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Gen Z: Digital Native and the Pandemic

A digital hero is defined by Be a Digital Hero as:  "It's a powerful person - you - in charge of vast amounts of information and the technology to manage and share it." 

Gen Z: Digital Natives and the Pandemic

by Carol Ingley
president, Be a Digital Hero
Week of August 3, 2020 through Week of August 31, 2020

Key digital hero terms: digital native, PCs, smartphones, tablets, artificial intelligence, deep learning, Internet of Things, virtual and augmented reality


Two Digital Native Generations. A digital native is a person brought up during the age of digital technology. The oldest of the Gen Z generation, born 1997 through 2013, are now 23. This is the first generation that has grown up with the trilogy of digital devices: PC, smartphone and tablet. They are called digital natives but there is another generation that qualifies as well.


That’s the Millennials, born 1980 – 1996. They grew up with the PC, which began rolling out in the late 1970s. But the smartphone wasn’t introduced until 2003 by Blackberry, when the oldest would be around 23. So they are digital natives for some of the devices.


Many have written that the Millennials have been affected by 9/11 as well as the Great Recession of 2008. Until the pandemic, it was thought that Gen Z would be a more protected generation, coming into the economy when it was strong. So how does or will the pandemic affect this up-and-coming generation?


The Pandemic. The pandemic, as of July 2020, has already lasted longer than the more optimistic predictions. As people worked from home, this new work environment away from the office fast-tracked the world into using digital tools in volumes that had not been seen before.

That’s the obvious part. The less obvious part is much has and is going on behind the scenes that we won’t know about for a while. Mark Cuban observes, “When things get messed up beyond recognition, that’s when the heroes step forward that create things and develop things that change the world.”


Heroes will step forward. Gen Z is in a perfect position to assume that role.


Key Demographic for Emerging Technologies. Gen Z is, by population, a smaller demographic than Baby Boomers and Millennials. According to Statista, here’s how it shakes out: Greatest Generation: 1.7 million; Silent Generation: 20.87 million, Baby Boomers: 69.56 million, Gen X: 65.17 million, Millennials 72.12 million and Gen Z:  67.17 million.

Right now, there isn’t that big a difference in size among four generations: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z. But Gen Z is poised to make a huge difference in growth digital technologies that are emerging including: cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and deep learning, Internet of Things (IofT), virtual and augmented reality, and many more.


Marc Prensky, author of Teaching Digital Natives sees digital immigrants (all those born before 1980 – before the beginning of the Millennial generation) as relics. That’s an exaggeration. Many have thrived and kept up in the Gen X, Baby Boomer and the Silent Generations.  But there’s an element of truth to it.


Of note is that Prensky’s  insight about the advantage digital natives have underscores the importance of living and breathing a digital lifestyle at an early age and if that wasn’t possible, to do it at a later age. Prensky is emphasizing the advantage digital natives have in the current digital economy.


Changing the World. Bill Gates, a Baby Boomer, along with Paul Allen, also a Baby Boomer, started Microsoft on April 4, 1975 at the age of 19. Steve Jobs started Apple on April 1, 1976, along with Steve Wozniak, both Baby Boomers.  Jobs was 21. In February 2004, Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard sophomore and 19, launched Facebook. He is a Millennial.


The Gen Z generation has just started graduating from college. With the oldest being 23 or so, the brain power of this new generation is just being released into the economy and into the world.


It is likely, given the down time due to the pandemic, that there are many ideas brewing in the minds of this new and upcoming generation.

Even as so much has shut down, this generation--with PCs, smartphones and tablets--has more technology, technological power and a digital voice (social media) at its fingertips than any other generation at that age.


Characteristics: Frugal and Determined. Although some have graduated from college, most in the Gen Z generation are still in junior high and high school and some are still in elementary school. It is impossible to know what the real characteristics of this generation will be as adults because so many are still young.


There are a few indicators, though. The oldest of the Gen Z population were aware of the Great Recession of 2008 and the impact that it had on their family. There is a general hypothesis that the recession experience made this new generation more frugal and determined. These happen to be characteristics of successful entrepreneurs.


A great deal of determination is required to begin a business venture. And it’s a long process so frugality is key, not just in one’s personal habits but also in the way one runs a business.


The frugality could stem from watching Millennials end up living at home burdened with student debt.  That has created a more cautious financial approach.


Back to the Pandemic. The pandemic may just make Gen Z more determined than ever. It is a fascinating generation to watch, one primed to succeed as digital natives, yet no one yet knowing exactly what they will do with all of this technology that they grew up with that is now second nature to them.


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