targets at once: a beautiful house with a smart, eco-friendly design which is good for the planet and fights global warming, all in one package.
Another matter is that these children are easily distracted. This is usually hard to understand for many parents as their brains are wired to limited connection with friends, family and colleagues. A Gen X mother cooks and listens to her favorite radio/or TV program while her Gen Z teenager has already watched that exact TV show on a website earlier, is now watching a YouTube video on how to compose electronic music, while responding to multiple beeps on his smartphone from Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Somehow Gen Z knows how to handle multiple tasks at the same time.
Parents often complain that their teenagers are lazy, don't work hard, and don’t put their heart and soul into their day-to-day tasks. From a Gen Z’s perspective, their behavior is just normal. They want fast results because it is the exponential speed of knowledge, change, and development over the world that demands things get done fast. They want to be part of it, or in better words, they don't want to be left behind. They are also not lazy; they can easily see through a task and know it is pointless to, for instance, spend time learning math while you know by heart that you can make a much deeper impact by your talents in music.
Gen Z has shown great potentials so far, but they are nothing like a promised generation in a fantasy prophecy who solves our collective issues. To deal with many world challenges, humanity needs time and energy invested properly and continuously. This proves to be a challenge for Gen Z. For one, they are heavily reliant on social media and what impacts they can make online. This might not be very appealing to them as executing mid and long-term plans is not their strongest suit. For another, they show little interest in conventional organizations and establishments. For instance, Gen Z prefers a small, innovative company to another 80-year-old major corporation which has been producing the same product for decades. It is yet another challenge as many of these long-established organizations are responsible for major changes in the world; without a mutual understanding, many issues will remain unresolved.
In short, you may see an exponentially wider generation gap between the previous generation, Gen X and Gen Y, and Gen Z, than any other generation pair. For better or worse, the digitized world is responsible for it. A centennial sees the chaos in this world, global warming, racial inequality, poverty, and wonders why no one is acting fast, or faster, to solve these issues. Gen Z wants to be heard, taken seriously, and use their resources, time and money, towards a better world for all. They might seem shallow at first because they do not pay enough attention to what their parents and teachers say to them. It might be because they are smarter and better educated than their previous generations and can see through the facts faster. However, they have challenges of their own, so they still rely on their previous generations for guidance and support. Finally, if they do not show much enthusiasm towards current social/market values and establishments, consider this key point that these values, establishments, and organizations resulted in this not-much favorable situation that we are in, from small communities to the world. They might want to test other ideas or other solutions to find a better outcome. They are following what Albert Einstein told us all:
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”