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The Gen Z Tech Disruption: Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

Kerry Keegan

Kerry Keegan

Kerry Keegan, Training and Library Solutions Consultant, Atlas Systems, described some of the newest members of our population: the Gen Zs. Here are the generations as they are commonly defined.

The Generations

Keegan polled the audience and found that half of it was made up of Millennials. The oldest Gen Zs are now just entering college.

We have an emotional attachment to things that happened in our early years, which is why it is useful to distinguish generations by their birth years. Here are the formative events of recent generations:

  • Boomers: Vietnam, Woodstock, civil rights, Kennedy assassination, Watergate
  • Gen X: Berlin wall, Challenger, AIDS, MTV, Desert Storm
  • Millennials: 9/11, Columbine, Google, social media, video games, Y2K
  • Gen Z: Great Recession, ISIS, marriage equality, Obama’s presidency, rise of populism

Michael Dimock, President of Pew Research, has said that we need to keep in mind that generations are are a lens through which we understand societal change, rather than a label with which  to oversimplify differences between groups.

Keegan focused the remainder of her presentation on Gen Zs. They want:

  • Inclusion. Only 16% of their households resemble the traditional nuclear family.  Elements of democracy are coming into households, and GenZs make significant use of “pester power”: 67% of parents get their child’s input before making a purchase of things like dining out, toys, apparel, entertainment, and food; 59% will not purchase without a child’s approval, and 42% of parents have buckled under pressure on purchases.GenZs don’t expect success to come easily and want to work for their success. Over 50% say their personal success is very important to them. They believe that hard work is necessary and winning individual awards is important.
  • Immediacy. Constant lifelong exposure to mobile technologies has influenced broader expectations and behaviors. They are early adopters by nature, hyperconnected but selective and believe that perfection is the enemy of progress. They are used to having to correct and get bugs out all the time. They want to access an enormous amount of information in a short time, which will make them productive employees in the future.
  • Image consciousness. They are stressed about how they appear and feel badly when they compare themselves to others. Social media is a significant source of stress. They want to look good in selfies on social media and be “YouTube stars” or “Instagram stars” that get millions of followers. They are acutely aware of their digital footprint and have a strong tendency to worry about privacy: 82% think carefully about what they post, and 43% regret something they have shared online.

Hyperconnectivity is not a distraction for Gen Z. Almost 80% of Gen Zs access social media several times a day and 77% are using Facebook as a passive information source; 63% use Instagram; 61% use Snapchat; and 45% use Twitter as a real-time news source.

Social media posts should be hand crafted for each platform to reflect its rules and norms. Authenticity matters to GenZs. They want a person speaking to them, prefer real non-curated messages, and hate disruption by ads. GenZs are big users of mobile phones; 3/4 of teenagers have a phone and are mobile connected, and they have an average of five screens that they interact with daily. 

Where are librarians already primed to excel and how can they reach these people? Bureaucracy, traditions, and size make it unlikely that they will lead to any groundbreaking and technological innovations. We can’t curate all the information and are not the people that know everything any more. All we can do is to help people find things and try to make the best choices. We have already created a culture that supports these services. We can use the Internet of Things to improve access to our materials (ALA already activates for this) and speak freely, which is very important to Gen Zs.

And remember — we were all young once.

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