From being told to not talk to strangers online to subletting from Facebook Groups, Gen Z’s relationship with tech is…complicated.
Though Gen Z has grown up with the internet, our experiences with technology have varied from wholesome fun on FaceTime to overdue assignments on Canvas to stupidly formal Slack groups.
With searches for “web3” and “metaverse” reaching all-time highs, many members of Gen Z are thinking about the next phase of our digital experiences.
The Case for Techno-Optimism
Believing that technology makes the world a better place is not a nuanced enough take. However, there are some impact-driven organizations that have centered their purpose around enacting positive-sum experiences. Here are two examples:
Reboot is a nonprofit that believes technology is a part of a system; technologists should also be thinkers, writers, and advocates, and optimism is an action, not a belief.
Their work branches into three ways: sending a weekly newsletter, hosting Q&A events with authors, and facilitating a student fellowship. Their effort to contextualize technology through a philosophical and sociological framework has helped countless young people to think deeper about what “tech for social good” means.
Celo’s mission is to build a financial system that creates the conditions for prosperity for everyone. Their platform is accessible to anyone with a mobile device. Celo’s Research and Innovation Team is planning to launch a credit delegation lending pilot by the end of Q1 2022. The team’s focus? To establish Celo as the most innovative blockchain in the world.
The Case for Techno-Pessimism
There are countless cases for techno-pessimism, ranging from digital wellbeing and predatory algorithms to artificial scarcity online. It makes sense why most users of the internet are skeptical. The internet does not exist in a vacuum, and, if anything, it can and has amplified structural inequalities. Nearly 1 in 4 households still don’t have reliable access to the internet, particularly in the South.
Julia Terpak, Account Director at JUV, posts content on TikTok about the digital disconnect and her forecasts for the future:
Mixing Up Pseudo-Anonymity For Anonymity
Some Gen Zers are worried about the shift to web3 and digital anonymity as an extension of lack of accountability. However, there is a lack of general knowledge surrounding how the internet as it is today functions. Even though you may be able to make an anonymous (or “alt”) account, information about your real identity is still collected. A user can’t escape accountability, whether it is decided upon by the platform or by cancel culture.
For some, a secondary account can be freeing. Justina Chua, a second-year student in Carleton University and Shopify’s joint Dev Degree program, said “Anonymous accounts can enable the best and the worst outcomes. A positive is freedom of identity and expression while protecting your safety, but the worst outcome can be harmful actions without any repercussions.”
The Case for Online Community
Despite conflicting experiences with the internet, online communities are an irrefutable part of Generation Z’s childhood and adolescent experiences. From fandom-focused Instagram pages to Geneva communities, the digital friendship to real-life friendship track is real for many.
“14-year-old girls have set the trends for every generation. When I was 14, the One Direction craze defined me. From giggling in class when a teacher said “one direction” to running my own 1D stan account with viral posts, I found an immediate community of thousands of people who were my best friends—without ever even meeting face to face. Everyday after school, we would watch 1D videos together, tag, comment, and DM on each other’s posts and fantasize about meeting them one day.” – Shaina Zafar, Chief Marketing Officer at JUV
Putting our trust in technology is a tricky conundrum, though we can put our trust in people. As Reboot recognizes, technology is a part of a system. At JUV, we believe that technology is a part of a system of human interactions. Community is at the core of this – and so we consciously choose to participate in it. And while we recognize no technology is perfect, it bears mentioning that neither are humans.
Safe to say, this digital native generation still has a lot to understand about technology. But one thing is for certain: Gen Z is ready to learn.
JUV Consulting is a Gen Z collective that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Contact us at email@example.com if you would like to learn how to reach Gen Z, or sign up for our weekly newsletter, The Screenshot, to get Gen Z insights straight to your inbox.