"Generations" are just manufactured classifications used by advertisers to divide people into digestible demographics (reducing people to their most sellable, selfish and/or flattering traits) to more easily market to them and provide fodder for think piece coverage. The term Millennials has become a catch-all for anyone whose farts smell like coddled entitlement regardless of each person's individual upbringing and reality; nuance is sacrificed, surface-level differences are exploited, "generational" gaps are enlarged, and everyone comes across the worse for it, especially the media, which never tires of trendspotting bullshit generational distinctions.
Which brings us to The Times' article this week on Generation Z. Up until now, we blessedly hadn't had much interaction (or engagement) with the term—even our Official Millennial-in-Residence only used it in passing as a joke (about a four-year-old, prime Gen Z, no less). But in the Times piece, writer Alexandra Levit, identified as "a workplace consultant and the author of They Don’t Teach Corporate in College", takes it very seriously.
The future of America is coming, and it wants your job. Just like every other generation before it.
Here's her take on Gen Z:
I’ve now had the opportunity to meet lots of Gen Zers, and here’s what I’ve noticed. To start, they tend to be independent. While a 2015 Census Bureau report found that nearly a third of millennials are still living with their parents, Gen Zers are growing up in a healthier economy and appear eager to be cut loose. They don’t wait for their parents to teach them things or tell them how to make decisions. As demonstrated by the teenagers attending the recent Generation Z Conference at American University in Washington, Gen Z is already out in the world, curious and driven, investigating how to obtain relevant professional experience before college. Despite their obvious technology proficiency, Gen Zers seem to prefer in-person to online interaction and are being schooled in emotional intelligence from a young age. Thanks to social media, they are accustomed to engaging with friends all over the world, so they are well prepared for a global business environment.
We could add that Generation Zers prefer Yik Yak to Facebook; Vine stars to YouTube stars; Flakka to marijuana; Dance Moms to The Voice; #kyliejennerchallenge to um, #nevertweeting; and according to the ever-reliable Yahoo Answers, "Generation Z is nicer than Generation Y, which is a good thing."
These are the superficial answers you get from trolling around the Internet for a few hours trying to piece together what the hell anyone is talking about. It's Mad Libs by way of amateur prognosticators. People can apparently see the future if it has spending power. And yet, Wikipedia's description sums up the fumbling in the dark appropriately: "There is no agreement on the name or exact range of birth dates."
Look at it this way: last year, we analyzed a year's worth of NY Times articles about Millennials and turned it into a collage of talking points, buzzwords, and sweeping generalizations. The consensus: it made no sense. It was filled with frequently contradictory statements of fact about their likes and needs; it was laughably sincere in their failed quest to define an amorphous group of people.
But at least they had actual data, developed over 15-20 years of research, to work with! The moniker for Gen Z is still in flux—"Names proposed include: the TwoKays or 2K's (born after 2000), the Conflict Generation (the generation that grew up during the time of the Iraq War and War in Afghanistan), Generation i (or iGeners and iGens), @generation, the Swipe Generation, the Tweennials, and Screeners" VOMIT—but already, the buzzword vultures are swarming around it.
Just take a look over six prominent articles on Gen Z from the year so far: Ad Week reports on marketing firm Deep Focus, who interviewed 901 Gen Z consumers (between the ages 7 to 17) and learned that email marketing is less palatable to them than Millennials. This comes with the assumption that all 901 children between the ages of 7 and 17 even have email? This is secondary to matters of commerce: they write, "Brands that are not paying close attention to this new wave of kids 'are losing an opportunity to anticipate the future of consumer behavior,' said Jamie Gutfreund, Deep Focus CMO."
All the other articles have the same peculiar focus: MTV has moved on from Millennials, says International Business Times.
“These days as we zero in on the younger end of the [millennial] generation, and even look to the next generation -- which is moving into our audience -- we’re seeing really stark differences,” Friedman told the crowd at Beacon Theatre on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “Yes, their unbridled optimism, ambition and passion is still there and strong, but it’s clouded with a lot of really complicated world events. They know their big dreams are going to be a lot harder to achieve.”
Let's define the next generation of consumers, screams Ad Age. Note: their profile includes people as young as two years old—the ones Jennifer Egan called "pointers" in her terrific book A Visit From the Goon Squad:
There are a few key beliefs native to Gen Z that all retailers must understand. First, Gen Zers are the least likely to believe there is such a thing as the "American Dream." They look for products and messaging that reflect a reality rather than a perfect life -- an important distinction for struggling retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch who still market their products by projecting a flawless, carefree, perfect world. Gen Zers simply don't respond to these traditional notions of beauty or a projected image of perfection like past generations have. They respond to independence and entrepreneurialism, self-direction and a spirit of ingenuity. Brands like Free People (independence is implied in the name) are targeting Gen Zers with messages along these lines and a bohemian aesthetic, and it's working. The brand continues to grow with sales up 25% in the first quarter of fiscal 2015.
Business Insider has an instantly-dated profile of their 'needs'; BBC is worried that employers won't like their addiction to technology and inability to focus; Entrepreneur seems to believe that no other generation ever held ambitions of being more than just employees.
There's a lot of putting the cart before the horse going on here, to put it mildly. Generation Z doesn't have a name or era pinned down, but that will not stop anyone from declaring things about it, even if it doesn't know what it is. The onslaught of Gen Z trend pieces will make Millennial-doddering the equivalent of the controlled avalanche in Force Majeure. Soon enough, there'll be Style stories about yik yakking it up in utero.
— Ben D. #TNWeurope (@FR314) April 23, 2015
what even is a pope
— ☮meisha (@meishakirby) March 13, 2013