My son, the cyborg

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Generation Z marks a whole new relationship with technology -- and with marketing

It’s appropriate they are called Generation Z. Because they are at the end of the alphabet as we know it.

In a few short years, Generation Z — those "kids" born after 1995 —have swiftly redefined language and returned us to the Egyptian days of hieroglyphics. They’ve instinctively woven symbols, emoticons, emojis and glyphs among the 26 letters of the alphabet we’ve been using for centuries.

And that’s just the start of what they are changing.

My son and his kind are the first of the cyborgs, truly functioning, connecting, and extending their influence and reach through technology.

Growing up in a post-9/11, recessionary world, they’ve decided to create a future of their own. And they will. Because this group, the youngest, fastest-growing and perhaps most pivotal age group alive today, are intent on change. 37.8% believe "I will invent something that changes the world." They want to "make a difference" and "make an impact." And they already have.

Yet marketers have been slow to grasp the concept that GenZ is radically different. For the last decade, so much has been focused on Generation Y (they are the most researched generation in history) that organizations have tended to dump everyone under 30 into the same bucket of Millennials.  But to ignore the vast distinctions, and the constant change, is commercial suicide.

If Millennials are pioneers in the new digital world, GenZ are the digital natives, born into a tech landscape and evolved to their environment. Beyond Millennial "tech savvy," GenZ are tech innate. They’ve learned from their Millennial counterparts and are determined not to make the same mistakes.

Unlike the radical transparency of the Millennials, GenZ judiciously share in social media. Twenty-five percent of 13- to 17-year-olds left Facebook in 2014. They prefer to be faceless.

As social natives, attune to NSA issues, they are drawn instead to incognito media such as Snapchat, Secret and Whisper. GenZ don’t want to be tracked and are more concerned about disabling their phones’ geolocation than their privacy settings.

Within the open communities in which they do converge, like Kik, conversations are private and coded. Here, text is replaced with emojis and icons, and communication flows in a way only people inside that community can understand. High-speed communicators, used to rapid-fire banter and fleeting memes, GenZ are happy not to spell things out but to allow images to create subtext and leave wide room for interpretation.

GenZ see their older siblings, the Millennials, still living at home, struggling in low-paying traditional jobs, and want a different future. Mature, resourceful and in control, intuitively navigating the digital landscape to hack their own education and make their own opportunities, GenZ dreams of being self-led. Sixty-one percent of high school students want to be an entrepreneur instead of an employee (compared to 43% of college students). Seventy-two percent want to start a business someday (compared to 64% of college students). "Social entrepreneurship" is one of the most popular career choices.

But they are not driven by traditional economic values. Their interconnectedness means they are operating with a hive mentality and a collective consciousness. Reinforced by schools teaching a message of diversity, teamwork and sharing, with no winners or losers, this is a generation wired for collaboration.

The crowd economy is a natural fit for them, reinforcing that the rise of collaborative business models like Uber, Indiegogo, AirBnB, Kickstarter and Bitcoin is far more than a series of passing fads but a new wave of doing business that will put extreme pressure on traditional organizations who maintain walled economies — and completely change the way in which we live, buy and connect.

GenZ are an evolved species. And not just online.

They think spatially and in 4D. Zooming, pinching and swiping is instinctive, almost reflexive.

Research now suggests GenZ’s brains have evolved to process information at faster speeds, and are cognitively more nimble to handle bigger mental challenges. If you can get their attention, that is, because their attention spans are also getting shorter. Eight seconds is now the average American attention span, down from 12 seconds in 2000.

Man and machine are mixing. And the technology is literally becoming an extension of them.

Forget the selfie stick. Now we see companion or pocket drones taking things further, letting them go above and beyond their physical limitations, to get the perfect selfie or extreme sports shot today, but with infinite uses for delivery or communication tomorrow.

I look at my son, with his screen in his hand, pinching, zooming, swiping, writing in glyphs. He glances up for a second, smiles brightly, and then reconnects with his machine.

My son, the cyborg.

Terry Young is founder & CEO of Sparks and Honey.

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