In my work, I often come across confusion and conflation between Generation Z and “Millennials”. It seems as if everyone “young-ish” is given the title of Millennial! Contrary to popular belief, the two are not one and the same.
Millennials are named as such because they saw the turn of the millennium in their formative years. Generally understood as being born between 1980 and 1994, Millennials, also known as Generation Y, will be somewhere between 26 and 40 years of age this year. They’re predominantly the children of Baby Boomers, and – you guessed it – are the cohort following Generation X.
Millennials experienced a much deeper immersion in digital technologies than the generations before them. Whilst sociologists use varying dates and nomenclature for the generations, the categorisations are used to help grasp the impact of the changing demographic and technological change which shaped a group of people growing up around the same time.
Millennials remember the boom of the music industry with the introduction of CDs, can recall the experience of going to the video store to hire a VHS. Yet during their years as youth, they became immersed in an unprecedented and exciting new world of connectivity.
They were no longer limited to the family telephone if they wanted to contact their friends, but they could use ‘dial up’ to connect to the internet and jump on instant messenger (most commonly MSN). As a result, Millennials are our first generation of bona fide ‘digital natives’.
As Charlotte, a Millennial born in 1992 explained,
We felt the transition from one century to the next quite strongly. When we were little kids, the Internet didn’t exist – but then in our teen years we were really present in its burgeoning stages – we were using Myspace before Facebook existed, and heavily editing our profiles with HTML code! We are quite good at adapting to new technologies, but there’s still more of a difference between online and offline for us than people younger than us…
So what about Generation Z? For most Gen Zs, born between 1995 and 2009, the only world they’ve known as they’ve grown up is one of WiFi and social media. Now aged somewhere between 11 and 25 years old, Gen Zs are today’s teenagers, students and young adults entering the workforce.
Generation Z has grown up with instant global connectivity, facilitated by smartphones, social media communities, wearable devices and the continual merging between the physical and digital worlds.
While we might think of Millennials as digital natives, it’s the seamless integration of technology into daily life that sets Gen Zs apart. They are creating the most global youth culture we have ever known, are the most technologically savvy, socially networked and connected generation in history.
Where Joel, a Millennial born in 1986 pointed out that,
‘Hanging out online’ is something my generation were the first to make a normal practice…
Kyle, a Gen Z born in 1999 explained,
I think our generation is almost defined by social media… I believe social media is scarily close to not being part of who we are, but instead who we are to others entirely.
The shaping forces, challenges and opportunities of each generation are distinct: Generation Z and Millennials are not one and the same. Gen Zs, or Post-Millennials, are entering adulthood and continue to confront and shape a world that is in many ways yet to be seen.