The word "teen" was first used in the early 19th century, but concerns about our young people - and how they differ from "adult" society - have been around much, much longer. From Ancient Greece onwards, every new generation of young people has developed its own behaviours and social norms that older members of society must learn to deal with or accept. Within businesses, 'Generation Y' has been the focus for many years as those born in the 1980s and early 90s have entered the workforce, bringing with them new demands and ways of working. Now however, attention is turning to a still younger group that is soon to come of age: Generation Z.
Defined as anyone born after 1995, members of Generation Z have been called everything from 'screenagers' to 'digital natives' and today make up a reported two billion of the world's population. They have grown up hearing of foreign involvement in wars, watched their parents and elder siblings experience the recession and have simply never known a world without the internet. Understandably therefore, Generation Z is already showing signs of being markedly different from the previous generation to enter the workforce. Where Gen Y have been typecast as entrepreneurial, ambitious and with unrealistic expectations for success, early reports show their younger counterparts appear to be frugal, display healthier behaviours, and are more outward looking and concerned about doing their part to contribute to social good.
They are also, as you would expect, extremely technology-focused. Instinctive multi-taskers, they're reportedly hooked on as many as five screens, with a large percentage using a desktop computer, laptop, TV, smartphone and gaming device or tablet on a daily basis.
Growing up with the internet as an ever-present resource has made Gen Z naturally more collaborative and this means that concepts such as crowdsourcing and open platform education are seen not as innovations, but as the obvious and most efficient way to solve problems. They are also much savvier than older generations about how and when they are tracked online and they take privacy seriously; as demonstrated by the fact that they are less likely to use Facebook, regularly use misnomers on social media and frequently turn off geolocation tracking on their devices.
Another consequence of Gen Z's internet-centric upbringing is their impatience. With shorter attention spans and a whole new type of anxiety based on the fear of missing out (or "FOMO"), they simply have no time for technology that doesn't just work. They're also rapid-firing, imprecise communicators, using images and videos in place of words and sentences and strongly favour streaming content over downloading.
These behaviours are not going to go away and it won't be long before we see these traits - a high dependence on devices, expectation for high-bandwidth capability at all times and use of short-burst rich content - impacting on businesses. Generation Z will bring new ways of working and communicating to their employers; the best companies will learn and adapt from them rather than seeking to control them. We already know from Generation Y that trying to make new generations adapt to existing workplace cultures and behaviours is doomed to failure; and it is certainly no way to attract the best talent.
Whether you're planning to market to or employ this generation at some point, to do so will require a strong understanding of their values and behaviours and, crucially, a robust infrastructure to support them technologically.
After all, an entire generation of people streaming and sharing video and images in place of text across multiple devices will involve huge volumes of data surging through networks in the UK. Organisations that cannot cope with this demand will quickly need to get up to speed, or get used to that Fear Of Missing Out themselves.